After a six-year hiatus, the city of Coral Gables and the Biltmore Hotel decided to host the Fourth of July celebrations once again including, of course, a very nice fireworks display on the Biltmore 18-hole golf course. My wife and I had watched the Independence Day fireworks at Biscayne bay and on the beach the past two years, so we thought this would be a nice change.
At the outset, the event seemed to be very well organized with buses and trolleys departing from four different places in the city to take people to the hotel, as shown in the map below.
So we parked our car at the Andalusia garage (Garage 4 on the map) and took the 6pm trolley. There was going to be a concert starting at 7pm, while the fireworks would go off at 9pm. We found a nice spot to place our chairs and my wife’s camera tripod, so we sat down and relaxed. Numerous food trucks offered plenty of tasty choices, the concert was entertaining and, most importantly, we loved the fireworks. All in all, we were very pleased with the whole thing. The problems started once the fireworks ended. Take a look at this map.
The red arrows indicate the flow of people trying to exit the golf course through a single narrow path (people coming from all directions were converging to that point). The yellow arrows start at the trolley/bus stop (a single stop) and show the path the trolleys/buses would take to go back to the garages in the previous map.
By now you’ve already guessed what happened, but I’ll list some of the main problems: (1) large congestion to exit the golf course (bottleneck); (2) no organized lines were formed by the police; people simply aggregated as a large mass at the bus stop (forget about FIFO); (3) tons of people actually drove their cars and parked not only in the parking lot depicted above, but also all around the neighborhood surrounding the hotel. Therefore, the yellow bus path was full of pedestrians walking to their cars (or walking home) and the police did not allow trolleys/buses to come in or out while there were pedestrians on the road (that is, forever); (4) we were given no indication as to which would be the destination of the incoming trolley/bus until they were parked at the stop (crowd left in the dark = annoyed crowd).
After standing there for a while, my wife and I decided that it would be much faster and less stressful if we simply walked back to Garage 4 (a 1.3-mile, 25-minute walk). Yes, it was very hot that day, and we had to carry some heavy chairs and equipment, but it was better than suffering through the chaos.
As an Operations Research person, I couldn’t stop thinking of all the bad decisions that were made by the organization of this event. I know they meant well, but everyone’s experience would have been much more enjoyable if they did a few things differently. Some of my suggestions below require conveying information to the attendees ahead of time, but this could have been accomplished by handing out flyers to people as they arrived. (Arrivals were not a problem because they were spread out over 3.5 hours, between 5 and 8:30pm.)
- Divide the crowd by telling people to exit the golf course through different paths depending on where they’re headed: those walking home exit through gate A, those walking to the Biltmore parking lot exit through gate B, those wishing to catch a trolley/bus, exit through gate C, etc.
- Have multiple bus stops, reasonably away from each other.
- Have barricades set up so that: (1) lines are properly formed at the bus stops, (2) pedestrians do not walk on the road and impede the flow of trolleys/buses.
- Schedule the return trips of trolleys/buses in advance and tell people to come to the bus stop at their assigned time based on desired destination (à la Disney fast pass).
These are just some ideas that came to mind right away, but I bet more improvements are possible (what would you have done, dear reader?). Judging by how many of my friends who did not attend the event already knew it had had a chaotic ending even before I told them, I’m sure the city received plenty of feedback. I expect next year’s event to run much more smoothly. However, just in case they need a little extra help, I’d like to write a quick letter to the City of Coral Gables:
Dear City of Coral Gables:
I’m a professor at the University of Miami who specializes in using advanced analytical methods to help with decision making. If you need help with the logistics of your Fourth of July Fireworks or any other city-sponsored activity, I’m available. Here’s my contact information.
To end this post on a happy note, here are some beautiful photos of the fireworks taken by my favorite photographer. Enjoy!