Atlantic City Airshow organizers have predicted for months that moving a show from a Wednesday to a Friday could bring overwhelming crowds to the city.
But traffic counts on the Atlantic City Expressway released Monday by the South Jersey Transportation Authority show very little increase over last year’s numbers.
A total of 23,327 vehicles passed through the Pleasantville toll plaza heading east between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the day of the airshow this year. That’s only 19 more vehicles than last year.
The count marks a 37 percent increase over eastbound traffic through the toll plaza between those hours on an average Friday in August. Last year, when the show was on a Wednesday, the roadway saw a 43 percent increase over traffic in that time period on an average Wednesday.
For two consecutive years, the peak hour on the day of the airshow at the Pleasantville toll plaza on the eastbound side has been 9 a.m. In 2011, 4,176 vehicles passed through the plaza that hour. But this year, the peak hour registered 3,797 vehicles.
SJTA spokesman Kevin Rehmann pointed out that while the airshow day traffic didn’t see much change, more people may have come in the day before for airshow practice.
The Thursday before the airshow, 19,234 vehicles passed the plaza eastbound between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. That’s a 14 percent increase over an average Thursday in August. It’s also a 17 percent increase over the plaza’s eastbound traffic between those hours on practice day last year. However, the airshow practice in 2011 was canceled in the middle of the day for the second year in a row due to rainy weather.
Organizers speculated that this year’s show could bring as many as 1 million people to the city, testing the city’s capacity to hold large-scale events. While the usual traffic backups and lines were seen last week, no major problems were reported.
Exact crowd counts haven’t yet been reported, and some estimates differ. Atlantic City Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said officials completed grid estimates showing 850,000 people from Ventnor to Atlantic City, and those estimates could increase to 1 million after other shore communities are counted. Airshow boss David Shultz, however, said he didn’t believe the show hit the 1-million mark and added that show may have maxed out on the number of people it can attract.
Anthony Marino, an independent analyst who has consulted from the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, said while the increases on the expressway are significant compared with an average Thursday or Friday, he doesn’t believe the additional traffic come close to justifying an estimate of 1 million even when adding in traffic from other roadways.
Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, which sponsors the event, has said he believes it’s fair to count people on the beach in Brigantine and all of Absecon Island in crowd counts because the show is clearly visible in those communities. However, when asked about crowd estimates, he has said he is waiting for a study to be completed by the Center for Regional and Business Research at Atlantic Cape Community College.
The newest SJTA figures do not take into account people who would have entered the city by car on the Black Horse Pike or the White Horse Pike. Traffic on the expressway normally accounts for about 50 percent of the total traffic across the three main roadways into Atlantic City. The figures from SJTA also don’t account for any increases in bus trips such as those taken by Lee and Harriet Bricker, of Harrisburg, Pa.
The Brickers arrived in Atlantic City the night before the airshow through a local bus trip and stayed overnight in Trump Plaza. The trip marked the first time in 50 years that the couple took a trip to Atlantic City.
“This is just so much fun. It’s absolutely lovely. It’s crowded, but you can still move around,” Harriet Bricker said shortly before the show started. “We’d never even heard about the airshow before we saw the bus trip.”
Anecdotally, several people said the show seemed more crowded as they pointed to longer waits for restaurants, fast food and restrooms.
Bungalow Restaurant and Lounge on the Boardwalk near California Avenue was experiencing an hour-long wait by 12:30 p.m. when all of the more than 30 tables outside were filled. The restaurant opened seven months ago, making last week the first time that the staff had worked through an airshow, manager John Davis said.
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