Getting Out: Exodus

Q. Why does it sometimes take so long to get out of Black Rock City? What can be done to make it better?
A. Here’s the dealio: There are a finite number of vehicles that can get out of Black Rock City (BRC) and onto County Route 34 (CR 34) per hour. This is a fixed number, and probably won’t change any time in the near future. In our current configuration, the ONLY THING that can make the wait time shorter is to have fewer vehicles leave BRC at the same time (i.e., people spread out their departures and leave at off-peak times).

When most people in the city leave on the same day, it creates longer wait times.

We most often see this on Monday of Exodus, though this doesn’t happen every year. It has tended to go in a biennial cycle…a great year followed by a bad year, followed by a great year, followed by…you get the point.

Reducing the overall number of vehicles by carpooling and Burner Express, along with spreading out departures, are the best ways to achieve shorter wait times for Exodus. Eager to beat the rush? Leave before the Man burn. Have some extra time for MOOPing? Leave Tuesday morning.

Make a departure plan for your camp, whether you are a camp of just a few people or a few hundred. Create an internal schedule that spreads out the departures of each vehicle over multiple days and times, especially during non-peak times if possible.

Above all, keep that playa vibe with you! Make sure you have enough gas, water, snacks, essential medications, and anything else you need with you, and pack instruments, music, and anything else you need to make the wait more fun. Have a one hour dance party and meet your neighbors in line. Consider a separate designated driver just for Exodus so you start the drive on the highway fresh.

Q. When is the best time to leave if I want to avoid a long wait time?

A. Every year is a little different, and some years are so unpredictably different that we hesitate to make a solid suggestion. While Sunday and Monday afternoons used to be the busiest departure times, we have seen some of the heaviest traffic in recent years in the late night after the Burns. If you really want to avoid the line, leave on a day other than Sunday or Monday.

So how do you pick a time? Listen to the community. If everyone you talk to says they are staying to watch the Temple burn on Sunday night, then Monday is going to have very long wait times. If there is a major storm predicted for the weekend (as was the case in 2010), then a bunch of people will probably leave on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Tune into GARS 95.1 FM for wait time updates at the top of every hour beginning Saturday.

Q. What is this Pulsing thing I keep hearing about?

A. Pulsing is a system of moving vehicles at regular intervals toward the highway on Gate Road to avoid the long slow creep forward that challenges the sanity of even the most patient among us.

With Pulsing, vehicles are allowed to stop and turn off their engines (from 15 minutes to about an hour depending on how close you are to the front), then are “pulsed” forward all at once. We generally implement Pulsing during the peak driving hours on Sunday and Monday. If you are interested in how we make it work, see HERE.

Q. Does Pulsing get me out quicker?

A. Nope! The length of time it takes to get out is dictated by the number of cars and the carrying capacity of CR 34. Pulsing does nothing to affect either of those factors.

Pulsing does accomplish two objectives:

  1. It makes Exodus more enjoyable for the masses since they are allowed to take a break and mingle with their neighbors during stopped periods. Instead of creeping along, you get to stop for an hour at a time and create ONE HOUR NEIGHBORHOODS! (See a participant’s explanation of this idea HERE.)
  2. It saves fuel.

Q. What are you doing about lane changing during Exodus and merge fairness along Gate Road?
A. On Fairness: We work very, very hard to set up fair systems on Gate Road and back into BRC. We use mathematical modeling to ensure merge fairness, load balancing, and system stability. And 95% of the time, things work as planned. Occasionally something weird happens:

  • A vehicle breaks down and instead of traffic deciding to go around the vehicle, they merge with the lane next to them. BAD!
  • Someone moves some cones and starts an unauthorized merge. BAD!
  • Someone gets out of their vehicle and tries to set up a system that they think/feel is fair. BAD!

We try to enforce the system with signage. We constantly monitor traffic patterns for irregularities. We quickly remedy problems. But we cannot be everywhere at once, and (usually well-intentioned) people sometimes subvert our systems.

On Lane Changing: Years and years of driving experience tells drivers to change into the lane that is moving faster or is open. And in a normal traffic system, this is what you want drivers to do to ensure system balance. Unfortunately, on Gate Road when a vehicle is stopped and the line behind is not going around them, people from adjacent lanes fill the void left in front of the stopped vehicle. So what can you do?

