What’s Up With Traffic at Burning Man?

[Kristy Evans is a senior manager in the Gate, Perimeter and Exodus Department, where she has helped manage the task of getting people in and out of Black Rock City since 2007.  The logistics of traffic, people movement, and staffing a huge department still fascinate her, and with an ever growing city there is always more work to do. She first made the trek to the Black Rock Desert in 2003 and began volunteering in 2005 with Gate. She is a member of the Burning Man Leadership Forum, and you can read the rest of her bio here.]

Exodus Traffic, 2004. Photo by Jocko Magadini

Getting participants in and out of Black Rock City is one of our greatest challenges, and we figure it’s high time to share our ongoing work on the traffic front with you. For most Burners it isn’t the most vibrant topic, except for some of us nerdy types who like to think about systems and logistics (which is probably how we found ourselves huddling around fire barrels drawing traffic scenarios in playa dust for fun).

After the 2011 event, we received more responses (through our Feedback Loop process via feedback here: feedback (at) burningman.com) about traffic and wait times than any other topic. And we are listening. Those of us in the Gate, Perimeter & Exodus Department have been reading your feedback for years and have carefully considered the many suggestions put forth by the community.

This year the eight-day Burning Man Special Recreation Permit from the BLM is from 6pm on Sunday, August 26, 2012 to 6pm on Monday, September 3. The Gate will open at 6pm on Sunday, August 26th to ease traffic and ensure public safety. We’re working to do our part and but we need your help keeping the wait times as short as possible. We are passionate and interested in solving the problem. We know traffic in and out of the city can be frustrating and exhausting — many of us have sat in those long lines with you.

Some suggestions from participants include building another exit off the playa and implementing a regulated departure system, which unfortunately aren’t feasible because of real geographic, legal, political, and cultural issues. There is also a physical limit to the number of vehicles we can responsibly (as in safely) release onto the road in any given time period. For a more detailed explanation please read our FAQ.

That said, we really do value your suggestions so please keep them coming! In part thanks to your ideas we developed Pulsing for Exodus — a system of moving vehicles at regular intervals to avoid the long slow creep that challenges the sanity of even the most patient among us. With Pulsing, vehicles can stop and turn off their engines, then are “pulsed” forward all at once. While you wait, you can get out, stretch your legs, and share food and fun with your neighbors in line, creating, in effect, “one hour neighborhoods“.

Your feedback says that it’s working, and it’s a great example of how this community rises to a challenge and comes up with creative solutions. Cheers for Radical Self-Reliance, Communal Effort, and Participation.

See our blog post “Traffic at Burning Man: What YOU Can Do About It” for more detailed information about how you can help us cut down wait times and increase safety, because we’re all in this together, folks.

About the author: Kristy Evans

Kristy Evans is a senior manager in the Gate, Perimeter and Exodus Department, where she has helped manage the task of getting people in and out of BRC since 2007. The logistics of traffic, people movement, and staffing a huge department still fascinate her, and with an ever growing Black Rock City there is always more work to do. She first made the trek to the Black Rock Desert in 2003 and began volunteering in 2005 with Gate. She is a member of the Burning Man Leadership Forum and you can read the rest of her bio here.

93 thoughts on “What’s Up With Traffic at Burning Man?

  • When my friend and I went to BM for the first time in 2010, we heard that a good time o leave was the monday at 3:00am. Boy were we wrong. Sat in traffic for 5 hours. Sometimes we had to change lanes because people would fall asleep in their car and jam up the lane. That was pretty bad. But last year, I had the idea to leave right when the temple fell during its burning. What took 5 hours the year before, took us pretty much only 15 minutes to get through.

    I am interested in this Pulse idea. I would rather dash out and make good time though instead of being in traffic. But if I did get stuck, I think have one hour neighbors would be quite fun.

