In 2013 the role of Gate, Perimeter and Exodus grew in size and complexity. The significant jump in population, scarcity of available tickets for resale, wind storms and rain, and a compacted Exodus all contributed to a very busy year for us. Despite some challenges, Gate, Perimeter and Exodus operations in 2013 went very well and as planned. All told, it was a great year for GP&E as we continued to increase the size and scope of our operations.
In 2014 we will be taking measures to reduce the chance of problems on highway 447. Additionally, our community must work together to reduce the number of vehicles traveling to BRC by carpooling, taking the Burner Express and traveling at non-peak times when possible. It is only through reducing the number of vehicles that we can truly address the ever-increasing time it takes to get to BRC.Traffic is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a significant focus for our department and the Burning Man organization. As the population grows, traffic challenges appear in new forms and locations. In 2013, the biggest traffic challenge during ingress was on highway 447, and occurred most significantly just south of Empire. Areas of slower or interrupted traffic caused a wave of periodically stopped vehicles in its wake. This resulted in much longer drive times to get to Burning Man, and also created safety issues as people got out of their vehicles and walked around on this rural two-lane highway.
The Gate opened to all participants at 6pm on Sunday August 26th, 2013, as stated in Burning Man’s Special Recreation Permit Stipulations with the BLM. Our full operation lasted for 5 weeks, including the pre- and post-event time frame.
This was the inaugural year for the Burner Express bus service, which was overall a success. The buses were given an expedited entry into BRC. Coordination between the bus service and Ticketing ensured most passengers arrived at the Gate with tickets. In 2014, we will increase our capacity to process a larger number of Burner Express buses.
In 2013 we extended the size of the Will Call lot and added staff for traffic and parking flow to support the large number of people going to the Box Office. To improve vehicle flow, we structured the lots to prevent the haphazard parking that resulted in congestion in the lot in prior years. We are examining ways to improve traffic flow and Burner experience in the Will Call lot for 2014.
For a portion of time on Thursday and Friday of event week the BLM worked with Gate staff to control the flow of participants into Black Rock City while efforts were made to balance the population across the 10:00 and 2:00 sides of the city and address areas where people had started camping outside of the designated city blocks. While this did cause a delay for those entering BRC during that time, the Gate was not closed, despite rumors to the contrary.
Tickets again sold out prior to the event, and there being fewer last minute tickets available on the resale market prompted some people to show up at the Gate looking for tickets. As a result, non-ticketed individuals were told to leave the event site and given warnings by BLM, and those trying to sneak in were issued citations by law enforcement. Those caught harboring stowaways or aiding in closure order violations faced having their tickets voided and/or being cited.
Perimeter had one of its busiest years in recent times due to a larger than normal number of people attempting to sneak in or camp inside the closure area. Perimeter also provided assistance to a rescue operation to help people stuck many miles away in deep playa. In 2014 we will be improving our coverage across the closure area.
After a remarkably smooth Exodus in 2012, during which participants spread out their departures over many days, our biggest concern coming into 2013 was how to ensure a repeat of that very positive Exodus experience. Exodus wait times tend to go in waves – a year of long wait times results in people spreading out their departures more the following year, and a good Exodus year leads to long waits the following year, as people forget the bad times. In 2013, a significant number of participants waited until Sunday night and Monday to leave, and Exodus wait times reached an average of 6-9 hours.
We had two unusual experiences in 2013 that affected Exodus – the rain on Monday afternoon and a strange traffic pattern on the 10:00 side of the city. Weather reports showed a chance of rain on Monday of Exodus, and since weather on the playa can be unpredictable, Burning Man decided to warn participants and encourage people to consider leaving if they did not want to run the risk of getting stuck. The combination of most people wanting to stay for the Man Burn and also wanting to get out before Monday afternoon meant that a large segment of our population hit the road in that 24 hour period, resulting in a long wait on Gate Road.Our Flagging and Pulsing operations went as planned. We have Flaggers stationed at the 8 mile exit, at the 447/34 Y in Gerlach and at the Gerlach gas station. Pulsing was implemented for 16 hours per day on Sunday and Monday of Exodus, which allowed vehicles to stop for approximately one hour at a time rather than inching forward on Gate Road. We will likely move to 24-hour Pulsing in 2014.
The rain did arrive Monday evening, though most of it hit to the northwest of the playa. The worst hit spot on the playa was at the base of the 8 mile exit, the single pinch point off the playa. We stopped traffic for about an hour to allow parts of the playa to dry so we could divert traffic around the deep puddles (wet playa can trap vehicles, especially small cars).
On Sunday night after the Temple Burn an unusual traffic pattern developed on the 10:00 side of the city due to the added camping areas beyond L Street (both planned and unplanned). Traffic ended up snarled as vehicles attempted to find their way to Gate Road. Once we became aware of the problem we fixed it, but unfortunately those who got trapped in that traffic jam experienced an exceptionally long wait to get off the playa. Burning Man will be taking steps to ensure this will not happen again.
In addition to reducing the number of vehicles by carpooling and utilizing Burner Express, it is important to work out an Exodus plan within your camp. The one real solution to the Exodus challenge is to have participants spread their departures over a longer period of time. Ultimately Exodus is part of the Burning Man experience – make the most of your time in line by meeting your neighbors, sharing snacks, or having an impromptu dance party!
We will place a renewed focus on communications about traffic issues in 2014. This will include increased pre-playa information about what to expect, regular and consistent updates about wait times, and added measures to help us gather data on traffic conditions.
In 2013 we developed a new Logistics team for our department who managed the setup, maintenance and strike of our entire infrastructure. This group worked tirelessly for weeks, battling several major wind storms and rain in an effort to keep us running 24 hours a day. Due to their efforts our whole department operated more smoothly than ever before.
Our Volunteer Coordination Team worked all year to recruit a record number of volunteers. We added 169 new people to our department, increasing our staff to nearly 475 people. Our Support Services Crew worked incredibly hard 24 hours a day to train volunteers, deliver food, transport staff, and generally take care of our volunteers – we could not do it without them!
We wish to extend appreciation to the Gate, Perimeter, and Exodus staff for their hard work and dedication to getting the job done under any circumstance and in any condition, especially those who return year after year to do it all again. You make this the most fun we could ever have outside the fence of Black Rock City.