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Supercon traffic nightmare result of 'breakdown in communications,' police say | Video

A day after a nightmarish traffic jam created a mess outside the Broward County Convention Center, the Supercon comic convention began more smoothly Sunday with no delays on Southeast 17th Street.

Two Fort Lauderdale police officers were at the corner of SE 17th St. and Eisenhower Blvd. on Sunday morning, directing a steady stream of traffic into the convention center.

The day before, thousands of comic fans converged on the Broward County Convention Center, snarling traffic on and near 17th Street Causeway for much of the day. By the afternoon and early evening traffic was at a standstill and patience among those flocking to the event was wearing thin.

Chet Simonetti, 63, drove to Fort Lauderdale from St. Petersburg to bring his two teenage daughters to Supercon on Saturday and got caught in a massive traffic jam as he tried to get to his Embassy Suites hotel room at 1100 SE 17th Street.

“It took me an hour to go three blocks,” Simonetti said.

After his daughters walked to the convention center Sunday, Simonetti sat in the shade near the hotel and watched as eastbound traffic, with police direction, moved smoothly.

“Yesterday the inside lane was wall-to wall cars,” he said. “In comparison this traffic is flowing.”

On Saturday, Simonetti said he saw no police officers at the intersections until late in the afternoon.

Fort Lauderdale Police Capt. Frank Sousa blamed “a breakdown in communications” for an insufficient number of officers on the street to direct Saturday’s traffic. Broward Sheriff’s deputies handle security inside the convention center, not traffic.

“Law enforcement communicates well,” said Sousa. “We were not given accurate numbers” from convention organizers about many people would attend Saturday’s sold-out Supercon, he said.

He said the number of officers assigned to the streets Sunday is double what it was Saturday. He would not cite a specific number.

On Facebook, reaction to the traffic and parking difficulties was swift.

Rosemary Smith Hoel wrote: “This is unbelievable — no signs, no one directing traffic, nowhere to park. How can something this big be so poorly organized? Shame on you Supercon we had none of these issues when we went last year on Miami Beach.”

Kim Nugent wrote: “I drove 3.5 hours from Orlando. Sat in traffic for 1.5 hours and only went a half mile. Turned around and drove home.”

Esteban Medaglia posted: “I have been going to conventions for almost 20 years. I do not kid when I say that I have never seen anything remotely as bad as this, traffic and organization-wise. I was stuck, literally without moving, for two hours. ... A complete waste of energy, gas and time. “

And Daniel Banks wrote: “Whoever ‘planned’ this trainwreck should be nerve pinched by a fidgety Vulcan. ... Absolutely shameful. We will not be back.”

Organizers and police seemed to differ on who was to blame, and what went wrong.

Florida Supercon posted a statement on social media, saying: “We are meeting with the police and the facility now to see what can be done to assist with traffic. Anything outside the confines of the venue is out of our control, and we are at the mercy of local police assistance.”

But Capt. Frank Sousa, a Fort Lauderdale Police Department spokesman, said Florida Supercon officials underestimated the number of people attending the convention, so not enough officers were scheduled to handle the traffic.

Fans were also traveling to the sold-out Supercon and trying to buy tickets there, he said.

Fort Lauderdale Police will increase the number of officers for Sunday, the last day of the four-day convention, he said.

Sousa advised drivers on Saturday to avoid the area.

By 6:30 p.m., the traffic heading toward Supercon had dwindled, but westbound lanes were still at a crawl.

Throngs of cosplayers decked out in costume walked along the sidewalk to parking lots nearly a mile from the convention center.

Barbara Fernandez of Miami Lakes walked with her daughter Brianna Fernandez to the Publix parking lot where they had left their car.

"I hope my car's still there when we get there," she said. "It took us three hours this morning to get from the highway exit to the convention center, and when we got there, they told us there was no parking."

Fernandez, 52, said she had gone with her daughter to Supercon conventions held in Miami in recent years. Both said they preferred the Miami conventions.

"It was bigger and more organized," Brianna Fernandez, 18, said.

Barbara Fernandez said this could be the last time she would go with her daughter to Supercon.

"If it's going to be like this from now on, I told her maybe I'll just drop her off next year," she said.

The event continued Saturday until 8 p.m., followed by parties until 2 a.m. On Sunday, it runs from 10:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.The Supercon website says the four-day festival and convention celebrates “comic books, animation, cartoons, anime, video games, cosplay, fantasy, Sci-Fi, pop culture and all things geek!” It also describes Supercon as “the largest event of its kind in South Florida, and one of the largest of its kind in the United States.”

Supercon features “hundreds of exhibitors, vendors, craftspeople, publishers, artists, and writers,” according to the website. And the main stage has seats for an audience of more than 2,500 people.

A statement from Florida Supercon said: “If for any reason you are unable to come today (Saturday) we will honor your Saturday ticket for tomorrow (Sunday).”

bbaitinger@sun-sentinel.com, 561-243-6648 or Twitter: @BaitingerBrooke

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