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  • In 2011 it was 8 hours between when I got into line and when I got to pavement. I don’t think pulsing helped move traffic faster last year or the year before. BMR was saying 3 hours to get out the whole time I was in line, thus planning in terms of adequate food or water readily available was impossible, and that was the first time in 12 yrs BMR failed so badly. The 1 hour community has it pluses, but how many more people had accidents from fatigue or dehydration on the way home? Things that will help are ACCURATE reports on the radio so people know what they are facing, and setting up a separate line for people turning north on 447. I’d drive to SF through Susanville if it meant not sitting in line for 7 MORE hours. The only Burning Man experience worse than last year’s Exodus was this year’s ticketing fiasco. The last 2 years, the ones with pulsing, have been the WORST Exodus experiences by far since my first Burn in 1998. I can’t help but think there is a connection.

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  • Hi all,

    I don’t know what the solution is because I don’t really understand the thinking behind the need for the pulse – at least not an hour long. I see it as an extra party excuse at the end, which is fine but…. I do know that it took 7 hrs to get out and a further 4 hrs to get to Reno to sleep at 2am. As designated driver (the only driver in our group – not all English people drive :-O I was almost hallucinating on the road trying to stay awake as we got nearer to Reno and to be honest I think we’re lucky to be alive. I should imagine there are lots of accident stories like the ones above, as you have no option but to keep going until you get to civilization – which in reality isn’t actually very far away in terms miles.

    As a comparison, if you can be out of Glastonbury Festival grounds which is remote too and huge compared to BM (150 000) in 1 or 2 hours (often in really awful weather conditions) then why with the great roads you have is there a problem for those who just need to get moving to leave normally? Getting in took 5hrs… I can cope with that though… Excitement makes up for it!

    All the best,

    Christian

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  • Have preferred lanes for cars. Last year I was driving alone in a rented car and since I couldn’t conceal anything in there I went through the check in 1 minute. Too bad I had to sit for hours behind all those RVs before it was my turn.

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  • Last year was my first year. The wait time going in was 3-4 hours, but it was the start of my experience, I met many people and had lots of fun. When it was time to leave (Monday) I drove to the gate only to find that the lines were just not moving. I decided to turn around and find something to do.. I ended up partying at the radio station, helping clean up center camp, and sleeping by the fire that was the man. I woke up at 5am Tuesday and rolled out like a bandit in the night. If exodus is your #1 issue, don’t participate in it! Stay an extra night! Help someone take down their camp. Like I said this was my first year, and it seemed obvious to me.

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  • Pulsing on entry, please.

    Make stop lines every other mile (at least) – let the mile ahead of the line empty, then allow the next mile to move up. Only the last (half) mile before the gate is constantly moving – all others can turn off their engines.

    Communicate this, loud and clear, so people understand and take advantage.

    It will save 50 tons of fuel. At least. Probably 100. It will reduce the number of vehicles with empty tank. It will shorten the waiting line at the gas station on exodus day.

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  • What Liam Be’em Says says. The pulsing is actually creating big batches that make exodus take longer. Pulsing perhaps “feels” better because when the movement finally comes after (at least) an hour of waiting, we are actually moving. Instead of going 1/2-1mph over 5 hours, we are going 5 mpg in spurts over 8-12 hours.

    (Liam Be’em Say, I worked directly with Goldratt for many years up til his death last year… your post warmed my heart)

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  • I’m in agreement with having an express lane to get in as a returning Burner. I don’t need the idle chatter at the entrance. Reduce the vehicle searches unless they are really, really productive in terms of finding stowaways. BM is needlessly creating the long wait times to get in. I have no suggestions for exodus except consider not increasing the total population again until solutions are created. Thanks guys. Still love the event. Coming back for year 6 in a row.

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  • Come on guys…. sit back an enjoy the ride out. plan ahead,water,food,sleep, friends ,new friends. share the drive out ( sitting ) whatever. You just had the time of you life. rememeber, for some of us this may be our time on the playa to to illness or whatever. life is to short to bitch about a little more fucking time spent with playa friends..i will bet most people spent hours and days or even months planning this great event and joy. whats another 5 or 12 hours……you can`t get home in ahour anyway! Remember life is short…..i`ll be planning my 2013 (10th trip in a roll) while waiting to exit. see ya in line………….

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  • However we want to spin it, we’re trying to funnel an absolutely massive number of vehicles on to a road with very limited capacity. I think an admirable job has been done in years past. That being said, there’s definitely room for improvement. Some great suggestions have been made above and many of you seem quite capable of contributing your expertise to positive effect. Why not get involved?

