Special & planned event management

A special or planned event generates a significant increase in people and traffic that impacts the transportation system. Special & Planned event management is a coordinated approach to understand the characteristics of the event, how the event will affect transportation operations, and plan and manage a response to mitigate the impacts.

Key characteristics




WSDOT regions

Other names

  • Planned special event management

Strategy description

A special or planned event impacts the transportation system because it generates a significant increase in people and traffic within a specific area. In addition, the event itself may reduce the available roadway lanes due to the event location or staging area needed. To plan for a special event, agencies use a permitting process to begin coordination for event management.

Before approving an event, planners and event managers must first understand the transportation demand the event will generate, time-of-day, audience characteristics, staging needs, event characteristics, and event type. With an understanding of the event and expected demand on the transportation system, planners can coordinate with event managers and prepare a plan to manage transportation entering and exiting the event.

Examples of event types include:

  • Discrete/recurring event at a permanent venue
  • Continuous event
  • Street-use event
  • Regional/multi-venue event
  • Rural event

Adapted from Federal Highways Administration, Managing Travel for Planned Special Events (1).


Event managers, traffic agencies, public transportation agencies, and law enforcement work together to identify which vehicles and routes will need priority, organize communications during the event, and coordinate how to respond to unexpected incidents. Transportation planners, public transportation agencies, and event managers may choose to promote non-personal vehicle transportation options prior to the event to minimize congestion.

Real-time monitoring

Actual traffic conditions can be difficult to predict for planned events. Therefore, an agency will typically monitor the event in real-time and adjust the signal timings to match the actual conditions. This often requires agency staff to work outside regular business hours to implement the planned event or incident signal timings.

Common Operation Picture

A common operation picture (COP) is a continuously updated overview of an incident compiled throughout an incident's life cycle from data shared between integrated communication, information management, and intelligence and information sharing systems. The goal of a COP is real-time situational awareness across all levels of incident management and across jurisdictions.

When to use this strategy

Special and planned event management makes sense for events that substantially increase the number of people and vehicles using the transportation network in a specific area. Several factors influence the impact a planned event will have on the transportation system.

Evaluation factors for planned event management:

  • Time of day
  • Duration of the event
  • Event location
  • Area type
  • Event type
  • Event attendance
  • Audience transportation needs

Strategy benefits:

  • Delays the onset and shortens the duration of transportation congestion
  • Allows event goers to smoothly and efficiently enter and exit the event location
  • Improves safety for people using all modes of transportation to attend an event
  • Encourages the use of non-motor vehicle transportation options

What you need in order to implement

Planning needs:

  • Use a formal permitting process so agencies can review and advise proposed events and management strategies
  • Analysis to consider the demand and projected congestion conditions, and determine appropriate event management strategies
  • Design to develop pre-programmed management plans, including event signal timing, that favor specific movements

Coordination needs:

  • Event managers to plan and design the pre- and post-event strategy
  • Public transportation to prioritize movements with buses or other forms of public transit
  • Law enforcement and incident responders to plan roles and responsibilities for directing traffic and to prioritize routes
  • Affected traffic agencies to plan roles and responsibilities for traffic management strategies

Equipment needs:

  • Communications from traffic signals to a central operations center
  • Central traffic signal software
  • Vehicle detection to measure traffic volumes
  • Cameras for detection and monitoring
  • Variable message signs to share event traffic information

Maintenance Needs:

  • Maintain and monitor technology used for event management, including vehicle detection, cameras, variable message signs, communications networks, and traffic management software

Agency resources needs:

  • Agency staff resources, outside of normal business hours, to turn on, adjust, and turn-off the special event signal timings

Learn more about this strategy

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Managing Travel for Planned Special Events: Executive Summary

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Planned Special Event Capability Maturity Framework

Works cited:

(1) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Managing Travel for Planned Special Events

About key characteristics

Location notes:

Special and planned event management should be implemented near any special event venue that draws a significant increase in people and vehicles.

Cost notes:

The cost can be limited to staff time if the agency has a traffic management center, communications to field devices such as traffic signals and cameras, and communications to the event management center. The cost can be medium if communications infrastructure needs to be installed so the traffic management and monitoring devices can communicate with the traffic management center.

Technology notes:

A traffic management center, central traffic signal system, intersection cameras, field traffic detection, and communications to the traffic signals are needed for effective event management. This technology is common in most urban areas.

Collaboration notes:

Managing special and planned events may be operated solely by the traffic agency, but collaboration is typically needed with law enforcement, event managers, traffic and public transportation agencies to plan and coordinate the event management.