Charlotte DOT apologizes after Tuesday filming caused uptown gridlock

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comDecember 10, 2013 

The city of Charlotte said it had a “misfire” by allowing the filming of a cable television series pilot to close several uptown streets during Tuesday morning rush hour.

The filming brought traffic to a near standstill and delayed motorists into the evening. The Charlotte Department of Transportation apologized for the delays, and CDOT director Danny Pleasant said he would review how his department handles such requests in the future.

“We want to be accommodating to the film industry,” Pleasant said. “But we had a misfire this morning.”

The crew from Pacific 2.1 Entertainment Group had permission from Charlotte’s transportation department to film a pilot for “The Novice” along South Tryon Street in front of the Duke Energy Center and nearby museums, the city said.

Such street closures require a permit from the city. But Pleasant said in this case, city officials did not issue a permit. They gave the OK to the production company verbally, through phone conversations. He said there was a misunderstanding in that the city didn’t realize the closure of Stonewall Street would occur during morning rush hour.

“Somehow the timing got shifted in that time slot,” Pleasant said. “There may have been some miscommunication. We will make sure we are more on top of it in the future.”

Thanks to a generous tax credit from the state, Charlotte has become a hub of movie and TV production, with filming for shows such as “Homeland” and “Banshee.”

The headaches began shortly before 7:30 a.m., when Charlotte-Mecklenburg police shut down Tryon and Stonewall streets and Levine Avenue of the Arts. Within minutes, traffic in uptown and adjoining neighborhoods slowed to a crawl.

“I tried to enter uptown from literally every direction – south, east and west – and it was backed up everywhere,” said Steven Shorkey, who works at Wells Fargo.

When the traffic lockdown started, motorists turned to social media, sending tweets to find out why traffic was stopped and to complain.

“Anyone know why uptown traffic is totally at a standstill and has been for a half-hour?” Abbye Lakin tweeted.

By 8 a.m., traffic was snarled on Tryon, College and Church streets, and on a number of other streets headed into the uptown area.

The congestion was obvious on the John Belk Freeway, as motorists tried to exit into uptown, and in the nearby Dilworth and South End communities. Some motorists headed to work told of being stopped in traffic for 45 minutes or more.

“I can’t believe they would allow a permit during morning rush hour,” said a Bank of America employee who asked that his name not be used. “No other city schedules these activities during rush hour. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Linda Durrett, a spokeswoman for CDOT, said, “Along with the rain, motorists experienced some congestion. Improperly located street barricades contributed to the traffic backups.”

She said that CDOT officials responded by moving the barricades and reducing the length of streets that were closed. That allowed some motorists to enter parking decks, she said.

Bob Keith, who works at Duke Energy, says he avoided the mess.

“I took the bus, and I’m glad I did,” Keith said. “But it was a big topic of conversation in the office. People who live only a few miles away said it took them forever to get in.”

The traffic mess even affected the film crew. “It made me late,” one member of the crew said during a lunch break.

Some uptown workers had been forewarned.

Childress Klein Properties, which manages the Duke Energy Center, sent a memo to its tenants Friday, warning them of the road closure. The memo indicated that Wells Fargo management also had been warned.

“We got advance notice Friday afternoon,” Duke Energy spokesman Dave Scanzoni said.

But, he added, “There were some delays for our employees.”

Leigh Dyer, a spokeswoman for the Mint Museum at the Levine Center for the Arts, said the museum was advised late last week of the closure.

Durrett said responsibility for warning the public comes from the film company. There was no comment Tuesday afternoon from the film crew.

The filming was a one-day event, according to a memo sent to employees by several uptown employers.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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