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Maker Faire: A Model for Encouraging Car-Free Transportation to Big Events

Bike Valet Parking at Maker Faire.
Space for parking up to 2,000 bicycles was provided at Maker Faire this year. Photo: Andrew Boone

The runaway success of Maker Faire, the annual San Mateo festival that celebrates do-it-yourself technology and crafts, has led organizers to get creative in encouraging attendees to come without a car and avert a traffic mess.

Fire Sculpture at Maker Faire
One of several fire sculptures on display at Maker Faire.

Since Maker Faire's debuted in 2006, organizers have developed a model program for managing traffic demand for the growing number of attendees -- estimated at more than 120,000 this year -- who flock to the two-day event to see the eccentric and occasionally practical inventions of 1,000 "makers."

At this year's event, held last weekend at the San Mateo County Event Center, the valet bicycle parking lot "had 735 bikes at 1 p.m., and about 1,000 bikes at 3:30 p.m., which was about the peak," said bike parking organizer Gladwyn de Souza.

"It's also part of the attendee experience. We want people to have a good time, so we want to provide them with choices that don't involve driving," said Katie Kunde, Maker Faire's senior sales manager.

Maker Faire's website provides comprehensive details on how to get to and from the event by transit, bicycle, walking, car-share, driving, paratransit, and even combinations of those modes.

Maker Faire also coordinates with local bicycle clubs to organize group bike rides to the event on Saturday from San Francisco and San Jose, and gives riders free copies of Momentum, an urban cycling magazine along with a free "I Rode My Bike to Maker Faire 2013" patch.

Velomobile at Maker Faire.
Velomobile parked at Maker Faire, with shuttle buses visible in the background. Photo: Andrew Boone

Maker Faire also strives to keep car traffic away from the event venue by providing most of its parking at four off-site lots, connected to the venue by free shuttles. The park-and-ride lots were able to accommodate about 3,000 cars at the College of San Mateo, 1,000 at Oracle, 1,000 at Crossroads, and 400 at Franklin Templeton, according to d'Souza.

At the two smaller lots that are close to the event venue, organizers charged $20 to park in order to manage demand. "They only charged $10 last year to park in the Event Center's lots last year, and they filled up within an hour," said d'Souza.

Organizers also partnered with ride-sharing service Uber, providing a $20 credit for those signing up with the service for the first time. An attendee who gave her name as Nisha said she used Uber to get from her friend's house in Oakland to the San Francisco Caltrain Station. "I'm from out of town and not familiar with the local bus system, which I know doesn't work that well from that part of Oakland anyway," she said.

Detailed instructions tell attendees how to use Caltrain, BART, and Samtrans transit services. While a large number of attendees took Caltrain to the Hillsdale Station, located a half-mile away, some used the local bus system.

Steve, Nigel, and Blake, who drove together from San Diego to visit Maker Faire, used SamTrans bus 292 to get from their hotel near SFO Airport. "It literally picks us up in front of the hotel," said Steve. "It's just more comfortable than driving, less stressful. You don't have to figure out where to go, there's no parking issues, no alcohol issues."

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