High-profile events benefit Arlington, but traffic remains problematic

Taylor Swift performed three concerts last weekend at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, with total attendance numbers reaching over 210,000 people. Even though some fans likely attended more than one show, or even all three shows, the numbers are still staggering — and record-breaking. While the average of 70,000 fans at each show isn’t a record, the feat itself is, as Swift is the first artist to perform three consecutive dates at Cowboys Stadium. It was her fifth time performing in Arlington. Despite the traffic headaches, rain, and other challenges, it was a win for our city.

Cowboys Stadium continues to host major, high-profile events. Taylor Swift is one of the most famous entertainers in the world. But she didn’t perform in the larger cities of Fort Worth or even Dallas; she performed in Arlington. (Not only that, but she was gracious enough to reference “Arlington” on social media and not refer to us as Dallas.) This isn’t about Taylor Swift, though. It’s about Arlington attracting high-profile events and, perhaps more importantly, how we continue to manage the influx of people and traffic.

Since opening in 2009, Cowboys Stadium has been an unparalleled draw for Arlington’s Entertainment District becoming our #1 rated attraction on TripAdvisor. The stadium can seat about 80,000 fans for football games and can accommodate another 20,000 in the stadium. During the NFL season, Dallas Cowboys fans pack the stadium for every home game, regardless of ticket prices and the team’s record. In 2022, the average attendance for Cowboys’ home games was 93,000 people. That’s not bad for a team that last won the Super Bowl in 1995 and has only made the playoffs 12 times since then.

Cowboys Stadium

Concerts and other events have different seating configurations and can accommodate more or fewer people. Ironically, the attendance record for an event at the stadium wasn’t a football game — it was a basketball game, as the 2010 NBA All-Star Game drew over 108,000 people. It was the largest event held at the stadium. Even Super Bowl XLV, held at the stadium in February 2011, didn’t surpass the numbers, with merely 103,000 in attendance.

Regardless of the event’s size or official numbers, these events are a boon for the local economy. Even though the distribution of wealth is hardly equal — Cowboys Stadium et al. gets a much bigger slice than a nearby sports bar showing the game on TV — there’s still a trickle-down effect, and it’s mostly positive.

Notably, the Taylor Swift concerts weren’t the only events in the Entertainment District that weekend. The newly formed Arlington Renegades of the XFL had a game Friday night, while the Texas Rangers played baseball Saturday and Sunday. Six Flags amusement park is also in the area, although I’m unsure whether they were open that weekend. (It’s not peak season if they were open, but it adds to the congestion nonetheless.) It’s not the first time events have overlapped, and won’t be the last. All three events were at different stadiums in the Entertainment District and had various start times, which helped. Still, several major attractions are crammed into a relatively small area, and it’s constantly growing. I initially forgot about the seemingly perpetual highway construction in the area, especially with the 360 and 30 interchanges. The construction has been going on for so long that you almost forget it’s there, that is, until you get stuck in it.

It pushes the question of whether Arlington would benefit from having mass transit to get people in and out of the Entertainment District. The traffic by the stadiums, especially by Cowboys Stadium, can be problematic even when there isn’t an event happening. When there is an event, and it ends, thousands of cars try to leave simultaneously. The traffic can only spill onto so many side streets and alternative routes. The city does what it can, with Arlington PD providing traffic control and some streets temporarily changing to one-way only for better flow, but traffic jams occur. Arlington Mayor Jim Ross tends to agree. When he presented his annual State of the City address last October, he acknowledged that “transportation is always a big issue.”

Arlington voters have rejected public transportation proposals in the past. However, we now have an on-demand public rideshare service called VIA — a fleet of six-passenger vans offering inexpensive rides throughout the city. It’s a valuable resource if you don’t have a car, need a ride across town, or want to avoid paying for stadium parking, which is exorbitant, to say the least. Yet, perhaps more is needed to manage huge crowds in the Entertainment District or be sustainable as a long-term solution. The service is popular, though, with more than 1.3 million rides since its inception in 2017.

With a population of 400,000 people, Arlington remains one of the largest U.S. cities without a mass transit system. The rationale is that most people have personal vehicles and prefer to use them over public transportation. While VIA is a start and other transportation options have potential, they often take years and millions of dollars to come to fruition. There’s talk of a high-speed rail system connecting Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington. It’s an ambitious idea and would be a popular mode of transportation, even when events weren’t happening, but it’s far from a reality. City buses could help, too, although huge hunks of slow-moving steel objects might do more harm than good to the traffic flow. The streets around the stadiums could be revamped, but that would be a costly mess. For every potential idea, there are plenty of roadblocks. At least for the foreseeable future, traffic jams around the stadiums are here to stay. Arlington has managed this long without high-speed rails and other mass transportation options, so perhaps we’ll have to deal with the traffic as it happens. It’s not a perfect system, but it works for the most part and is a minor tradeoff for the economic impact these events bring to Arlington.

Blog post & photo by Jason S. Sullivan, 04-06-23

2 thoughts on “High-profile events benefit Arlington, but traffic remains problematic

  1. I agree Jason, transportation has always been a challenge even with the “grid” system Arlington has. You also didn’t mention Six Flags and the highway construction that will still take time to complete.. that impacts the backups as well until it is complete.. maybe “one of these days” they will think of something that helps.. but until then people will have to be patient and just plan ahead and not get in a hurry. Which is hard for people in todays society..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought about Six Flags, but couldn’t tell from their website if they were open last weekend. If so, yeah, that’s another thing. I somehow forgot about the highway construction — I guess I’m so used to seeing it that it just blends in sometimes. It definitely takes patience in that area. Locals tend to avoid the area when big events are going, though, so that seems to help some.


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