On Friday afternoon, 165,000 young people, many in banana suits, bunny costumes and candy bracelets, will descend onto downtown Miami for the annual electronic dance music festival known as Ultra.
The festival, now in its 20th year, is a three-day, eight-stage event, where fans drink, dance, and exchange a specific handshake (spelling out the initials for the rave-culture mantra, “Peace, Love, Unity and Respect") against an unrelenting backdrop of very loud music.
If lasers, bass, and stimulants aren’t your thing, you may want to avoid the Bayfront Park area of Biscayne Boulevard and Third Street, or at least know what you’ll be in for:
Starting at 9 p.m. Thursday, Miami police will change up the traffic rules on Biscayne Boulevard, near the festival grounds.
• There will be no southbound traffic after Sixth Street. All drivers heading south will be redirected west, continuing on Northeast Second Avenue. The Port of Miami and Bayside will still be accessible.
• Northbound traffic along Biscayne Boulevard will shrink to one lane between Southeast First Street and Northeast Fourth Street. Because Ultra encompasses the northbound lanes, cars will be directed onto the opposite side of the street, and run against the usual flow of traffic until Northeast Fourth Street.
Chances of getting around quickly are better if you’re driving in the morning––the festival kicks off at 4 p.m. Friday and runs until midnight. Saturday and Sunday, things will rev up again around noon, lasting until midnight and 11 p.m., respectively.
Access to the Intercontinental Hotel at Chopin Plaza will remain open. The traffic changes will be lifted at 6 a.m. Monday.
For all three days of the festival weekend, Miami’s mass transit system will run on special hours to accommodate the influx of costumed partiers.
Starting Friday, the Miami Metrorail will extend its service until 2 a.m., and Metrorail parking facilities will also remain open.
Tri-Rail will offer a special late night ride after the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night shows. After the Friday and Saturday concerts, the train will leave at 1:35 a.m. and, after the Sunday night show, at 12:35 a.m.
Tri-Rail will take concert-goers to the Miami Airport station, at which point they can transfer to the Metrorail or Metromover.
Bus routes will run normally. But if you take the bus, remember that they will be affected by the traffic shifts.
Uber has partnered with Ultra for the duration of the festival. If you’re looking to catch a car, head away from Bayfront Park to the designated ride-share section. The 10-square block swatch runs from Northeast Fifth Street to Southeast First Street, and between Northeast Second and South Miami avenues. If you sign up for an Uber account with the code “Ultra2018,” you can save up to $20 on the ride.
As city officials prepare the roads for Ultra, they are also taking precautions to ensure the large gathering — a set-up similar to last year’s Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, when a gunman opened fire and killed 58 people — is not the site of a tragedy.
Miami police Lt. Gilberto Gomez said traffic redirection doubled as a safety measure. Congestion will help ward off car-related acts of terror, like the attack last August in Charlottesville when a driver careened into the crowd and killed Heather Heyer, 32, one of the people protesting the neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members who staged the white-supremacist rally.
“It’s actually going to help against a vehicle attack,” Gomez said. “They’re going to be so choked up that no one will be able to pick up speed.”
Limited car access is only a small part of their plan. Last week, Miami police outlined an elaborate security protocol based on the Las Vegas massacre. In addition to staffing plainclothes officers around Biscayne Boulevard, the police force will also station snipers on nearby buildings, ready to respond in the event of an active shooter.
Roughly 300 officers will patrol Ultra. There also will be hundreds of cameras placed throughout Miami. Using a relatively new protocol called “virtual policing,” law enforcement can access and send out photos in seconds, alerting one another to illegal behavior.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Ultra Security Chief Ray Martinez emphasized that city officials would work to keep the event fun —not dangerous.
“Safety and security are our primary concerns,” he said.