First lesson from Austin’s Management F1 trip: Prepare for traffic

Circuit of the Americas –

From the Austin “Stateman” Newspaper – by Jody Seaborn

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, Mayor Lee Leffing-well, City Manager Marc Ott and a couple of other city officials visited Silverstone this last week to see for themselves how a Formula One race is run.

You’ll recall that Circuit of the Americas, which is hosting the local F1 race planned for Nov. 16-18 in Elroy, offered to fly Leffingwell et al. to Silverstone, home of the British Grand Prix, for what city officials called an educational, fact-finding trip.

Leffingwell and Ott flew to England on Circuit of the Americas’ dime, and thus enjoyed the comforts of business class. Acevedo and the others flew courtesy of the City of Austin and thus enjoyed the confines of coach.

Judging by reports in the British media and by a crew sent by YNN Austin, the main thing they should have learned is this: Nothing matters like traffic matters.

The lead-up to this year’s race at Silverstone was a nightmare of heavy rains and stalled traffic. The traffic was so bad Friday — at a daylong standstill — that our local delegation failed to get to Silverstone. (They could have just stayed in Austin if they wanted to spend their Friday stuck in traffic.)

Race officials got so desperate, according to British news reports, that they asked fans to stay away from Saturday’s qualifying runs. So many fans failed to get to the track Friday and Saturday that officials promised to refund unused tickets. This weekend’s pre-race troubles may end up costing the track 4 million pounds (about $6.2 million), according to British news reports.

Leffingwell and the gang made it to Silverstone on Saturday. YNN reported they were impressed by F1’s economic and technological impact on the world outside racing. Austin officials also met privately with Bernie Ecclestone, the “F1 supremo,” as the British press likes to call him. Presumably Ecclestone was on his best behavior for our fellow Austinites; that’s not always the case with their British counterparts.

F1 has never established a hold in the United States. Austin hopes to be the exception.

The Austin race is expected to draw 120,000 people. The logistics of running hundreds of buses to shuttle tens of thousands of people from downtown to the track in Elroy is immense.

“You can’t truly appreciate or grasp the complexity and the monstrosity that this event is going to be for Austin,” Acevedo told YNN. “It’s going to be something we’ve never experienced.”

Officials have four months to figure it out. If they fail, they might have Bernie to pay.; 445-1702

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