he outcome on the courts at this year’s Sony Open may not have been a huge surprise – women’s No. 1 Serena Williams and men’s No. 2 Novak Djokovic both prevailed – but out on the roadways, it was the year of the unexpected.
During the event’s second week, a suspicious package forced the Crandon Park tennis center to shut down and a helicopter to land on the Village Green to ferry a bomb technician to the site. Then, on the final Friday, sudden cancellations of both matches due to player injury and illness created a situation where fans were literally arriving and leaving at the same time.
While Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press said both incidents resulted in serious gridlock, he noted two factors prevented the problems from getting out of control: advance planning by law enforcement officials and Key Biscayne residents’ patience and experience.
“We had some setbacks,” Press said. “But we are well prepared – we plan in advance, and we’re very attentive. And what’s remarkable is that we received few complaints, and I think that’s because Key Biscayners understand the logistics, and simply choose either to live with it or to not engage with it at all. I think as a community we’ve become more educated.”
It’s a good thing: Press noted the finals of next year’s tournament – the 2015 Sony Open will run March 23-April 5 – fall on Easter weekend, meaning the flood of people to Key Biscayne is likely to be greater than ever.
While police are already bracing for that, Press said he still breathed a sigh of relief when this year’s tournament was over. He said this weekend’s finals were busy as expected, and there were also some unexpected events that made the situation even more difficult.
On Friday, Press noted, both the afternoon and evening matches were canceled: Kei Nishikori had to withdraw from the afternoon semifinal due to injury, and Tomas Berdych had to withdraw from the evening semifinal due to illness.
Therefore, Press said, fans from the abbreviated afternoon session were trying to leave just as fans heading to the evening session were learning they too were being sent home. “It was extremely difficult to navigate through because you had everyone coming and going at the same time,” Press said.
Heavy traffic continued Saturday and Sunday, the Chief reported, when the women’s and men’s championships let out right around the same time as beachgoers were leaving Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and Crandon Park. However, he said, despite the crowds traffic flowed as well as possible, and he got the sense Key residents were wisely avoiding the area altogether.
Suspicious package incident
The difficult finals weekend followed a trying week.
There a major traffic incident Tuesday, March 25, after Sony Open officials were alerted to a suspicious package at the tennis center during the evening session. Officials had to shut down all access to the venue for about an hour and a half until the scene was declared safe.
The incident caused major congestion on the causeway and in the Village, where cars backed up all the way to The Square shopping center.
Press issued a traffic alert to Village residents, warning them to expect major delays.
Police effort once
The fact that few traffic problems arose in the wake of that onslaught is proof that police plans put in place each year for the Sony Open are working.
Press said a few issues did arise during the event’s busy first weekend, but were resolved quickly and were not repeated during the remainder of the tournament:
Early on, police received reports of beachgoers parked on Hobe Beach in a way that blocked bike lanes, forcing cyclists into vehicular lanes. However, Press said, no similar problems emerged over the following week or during the tournament’s last weekend, as drivers apparently heeded police warnings to only park in designated spaces.
Meanwhile, mild traffic backups were reported Sunday, March 23, when Bill Baggs reopened after closing for a little over an hour due to reaching maximum capacity. Although the park was once again busy this weekend due to great beach weather, Press said, no unusual traffic issues resulted.
Finally, the Chief had received reports early in the Sony Open that traffic was backing up on Crandon because County officers stationed at the crossing from parking lots to the tennis center were stopping cars too frequently to allow pedestrians to cross. Press said Key Biscayne Police identified the problem and asked County officers to wait for larger groups before stopping traffic – that fixed the issue right away, he said, and communication worked well throughout the event.