  1. Use all available lanes on Gate Road until you hit the back-up. If you see that there are 8 lanes (which there are), but see only 6 lines of cars and 2 lanes completely open, USE THEM. All lanes on Gate Road during Exodus are outbound lanes, always, always, always.
  2. Once you are in the 8-lane-wide back-up, if the vehicle in front of you is stopped or broken down, and traffic in front of it has moved on in a Pulse, go around the stopped vehicle. Do not change lanes! Do not merge into the lane next to you. Go around the stopped vehicle, and stay in your same lane.
  3. If a lane is open next to you because a vehicle is stopped or broken down, despite your inclination, do not fill into it unless an Exodus staff member directs you to. That open space is for the people behind the stopped vehicle! If you merge into an open lane in the back-up, you are making the system unfair and are being a jerk.
  4. Ultimately we must rely on the community to police itself and ensure their fellow participants are respecting the process. If you see people cheating the system, say something to them, kindly! There is no way for us to monitor all of Gate Road for lane changing…nor do we want to be the traffic police. YOU can help make it fair by informing people about the process and making sure they follow it.

Q. Why can’t you guys just make another exit so we don’t have to wait so long?
A. The answer is simple…all roads lead to the same two-lane County Route 34 (CR 34) to State Route 447 (SR 447). All that traffic still has to merge somewhere. Having more exits would not affect how many cars can travel on the one lane out of town, and therefore it would not make your trip faster. It would also be more dangerous to have the merge on the highway when it is not under the control of our Flaggers and staff. Our stipulations with the BLM dictate what the entry/exit point is, and they only allow for one.

Q. Can you allocate a different exit for people going north on County Route 34, and also for people heading north on State Route 447?
A. Currently there is only one BLM authorized exit off the playa. No other exits are allowed by our stipulations. The logistics and staffing requirements to implement an alternative exit for folks headed north on CR 34 would cost us more than the benefit realized; an extremely small percentage of traffic leaves via CR 34 North. Our energy and resources will have a greater positive effect on a greater number of people if we focus them on other issues.

Additionally, if we could create a CR 34 northbound exit, we run the risk of people abusing it by starting up CR 34 North, making a U-turn, then heading south. The incentive for them to be dishonest would be large (they would skip the entire Exodus line) and it would actually slow down the Exodus for everyone else because we would have to stop all cars leaving Gate Road to allow them to pass through on CR 34 South. Folks intending to go SR 447 North toward Cedarville, Oregon, and Washington still have to use CR 34 like everyone else. There is no benefit to the system in letting them out before anyone else, because they have to share CR 34 with the rest of the traffic once off-playa (if only to Gerlach, but still the same road).

Q. Why can’t you use both lanes (both directions) on CR 34 to speed things up?
A. If we used both sides of CR 34, there would be no way to get vehicles (especially emergency vehicles) from Gerlach to Black Rock City (and to points north of BRC). Those two lanes need to merge to one at some point (we can’t run side-by-side all the way to Reno!), which puts us right back to where we started. It wouldn’t save time…it would just move where the final merge happens. Remember, there are local residents in the area who still need these roads. It isn’t all about Burning Man!

Q. Is there any way to speed up how fast vehicles get on to CR 34?
A. There are a few. The best way is to have positive control of the intersection of the gravel top of Gate Road and CR 34. We control that intersection on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday with Nevada-certified Flaggers. With their stop/slow paddles, they make it possible for vehicles to enter CR 34 without stopping to check if it is clear…it is always clear because Flaggers stop all other traffic.

The second way is to run two lanes of traffic right up to the edge of the pavement, then quickly alternate them out onto CR 34. We do this as conditions allow without exceeding the carrying capacity of CR 34 and SR 447. The speed limit through Gerlach is 25 mph, so if we allowed vehicles to exit the playa more quickly the resulting backups would move from the playa into town, and that could lead to additional traffic issues. This would be bad.

Q. You should set up a system where people can register for a departure time and give them an “express” lane (or some version of a priority/regulated system). Those who miss their window or don’t register would have to wait longer.
A. This suggestion has made its way to us every year for many, many years now. And on the surface it looks very attractive. But, as is usually the case, the devil is in the details. Here are the primary reasons we have not implemented a reservation-based Exodus system:

