Peak Load

This is Qualcomm Stadium, not the Oakland Coliseum, but the problem is the same.

Today I took my two month-old son to see the Cubs beat the Athletics 3–1 (yay!) at the Oakland Coliseum.

As usual, I parked in my secret parking spot on a street just outside the Coliseum lots and walked in, saving $20.

But man those parking lots are immense.

They stretch for hundreds of yards in almost all directions away from the stadium.

The A’s don’t actually draw that big a crowd, and although the Warriors sell out next-door Oracle Arena, that’s not the reason either. Basketball arenas, like Oracle, are relatively small.

The reason is football.

Oakland Coliseum is the last remaining shared football-baseball stadium in America, and football stadiums draw upwards of 60,000 people per game.

Most of those people need to park their cars. Hence the vast parking lots.

This is what network analysts call “peak load” — the highest level of demand for a service over a time period.

Peak load for the Oakland Coliseum comprises the eight home games the Oakland Raiders football team plays every year (more in the rare years they host a playoff game).

And yet this entire infrastructure, including parking lots, access roads, signs, and more, is built to support those eight Sunday afternoons.

How will self-driving cars change this?

For starters, imagine that most people use a transportation-as-a-service provider, instead of driving themselves.

The parking spaces won’t be necessary, but stadiums will need multitudes more drop-off locations for the beginning of games.

And image the game endings, with 60,000 people streaming out of the stadium, each looking for their own ride-share.

Maybe it will wind up like the airport taxi system, where only one provider is authorized to operate on stadium grounds, and everyone lines up for that stream of ride-shares.

Or maybe it will look similar to that, but with designated locations for multiple providers.

The biggest change might be optimizing for throughput instead of storage. Twice as many cars might have to come in and out, and people will be less tolerant of waiting. But none of those cars will stick around.

Anyhow, it’s kind of an interesting problem in traffic engineering.

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