Nats Stadium: Getting There Is Half The Game
Let's all chant it together--it's the new theme song of the Washington Nationals and their landlord, the District of Columbia: "Take Metro, take Metro, take Metro!" I'm afraid it's not the most poetic or varied of songs. In fact, the only break in the lyrics comes deep in the third stanza: "Take Metro, take Metro, take Metro, or walk or ride a bus."
Ok, so nobody ever accused sports franchises of mastering the art of the song. But as D.C. Deputy Mayor Neil Albert made crystal clear on today's edition of Raw Fisher Radio here on the big web site, all the months of planning to smooth the way to Nationals Park have resulted mainly in ever more urgent pleas for fans to use mass transit.
A high-ranking Nationals executive told me that the transportation infrastructure surrounding the stadium site was, astonishingly, not even considered when the choice of a location was made. Obviously, the possibility of creating a revenue-producing entertainment and retail district around the new stadium was the paramount consideration. Actually getting to the stadium was secondary.
The good news is that the expansion of Metro's Navy Yard station, which sits but one block from the stadium, is well underway and is expected to be completed in time for Opening Night March 30 (there's also an exhibition game March 29.) But even that huge boost in infrastructure is tempered by the fact that the stadium's location along the Green Line means that most fans will have to switch trains to get to the ballpark--most likely at L'Enfant Plaza or Gallery Place.
Albert told me today that those transfer points will also be prepared for game day, and longer trains will be run on all lines that carry lots of fans to the transfer points.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Andy Litsky also joined me on the radio show today--you can listen to the full program any time this week--to note the stadium's neighbors' concern that residents don't yet have details of the city's parking plan. Apparently, residents will be protected by having identification stickers that allow only them and their guests to park curbside for more than two hours in the streets anywhere near the stadium.
Albert says the two-hour restriction will protect small businesses over near Barracks Row and other Capitol Hill sections within walking distance of the ballpark.
But no one is denying that traffic and parking will be a major problem for the stadium's first few years (eventually the situation should ease, as underground garages are built beneath all the new retail, residential and office structures that will fill the stadium zone.) Albert said that a casual fan who chooses to drive to the stadium without a season ticket holder's parking pass will come up empty: "If you don't have a pass, don't drive," he said. For this first season, the city and the Nats plan exactly zero parking spaces for someone who decides last minute to just drive on over to the stadium.
That said, when I asked whether local residents might not take it upon themselves to sell access to their personal property--much as neighbors did at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore--Albert replied that "Folks are entrepreneurial." But Litsky was quick to add that most of the residences near the ballpark are either high-rises or townhouses, and in neither case is there much opportunity to rent out parking spaces to desperate fans.
So prepare for a traffic mess as fans learn the new terrain and pick out their preferred shortcuts in the first couple of months of this season. The longer term should bring an easing of the crunch, and perhaps a better season schedule as well--this year's schedule includes precisely zero weekday day games, so as not to have thousands of fans leaving the stadium into the heart of rush hour. In the future, that restriction should be lifted, Albert said.
The deputy mayor says the stadium project is at or below budget and will be done on time, but for some cosmetic bits. Washington Post Nationals beat writer extraordinaire Barry Svrluga took a tour of the ballpark yesterday and provides a whole bunch of photos for you on his blog right here.
Barry also provides the remarkable news that the stadium concession stands will be hawking Curly W soft pretzels. Can a good pretzel overcome the frustration of roaming a neighborhood for 40 minutes looking for a parking space? Probably not. So what's a fan to do? Remember that song: "Take Metro....."
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