  • Such a system takes a lot of people power (e.g., people to verify departure times, people to direct traffic, people to enforce the system) and a lot of resources (e.g. a registration system, building secure lanes for four miles of Gate Road that would prevent people from jumping into the wrong section); more than we currently have.
  • Verifying registration would require slowing traffic before Gate Road, which will in turn slow down the rate at which people can get onto Gate Road. Without a significant redesign, traffic inside BRC could become gridlocked.
  • One thing we have learned is that people rarely stick to their intended timeline when it comes to departing BRC. Camp clean up took longer than planned, you stayed up really late the night before, it took a while to track down your passengers, you couldn’t find your car keys, you just had to visit the ashes of the Man one more time, or myriad other possibilities that are so very common to the Burning Man experience. To get nearly 80,000 people to stick to a specific window of time may very well be the most difficult part of this idea to solve.
  • Another thing our Gate experience tells us is that verifying Exodus registrations and enforcing rules will not be a simple process. We will no doubt hear many stories (traffic to get from my camp at 2:00 was worse than I thought, but I really did leave in time! My campmate burned my registration slip in an offering to the Man but this really is my time window! I have a flight that leaves in a few hours, please I need to get out faster!). Each vehicle that pleads their case in turn holds up traffic for everyone else, and this ultimately will cause significant inefficiencies in the system.
  • Remember how we said this type of system would require a lot more people power? Despite our calls for help from the community, we continue to struggle to find enough people to manage the bare basics of Exodus (e.g. flaggers). We understand most people are tired by the end of the event, and many need to get home. However, in order for us to continue to evolve the Exodus process, we need YOUR help. We need volunteers to help run all parts of this process. Everything that happens in BRC is created entirely by its citizens, including Exodus. 

If you are interested in joining the Gate, Perimeter & Exodus crew, please fill out the Volunteer Questionnaire and indicate you’d like to join our ranks by checking the appropriate box.

Some of the above issues could be overcome, but taken all together, a system like this in an environment like Black Rock City would be complex and expensive to implement and considerably more difficult to run efficiently. We will, however, always continue to look at new options and always consider your feedback. 

Q. What happens if I just decide to head across the playa and find my own exit?
A. Any vehicles found outside the perimeter of BRC or Gate Road are in violation of the Event Closure Area. Closure Area violations are ticketed by the BLM. Warning: BLM and other law enforcement really are out there watching and you will be ticketed. Then you will be returned to the back of the Exodus line. Sounds fun, right? Also, some areas of the playa are thick mud hidden by a seemingly dry surface. Every year vehicles get stuck in that muck trying to escape the line. We laugh and point at the cheaters.

Q. You need to have more people out there during Exodus! Are you guys too busy partying or did you already catch an airplane ride out? (we’ve gotten some snarky feedback over the years, so it seems you want to know about staffing issues)
A. Please… come on out and join us as a volunteer! Or did you party too hard during the week to come help with Exodus?

All snarkiness aside, staffing during Exodus is a major challenge. And it is for the reasons you are thinking. It’s the end of the event. Everyone is exhausted and just wants to go home and take a shower. No one wants to stand out in the sun and the dust. And yet, Exodus can’t run without volunteers. So, sign up and come out. It’s actually quite a fun job with a great crew.

The Exodus & Traffic group is actually one part of the larger Gate, Perimeter and Exodus/Traffic department. It’s managed by the same crew that has been out on the playa for weeks, running a 24-hour operation. So no, we are not partying. We are working hard to get you out of the city, but there are only so many of us. 

Q. The road out during Exodus was really bumpy. What’s the deal?
A. That’s what happens to the playa when thousands of vehicles drive on it, especially at speeds over 10 mph. We maintain the surface with watering, but watering has its limit. The slower you drive coming into and going out of the event, the less Gate Road is torn up.

Q. What can be done about all of the dangerous lane passing on the highway?
A. We do a lot to educate people of the dangers of passing on CR 34 and SR 447. And we refuse to believe people who are doing the passing do not know it’s dangerous. They know. They have to. All we can do is keep telling people. Maybe next year we will print a billboard with the image of one of the terrible accidents that occurred on SR 447 after the event, as a graphic reminder to those who would risk everything to get to Reno 10 seconds earlier. Do you think it would work?

Q. Is there a place I can dump my trash on the way home?
A. There are many authorized locations that will happily take your trash and recycling for you. See HERE!

As tempting as it may seem, do not dump your trash in privately-owned dumpsters or dumpsters at stores and commercial centers. Every year we get complaints from local citizens about this issue. And if you dump your trash on the side of the highway, you are ultimately making others in your community clean up after you, and that is truly unprincipled and lame.

Q. Why do I see trash along the side of the highway after the event?
A. We encourage participants to secure their loads properly. Many do. A small percentage do not. And a small percentage of 30,000+ vehicles is still a lot. Please act responsibly and make sure to pack your loads, including trash, securely!