A real-life bottleneck

At the weekend, Tina and I went to the Exeter Festival of South-West Food and Drink which is held in the courtyard of Exeter Castle (Rougemont Castle - it is mentioned in Shakespeare's Richard III) and the adjacent park (Northernhay Gardens). 

It is a splendid event, and we came away with a few purchases (duck sausages, anyone?), the taste of locally made ice-cream and samples of several chutneys and preserves, and a cookery book for me.  As usual, there was the need for a little bit of operational research in the organisation.  How big should the pavilion for the demonstration kitchen be?  How long should each celebrity chef be given for their presentation, and how can you manage the queues for samples of their cooking? 

At the centre of the show there was a bottleneck for the flow of pedestrians.  The only path from the castle to the park was through a narrow doorway, at the end of a path on one side and at the head of steps on the other.  It was not safe for people to wait on the latter side unless they were at the foot of the steps.  So a control was needed.  The organisers enlisted members of the Exeter Sea Cadets to control flow.  One at the doorway, the other at the foot of the steps, allowing batches of pedestrians through alternately.  It worked, sort of, but the teenagers were dealing with people who didn't expect to be controlled, so at times there were glitches in the smooth running.  Fortunately, most of those attending only needed to go through the doorway once in each direction during their visit, but it struck us that this doorway, and its capacity for flow, would be an unexpected factor in determining the capacity of the festival. 

There are obvious parallels with controls for traffic around road-works and other road hazards. 


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