    A suggestion for those inclined/in theme camps: Arrive early, leave on Saturday afternoon before the Man burns. I’ve seen the Man and Temple burn many times and while they’re lovely spectacles to behold, they’re not the highlight of the experience for me. I plan to arrive early on Thursday and help build camp, and sail out of the gate unimpeded by 5pm Saturday afternoon. The Esplanade is quite lively the weekend before general admission, and is just as fun as prime time (sans weekend warriors, of course). Not for everyone, and requires early entry, but one way to avoid the stress and lines.

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  • The only thing I can see that may help, is letting us know what some of the WORST times to leave are, and some of the best, measured by past years.

    Starting with: Leave immediately after the Man burns, all the way to Tuesday morn. Break each day into maybe 4 pieces, and use one of those things cities use to gauge traffic, the black rubber hose device that measures how many axles cross over it.

    Sat Midnight to 6 AM Sunday
    Sunday 6AM to Noon
    Sunday Noon to 6PM
    Sunday 6PM to Midnight
    Same for Monday and then the one on Tuesday

    TOTAL “Segments”: 8

    People can then “self sort” to less crowded times to leave. Most people don’t have a clue on best times to leave, but would probably change their departure time if they knew this info.

    Same can probably be done for arrivals, and you can let people know what have historically been the WORST times to show up. I for one, will happily come at any time of day or night that is easier to get in or out.

    Ron Schweitzer (City Planner by Education, Small Business guy in Reality Camp)
    Happy to Volunteer for planning and such if you need people!

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  • if i recall correctly, when i first started going to the burns, the man burned on friday. (1996) — this really would help spread out the traffic.

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  • Thanks for the posts. My niece & I are first year burners camping with my nephew a 12+ burner. Two other newbies are carpooling w/ us in & out. I appreaciate the info re leaving. We fly out Monday afternoon from Reno so I guess we’ll leave in the early AM Monday and hope for the best. Thanks for all the info and planning. Enjoying the journey: on the “write” track.

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  • My only practical suggestion would be a separate lane or two for passenger cars without trailers. This would help the entry process for scores of burners whose vehicles take a fraction of the time it tales to search an RV.

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  • Our one hour neighbors were awesome last year.
    Two sweet girls were giving out herb infused neck wraps.
    We were in line for 9 hours leaving last year. We left at the very worst
    time to leave on Monday. We are leaving on Tuesday this year instead. But it was still all chill last year, get over your fears of waiting and bring fun things for others to enjoy on monday (your neighbors for an hour.)
    And definitely bring your journal, it’s a great time to write.
    Before there was pulsing it really was allot harder, Getting to turn off your
    car is nice.

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  • Exit has been pretty awful at each of my three burns. I have hesitated to bitch because I haven’t yet volunteered as gate staff, and I know the folks I’ve seen work hard. But the gate staff and entire process needs to be MUCH more organized. The lanes, the pulsing, it’s all great in theory but for in my experience it fails miserably in reality.

    My first year (2008) we had two cars in our party, one headed to Sacramento. We left at the same time, got in different lanes…they got home while we were still in line! (four hour lane difference, if I recall) Wow. This last year, we were in the exit lane for 8 hours, and as another commented said they were reporting 3-5 hours waits the entire time we sat in line. We would have waiting until late at night had we known it was already 8 hours when we got in line. What ticked us off the most last year was that we saw one lone gate volunteer the entire 8-hour wait until the very end. NO ONE was managing the lanes AT ALL. People changing lanes all over, stalled vehicles blocking lanes for hours, etc. Anyhow, at the very end there were 3 gate staff racing around doing the best they could (and not making much a difference). But when we finally crept towards the exit, there were easily 20-30 gate volunteers just hanging around drinking beers, watching the disaster. Helpful.

    I heartily agree with the idea of specified exit times. I have serious doubts that pulsing would work even if executed perfectly by a large, organized volunteer staff. Ten bazillion cars trying to leave at once is still ten bazillion cars trying to go through a bottleneck, whether they turn off their engines or not. Split exit slots over the most popular 48 hour stretch. People who must leave by a certain time should sign up as early as possible. Others with more lax schedules can be, well, relaxed, and get a time slot that remains. And as for entry, I don’t know why the same can’t be applied. If you’re early, to D lot with you.

