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Do you want a transit-friendly sports stadium district? Here’s how to do it right.

May 31, 2019

Today’s stadiums are often part of mixed-use sports districts—with limited parking—and are best served by alternative-transportation options

This June marks the five-year anniversary since the inauguration of the Ottawa REDBLACKS into the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the opening of Lansdowne at TD Place, a mixed-use sports and entertainment destination in Ottawa, Ontario. It’s also the anniversary of a new parking and transit program that revolutionized how fans get to the stadium.

Opened in 2014, the redevelopment of Lansdowne at TD Place revitalized the historic Lansdowne Park grounds to feature a modern, 24,000-seat stadium in place of a previous stadium that fell into disrepair over the years.

The redevelopment project also replaced 3,000 surface parking spaces with new land uses that include condominiums, commercial and retail space, and an 18-acre urban park to activate the site year-round.

The Stadium at TD Place in Ottawa, Ontario, as seen from the Rideau Canal.

Despite the limited number of parking spaces provided on site, the redevelopment has proven to be successful with more than 65% of stadium event attendees traveling to the site using sustainable modes that include transit, off-site parking and shuttles, walking, and cycling.

So, what were the keys to success in achieving high transit and active modal shares in the first years of operations? How can future mixed-use sports and entertainment districts take a similar approach to managing game day demands?

Free valet bike parking at TD Place on game day.

Provide alternatives to driving that are convenient and attractive to fans

How do you encourage fans to ditch their cars and embrace other modes to travel to events? Provide alternative options that are convenient and save time and money in comparison to driving and parking.

Venue operators should challenge and rethink the traditional way fans travel to their venues and seek opportunities to enhance and improve the transportation experience.

This can include providing off-site parking and shuttle services or by partnering with local transit agencies to provide enhanced and direct transit service on event days.  Working with transit agencies provides opportunities to leverage existing transit infrastructure such as park-and-ride facilities and higher-order transit links such as bus rapid transit (BRT) and/or light rail transit (LRT) lines.

To encourage fans to cycle to events, a secure bike valet can be offered at the venue to help manage bike parking in a way that’s engaging, convenient, and fun for event attendees.

To make these options attractive, the cost of these services—both in terms of hard costs as well as time savings—must be competitive when compared to driving and parking at or near the venue. In the case of TD Place, which has very limited on-site parking, enhanced transit and direct shuttle options were offered at no cost to event attendees. The service also provided door-to-door travel times that were faster than driving and parking.

Provide integrated trip-planning tools

Developing an integrated trip-planning tool outlining all off-site parking, station locations, and scheduled service times empowers fans to make informed trip-planning decisions. A trip-planning tool helps to place all of the information on a single platform and builds awareness for the various transit and shuttle options available in a consistent way. Adopting an integrated trip-planning tool becomes indispensable when transportation options are offered by a variety of service providers (e.g., venue-run shuttles, transit service).

Direct communication with fans

Most stadium redevelopment projects are usually undertaken to overhaul older venues for existing teams. Most established sports franchises have an existing fan base that is accustomed to travelling to events a certain way. This was the case in Ottawa—while the Ottawa REDBLACKS is a new team, they represent the third incarnation of CFL football in the nation’s capital that builds on the legacy and history of the Ottawa RoughRiders and Ottawa Renegades.

One of the challenges with the TD Place redevelopment was to change previous travel behavior associated with the previous CFL franchises that are connected to Lansdowne. In many of the early discussions with fans about the new transportation program it was common to hear the following sentiment: “Don’t worry, my dad and I had a great parking spot near the stadium, that’s where I’m going to park.”

Left: The stadium at Lansdowne Park decades ago. Right: The redeveloped Lansdowne at TD Place. (Photo courtesy of OSEG)

In order to address these challenges and to change people’s perception of using transit and shuttle service, venue operators need to adopt a cross-department approach that integrates and promotes the transportation plan in all communications with fans and the general public. 

Hosting a soft opening event to work out the bugs

Testing out a new stadium or facility through a soft opening can provide operators with invaluable insights before accommodating larger crowds. A soft opening, which is typically held shortly before the grand opening of a venue, provides an opportunity to test all aspects of a new facility—from concessions, seating, and washrooms, to of course, transportation.

Holding a soft opening event leading up to the opening of a new venue provides fans the opportunity to try out the transportation program and provide feedback. It also gives an opportunity for transit and shuttle-service providers and front-line staff to test out the system and find improvements in a low-stress environment. Soft openings can be fun and engaging—a good example includes hosting a season-ticket holder event to meet players.


Mixed-use sports and entertainment sites pose unique transportation and parking challenges on game days.

To better manage on-site access and parking demands, it may be advantageous for mixed-use developments to stagger the opening of the various aspects of the site.  Opening the stadium prior to residential, retail, and office uses provides operators with the ability to restrict access to on-site parking to reinforce the transportation program plan early on. Restricting parking access under a fully functioning and built-out site would be difficult and may result in poor visitor experiences.

Increasingly, new stadium developments are moving toward a mixed-use model. A good transportation/transit plan can make the project successful.

The best fan experiences

Since the opening of the site, the Ottawa REDBLACKS have come along way over a short period of time. The team won the 104th CFL Grey Cup in 2016, and TD Place successfully hosted the 105th Grey Cup in 2017.

Increasingly, new stadium and arena projects are tied to mixed-used developments that seek to create vibrant sports and entertainment destinations that are animated year-round. Under this new model, stadiums and arenas are relying on reduced on-site parking availability that is shared with other site visitors. This necessitates the adoption and promotion of alternative transportation options. 

Whether in the planning stages of a new facility, or as part of an operational review of an existing one, venue operators should challenge and rethink the traditional way fans travel to their venues and seek opportunities to enhance and improve the transportation experience for visitors … at the end of the day, it’s all about the fans!  

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