It’s March, which means it’s one of my favorite times of year: March Madness. The NCAA Tournament gives hope to 68 teams from across the country, competing for their shot at glory. Ultimately, only one team will become the champion, but we’ll have plenty of great games and moments along the way.
However, as my fellow UNC alums know, while the games themselves are a treat, getting to and from arenas like the Dean E. Smith Center is nothing short of a pain. With only one main highway from the interstate to campus, traffic is often bumper-to-bumper for miles. There are a few Park-and-Ride lots where fans can ride to the arena via Chapel Hill Transit, but that’s the only option outside of driving a personal vehicle or waiting for an expensive TNC ride. This problem isn’t localized to Chapel Hill, either – arenas all over the country are largely inaccessible via public transit. 14 different cities are hosting games during this year’s NCAA Tournament. What steps are they taking to ensure that all of the madness stays on the court and off the roads?
Let’s start with Dayton, OH, site of the First Four games on March 14 and 15. Much like fellow Ohio city Columbus, which won the Smart City Challenge last summer, Dayton is doing its part to ensure visitors can get around. The city offers America’s greenest fleet of buses, which include diesel, hybrid diesel, and electric trolley buses. There are over 3,300 stops on 31 routes throughout the region. All Dayton Regional Transit Authority buses feature bike racks and are wheelchair accessible. The city’s Link Bikeshare system has four types of membership tiers and offers bikers free rides if they’re less than 30 minutes. There are additional costs for journeys lasting more than a half-hour, but that’s still plenty of time if you need to duck out during halftime and pick up a giant foam finger and poster board to show off your love for your alma mater.
The first round proper starts on March 16 and 17. One of the host cities of the first two rounds, Salt Lake City, UT, is well prepared for the influx of visitors it will receive. The entire state participates in the Utah Clean Air Partnership, which was created to make it easier for individuals, businesses, and communities to develop initiatives to improve Utah’s air. The Utah Transit Authority has a sleek website that makes it easy to plan trips, see schedules, and receive updates. No matter your preference for commuting, UTA has you covered. The FrontRunner commuter train, S-Line streetcar, and TRAX light rail will get plenty of use during the first weekend of the tournament. Much like Dayton, the city’s GREENbike non-profit bikeshare provides an easy way to get around town. You’ll even get updates on the distance traveled during each ride, the calories you’ve burned, and the carbon emissions prevented. It makes a plate of nachos during the second half of a close game much more rewarding.
During the weekend of the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, a quartet of teams and their fans will head towards Kansas City, MO, where they’ll find a multitude of options to get around. The KC Streetcar is completely free to ride and travels through the heart of downtown. Kansas City is one of just two cities in the country taking advantage of Bridj, a “pop-up urban infrastructure” system that utilizes a fleet of flexible vehicles. If you prefer to get a little exercise in after your ride, Bridj offers walking directions to pick-up and drop-off spots. Kansas City has bikesharing, too – a common theme among the most mobile cities – with more than 30 Kansas City BCycle stations scattered throughout town. The bikes are available 24/7, so you’ll have a ride even if the final game of the evening goes into triple overtime. If all of these options don’t appeal to you, the RideKC website from the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority is a one-stop shop for planning trips and viewing maps and schedules.
When it comes to transportation options, the NCAA Tournament might be saving the best for last. Phoenix, the site of the Final Four, has the Valley Metro Rail to provide bus and light rail options. Additionally, a web page of Final Four initiatives encourages visitors to “Move Like a Phoenician” by participating in the many alternative transit methods the city offers. moovel powers the Valley Metro Rail app, so customers can easily plan out their Final Four activities while knowing their efforts are helping reduce emissions and congestion. Guests will also receive discounted access to the city’s Grid Bike bicycle share program, free bike valets, and designated rideshare areas at the events.
Of course, not every city will be at the top of its game come tip-off time. The New York State Senate recently passed legislation to allow ridesharing companies to expand beyond New York City. However, the State Assembly has not yet acted on that bill, so there likely won’t be any options available for tournament visitors in Buffalo. To appease guests, perhaps the city can do another taco giveaway to promote Uber and other ridesharing apps.
I’m excited to see how the tournament shakes out and glad that so many of them are making the effort to provide alternative methods of transit. Of course, it falls on us as commuters to take advantage of the many initiatives that are offered. Consider this: last year, 149,845 people attended the Final Four in Houston. If just half of the attendees took advantage of TNCs like I did, they would save a combined $171,573 in gas (assuming a 20-mile round trip and that most cars use 20 miles per gallon, with $2.29 as the average gas price in America). That’s enough money to build four courts and still have enough left over to buy 20 basketballs, a scoreboard, and 75 feet worth of bleachers. Time to work on those buzzer beaters, unless they’re against my Heels of course!
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.