    And is there some incentive you can offer exit volunteers? A trusted, well-advertised system of rewards after volunteer service at really critical areas would help, I’m sure. No matter the system, exit and entry needs more people working in an organized fashion. I know BM is all about altruism, but clearly not enough people (me included, let’s be honest) aren’t feeling the love enough by the end of the week to tackle a hard, hot, thankless job.

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  • Last year’ exodus was made much worse by a pile-up on I-80. BMIR was begging people to stay until Tuesday. I agree a lane for those turning north would be useful; even mentioned such when we heard about the accident (while sitting comfortably in our camp). A few people who heard and took heed of the announcement came by and ended up throwing a tent down for the night. So a good idea is to listen to BMIR during exodus, especially before you are about to leave, so you have an idea what is going on.

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  • I know that physics are a reality, even at Burning Man, and only x amount of mass can flow through y. That said, 6 hours to leave left me wanting to never return. However, I, too, was unprepared for the Pulse. The ” one-hour neighborhood concept would have totally worked for me. WHAT IF there were indeed physical stations spaced every hour mark? An art piece; a bar; a performance; a game? Why should the creativity end when we pack up?!
    Don

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  • 447 bottleneck? Open the 12 mile gate for folks heading north on County Road 34 to Cedarville. Might take one quarter of the traffic out of the 447/Gerlach bottleneck.

    Speeders in exit lanes? Stick with the vehicle next to you on exodus to discourage folks from weaving through lanes. Closing some exit lanes at non-peak times would also discourage speeding and weaving. Would take more monitoring and effort by the BORG but would result in a safer, more relaxed exodus.

    Yay Kristy Evans! Dedicated Gate radio station! More reliable info about wait times on the radio, not just rumors. Good to know when pulsing is in effect, and when a lane is about to start!

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  • It seems to me it should be possible for BORG to use their $ & clout to arrange with BLM, NV state & local officials for faster egress, e.g.:
    1. Special, fast exits for people going East on Jungo Rd.
    2. Special, fast exits for people going North on County Rd. 34. Hwy 447 is faster, but if it would save somebody 4-6 hrs in egress, they’d do it. How to stop them from doing U-turns? I don’t know — roadblock, with registered license plates for people who got a special exit pass? If we can send a man to the moon …
    3. No stop signs or other mandatory stopping . All intersections between BRC and HWY 80 staffed by law enforcement to keep the traffic flowing for 48 hours after The Burn. And, a roadblock on County Rd. 34 before the gate, so vehicles don’t come roaring past the gate, but get accumulated before the egress is stopped to let them through.
    4. Special fast exits for people going WEST on Jungo Rd., on condition that they take the official “scenic route” around the west side of Pyramid lake. Would this conflict with #3? Not if they take some of the ~$20,000,000 gross and build a 1-lane overpass.

    And, for ingress:
    A. Hire (or reward) enough people to move people efficiently into BRC. I love the volunteerism of BRC, but, really, at this point if they don’t have enough volunteers it’s time to take care of business.
    B. Have roving inspectors in the lines, who can check vehicles and give them a pass so they can roll right through the checkpoint.
    C. Make welcoming by greeters optional. I love the greeters, but if it delays my getting into BRC by more than 1/2 hr, I’d like to pass it up.

    Both directions — encourage pooling. The problem is the number of vehicles, not the number of people. If having 8 people together meant they just slid by everyone else, we’d figure out how to do that. People could consolidate their stuff into big trucks, and ride in vans or trains to the event. Or, add a charge at the gate for each vehicle.

    I’m no expert, and don’t have to be to express an opinion here. If none of my ideas would work, others’ would. I am sure that if I came up with these ideas, others can too, and BORG can do a better job of this.

