What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Refunds, doubled lane cuts Nights of Lights waits to manageable 30 minutes

Posted December 16, 2020 10:43 p.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2020 9:58 p.m. EST

— After more than 100 families were turned away Wednesday night from WRAL Nights of Lights at Dix Park, changes made by the sponsors and the city made the ride a more pleasant one for those who turned out Thursday night.

For the rest of its run through Dec. 31, Nights of Lights will honor all tickets purchased for time slots from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Anyone who purchased tickets for 8, 8:30 or 9 p.m. for Dec. 17 through Dec. 31 will automatically be issued a full refund, beginning Thursday afternoon.

Joseph Voska, program supervisor for Dorothea Dix Park, estimated about 12,000 tickets would be refunded.

“We felt horrible about making that decision," he said. "We know families have been looking forward to this event, so we are really sorry we have had to take that experience away.”

Anyone who decides not to come or who is unable to use their tickets for any reason can request a refund from eTix online.

WRAL and the City of Raleigh are co-sponsors of the event and issued this statement Thursday morning:

"We would like to apologize for the traffic tie-ups and delays that motorists have encountered as they’ve made their way to the evening winter wonderland of lights in Dorothea Dix Park. While many have expressed gratitude for a wonderful light show and festive event, we know that many of you have been disappointed with the experience. For that we are truly sorry. Our goal was and continues to be to provide a socially distanced, safe, family-friendly experience to celebrate the holiday season."

Traffic backed up for hours Wednesday night along Western Boulevard in Raleigh, and many families made the difficult decision to give up on the opportunity to see the lights show. Because of the number of tickets sold and the desire of each family to slowly enjoy the 1.3 miles of festive light displays, some people waited up to four hours to get to Dix Park.

As families from near and far lined up, some had creative ways to endure the wait. “We packed a picnic dinner and got out here early," said Linda Henderson.

Sallie Wintz, with a timed ticket for 6:30 p.m., got in line at 5:30 p.m. and still waited more than three hours. And she was among the lucky ones.

“Just the massive number of people behind us. We knew there was no way they were all going to get in," she said.

Voska said planners projected that the route could accommodate about 1,000 cars per hour and allotted 500 tickets for sale in each 30-minute time slot. On Wednesday, he said, about half that many – 600 cars – made it through the event each hour.

After 10 p.m., the city and Raleigh police on site closed the park and turned around those still in line.

“They sold too many tickets. That’s obvious," said Keith Joyce. He waited nearly three hours to get down Western Boulevard only to get turned away by Raleigh police when they shut the event down around 11 p.m.

“I wasn’t real happy to basically waste the entire night for no reason," Joyce said.

In addition to cutting down on the number of tickets by refunding those with later reservations, organizers have doubled the capacity, allowing two lanes of vehicles instead of one, staggered so everyone can see the lights.

"With anything you do in life, you have a plan and then you adjust, and that’s what we are doing immediately," Voska said.

The goal is to get all cars off Western Boulevard — and into the park — before 10 p.m.

If you’re planning to go, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Expect to wait. Most nights are sold out, which means plenty of traffic trying to get into the park. Wait times could be up to three hours.
  • Ticketholders should use Western Boulevard and go to the Hunt Drive entrance to Dix Park. You can enter 75 Hunt Drive in your phone to get to the entrance, then follow the signs. This is the only entrance to the park that is open during the Nights of Lights event.
  • Have your ticket ready for scanning. You can print your barcode or have it on your phone’s screen.
  • If you are not attending WRAL Nights of Lights, take an alternate route. To avoid heavy traffic in the evenings along Western Boulevard, Raleigh police recommend using Avent Ferry Road, Centennial Parkway and Lake Wheeler Road as a good alternate route around Dix Park.
  • Use Hillsborough Street, Wade Avenue or Interstate 40 as eastbound and/or westbound thoroughfares through the City of Raleigh.
  • Most other parts of Dix Park are operating as normal during the day. Access to all other parts of the park will be blocked daily at dusk.
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