For Merriam Police Department, IKEA grand opening means massive traffic planning operation

Merriam Police Chief Mike Daniels has a first-hand view of IKEA standing at the police  department.
Merriam Police Chief Mike Daniels has a first-hand view of IKEA standing at the police department. Work on the building was still in progress this week. The store opens Sept. 10.

For Merriam Police Chief Mike Daniels, the battle plan to handle the traffic at the IKEA grand opening has been months in the making – and it is a massive logistical problem. In less than two weeks, Merriam expects to be flooded with an unprecedented number of visitors when IKEA opens its doors for the first time.

And if IKEA’s experience at its other openings around the country holds true, the rush of visitors could last for three weekends. For Daniels and his staff, the traffic plan has been six months in the making. IKEA has 1,200 parking spaces on its own property and has rented 800 more at the old Kmart property on Shawnee Mission Parkway for the opening. The city is preparing to handle traffic that could reach 5,000 to 7,500 cars per day and maybe more from the IKEA experience.

“We think we are ready, but until the 10th, we won’t know,” Daniels says of the long and complicated planning effort. Officers from 12 police agencies will help with traffic control, supplying 200 man-hours per day over 12 days spanning the three weekends (all funded by IKEA). But the first weekend really starts on a Wednesday, the grand opening day, and runs to Monday.

“We do expect delays,” Daniels says, but officers will man the major intersections that will be taking extra traffic to keep them clear. Officers “will only step into the streets if the lights can’t handle the flow,” the chief says. All five Merriam exits off I-35 will have signs directing traffic for IKEA and police hope to fill both the IKEA lot and Kmart lot simultaneously to alleviate congestion. The store is still working on finding more parking, Daniels says: “we’ll take them all.” Some places, like the city hall lot, will be off limits to IKEA customers.

Lanes on some streets will be only for IKEA while other lanes will be used to keep through traffic moving. Daniels said the department will continually evaluate the traffic and manpower needs. The Merriam police department sits right next to the IKEA building. But for grand opening, Daniels has split the command into two divisions. To make sure Merriam residents don’t see any drop in service, officers handling regular patrol will move over to the community center to be out of the congested area. The IKEA incident command will set up on Sept. 8, 48 hours before the opening, but the day customers can begin lining up on the property to get in.

“We’ve done a lot to prepare for their arrival,” Daniels says, including contacting police in other IKEA cities almost as soon as IKEA announced it was coming to Merriam. The first concern was the demand on police services because IKEA was built to draw from a region. But IKEA customers shop for two to three hours, which lowers the police service burden – and IKEA has its own security staff. “Call-wise, it is not a big issue (after the grand opening),” Daniels says, and won’t cause a significant increase in manpower needs. He expects more calls from some of the surrounding businesses.

“But every time you put a lot of people (in one place) something can happen,” he says.