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  • The issue on entry and exit is that the number of vehicles exceeds by a huge margin the capacity of the road(s) to carry traffic. That is the math. So, here is my personal idea of doing a fix that can be done;
    1. Entry: take a deep breath, entry was changed last year by a combination of NHP/NDOT from Sunday midnite to Sunday 6pm; this year it is Sunday 6pm; my suggestion open the gate at 12noon Saturday or midnite Friday, have the early-in starting the weekend before. The BORG could charge xtra for a paid early in, saturday to the sunday ‘official’ time;
    2. Exit: this is the leap of faith, burn the man on friday night, this gives an extra day for exodus.
    The above is not sexy, like pulsing, it is not the dream of telling law enforcement to make a 2-lane highway an expressway, especially when part of the road goes through a reservation, and keeps intact the route that most people used to get in. Given the number of vehicles per hour cannot be increased, you increase the time for the sub-events of entry and exit so that you spread out the entry and exit.
    The only other fix-its are to cap the number of vehicles allowed onto the playa concurrent with a reduction in population – not a happy.
    Remember, the BORG have to come up with a plan to get vehicles on in 3 hours or less, and off in 3 hours or less, why? maybe because they need a goal they make, an imposed one will not be pretty.

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  • Exodus took us 8+ hours last year. Fatigue sets in, even when you prepare for it, then you have a long drive to Reno after. 3 or so hours is one thing, but a system that takes 8+ just isnt working as it needs to, and Its very demoralizing. I have to admit, not sure the pulse totally helped during the peak of it all.

    I think HOV exit lanes for buses and RVs carrying 6+ people would help, and incentivize less vehicles to be on playa to begin with. I know id sign up for a bus to reno from playa in a heartbeat if it could guarantee a short exodus departure.

    dedicated rv lines for entrance is a great idea too, as is a “fast lane” at greeters for vets.

    I also think a dedicated line for “fast pass” scheduled departures makes some sense to explore, though obviously plans change and there is only so much capacity. but any way to make people wait less in the heat, and be somewhere that isnt a bottleneck for longer, is worth exploring.

    having multiple lanes moving fast for people who planned ahead or carpooled in a major way sure would be a motivator for folks waiting longer to change their plan for next year!

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  • BMIR- Burning Man Information Radio gives fairly accurate traffic reports. Listen for approximate wait times. Stay a day extra and help MOOP.

    I also think possibly cars could be spot checked for stow a ways while waiting in line no more than 10 back… The windshield could be marked with one of those “car wash” markers as “Okayed” or a ” Fuck Yeah”…

    Special thanks to the gate for all you do…

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  • It seems like you’ve got a ready made answer to a lot of the congestion in this week’s JRS. If the To Flame Bus (or any mass transit solution for that matter) had an express lane at Gate and Exodus, it seems pretty likely that a lot of smaller camps might choose to park in Reno and take the express rather than invest the time and gas money to get their cars up to the playa. If an art car shuttle system were in place to get from the BRC bus terminal to a camper’s campsite, you’d have a pretty solid, traffic-reducing start towards greening and speeding up the first and last days of the event. Even without that step, if the bus made designated stops at the major plazas along Geranium, that would pretty much get everybody close enough to where they need to be to offload their belongings and hitch a ride to their campsite.

    I say this because I was just about to consider the To Flame Bus for myself but, if I’m going to be stuck in Exodus for 8 hours either way, I’d much rather have the convenience of an already packed car once I hit the highway. If the bus got me back to Reno several hours faster (hours that I could spend napping :) it’d be a no-brainer.

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  • I love a couple of these suggestions!

    Yes, express lanes past the greeters.
    Yes, open other roads heading north, west.

    And it would be great if the powers that be would open both lanes of the access road to one-way traffic during exodus.

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  • Why not burn the Temple at high noon on Sunday instead of at sunset?

    And, what about the elephant in the room? County Rd 34 should be three lanes between the playa entrance and Gerlach. It’s a no brainer– exodus is a problem because the road is too narrow. How much would it cost to pave another lane from the access to Gerlach? Or, what about just paving a 1/2 or 1/4 mile merge lane?

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  • Thanks to everyone for being part of the conversation! Just a reminder to check out our FAQ page here: http://gate.burningman.com/faq-gate.php. It gives additional information about the most common suggestions we get, like why don’t we build another exit or why don’t we assign exit times.

    We have been actively looking at many of the suggestions you have made here, such as bus carpools, changing the timeline of the event, and examining the surrounding roads. Many of these are multi-year proposals that involve significant legal, political and financial complexities.

    And we also must consider how the 10 Principles and Burning Man culture affect or are affected by potential changes to the ingress and egress process. For example, if we assign entrance or exit times, how might it affect the Immediacy of and control over our own experiences? Burning Man isn’t just about the 8 days spent inside the trash fence. It is also very much about the journey, and it is through Communal Effort and Participation that we will most successfully address the traffic challenges facing this community.

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  • @Matt – Interestingly even something that seems as simple as paving a new portion of road is a very complex process. That would involve issues of land ownership, an environmental assessment, roads maintenance, and a whole County process. And in the end it would not solve the problem because you are still back down to one lane through Gerlach, which means you have just moved the merge point from the playa to the town.

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  • Professional transportation planner here. The key to reducing traffic congestion is to reduce the number of vehicles. Don’t think cycling to the playa is the safest solution so that pretty much leaves mass transit – i.e. buses. If each 52-seater coach can take say, 25 burners+gear, that’s the equivalent of approx 8 cars in the roadspace of 2 – a 75% reduction in traffic.
    What we therefore need to do is find ways to persuade more people to use mass transit. Just like high occupancy vehicle lanes on the highway which give a benefit in return for ride sharing, why not have a high occupancy vehicle lane at gate/exodus to motivate people to take transit? There are buses to the burn being organised this year. If everyone knew in advance that buses (or say, any vehicle with 6+ people in it) would get to skip the queue, that would provide significant motivation to join up in a vehicle with others, which makes the queue shorter for everyone.

    (declaration of vested interest: I’m taking one of the buses. BORG have so far said that they can’t queue jump. But as a professional, I believe BORG is missing a golden opportunity to cut down on traffic in future years by not letting high occupancy vehicles skip the queue)

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  • I understand that last year a car accident closed down the road to Reno for hours – this added to the delay for Exodus. That may have been the accident Irene was talking about. So sorry about your accident Irene and very glad you are Okay.

    I had planned to stay until Tuesday anyway. Packed up Tuesday morning and drove out with “0” line “0” wait. So I highly recommend just hanging over one more night.

    As for entry – the earliest I ever arrived was Tuesday, sometimes later in the week. The longest entry wait I have had was about 3 hours. I didn’t plan to come late – but it worked out that way for many reasons. So going from Tuesday to Tuesday might be an option for some.

    This year however I do want to try getting in Sunday or Monday so will probably have a long wait, but still will leave on Tuesday.

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  • I used to volunteer for Exodus. I got a free ticket. Real cool. We are all certified with the State of Nevada as flaggers, and trained to implement safety and uniform proceedures.
    I thought that everyone was on board and experienced traffic control at events like high school football games and concerts where the maximum amount of people are encouraged to enter the road,and the occasional cross traffic was required to stay put for a minute or two to wait for a break in traffic or for a few cars.
    But this is just not true with exodus. We aren’t told this officially, but burningman has made an arrangement with someone of power to use the flaggers to avoid any inconvenience with local traffic. This means, that when a flagger sees an oncomming car moving in at 60 mph, they stop all exodus to the road so the speeding car can blow on through. This is the sad policy of exodus. They won’t admit it, but they can speed up exodus times tremendiously if they had managers with balls.
    So I now stay late and help the camp pack up. Problem solved for me.

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  • My biggest issue is with the entrance. The exit is a physical limitation of the roadway. The entrance is MAN MADE and that is B.S.!

    Has anyone noticed the railway that goes from Reno to Gerlach and along lake bed?
    You can haul a lot of weight very cheaply on Rail!

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  • Build a simple RR stop on the border of the playa and charter a train from the east and west to stop there. Coordinate truck and container deliveries from key cities or get your freinds with RV to bring your stuff so that you can take the train.

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  • I might mention that I volunteered to work the entrance and was turned down! No kidding!

    The more inspectors you have the faster the entrance the smaller the line!

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  • Please do a better job about educating people about pulse. This is my crews 5th year & I have no idea how we had had not heard of this.

    Could we move the Temple Burn to Noon on Sunday?

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  • Please add more porta-potties to the exodus….If people get stuck in it 8+ hours like last year, there really needs to be more fully stocked porta-potties to accomodate such an extended stay on the way out.

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