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28 February 2008

Please fix your gaze on our nation's capital

Apologies in advance to those outside the United States.

Something's stirring in DC. I'm not referring to the continuing Clemens-Waxman staredown, or the purported stonewalling of Arlen Specter by the NFL. There's a new ballpark in the District, and it's causing more than a little upheaval.

The still-unnamed, $611 million, publicly-funded stadium is getting its finishing touches prior to its opening, which is only one month away. There's a good deal of apprehension about what will happen when the Nats start playing ball in their new digs, and for good reason. It appears that the Nats will be getting by with the bare minimum of parking at the site while leveraging the excellent but potentially overtaxed Metrorail system to get up to 50% of all stadiumgoers to and from the ballpark.

For those not familiar with Metro, it's a third-rail based system that's about the same length (trackwise) as BART, but with more standardized equipment (standard gauge tracks) and cool modern station design (platforms actually light up as trains approach). It also has three times the riders of BART, many of whom come from the Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs to work in the District daily.

The Navy Yard station is only one block from the northern edge of the ballpark, though it's serviced by only one Metro route, the Green line. The west entrance to the station is being expanded and new escalators have been added to accommodate up to 15,000 people per hour. Previously, the entrance could handle only 5,000. Getting everyone in and out on trains shouldn't be too difficult as WMATA has plenty of experience with crush crowds from their previous work with RFK Stadium and Verizon Center. It promises to be somewhat time-consuming as each trainset is only a pair of cars holding up to 350 total including standees (DC riders please correct me on this if I am mistaken - I'm recalling from memory).

Metro promises to be full of fans who park at or near a station further away and take the subway in. That's a pretty good plan since parking is going to be scarce around the ballpark. Two garages, holding a total of 1,200 spaces, have had their spaces signed away to the team and its highest of high-roller customers. The Nats are working on an additional 4,000 spaces in the vicinity. The catch? Those spaces are only being promised to season ticket holders. Area residents have their own on-street parking restrictions (PDF map). Casual fans will either have to endure a frustrating hunt for expensive parking, or park and take a shuttle from RFK, which is over 2 miles away through what will probably be gnarly traffic. At least parking and the shuttle are supposed to be free.

Speaking of shuttles, the RFK shuttle won't be alone. WMATA is beefing up buses to handle fans who want to use a non-subway alternative to Union Station and other more central locales. Still others who are looking to avoid the crush at Navy Yard may take a different line to another station about a mile away from the ballpark, then hoof it in.

As the area around the ballpark gets more developed parking options should increase. For the time being managing this situation on a daily basis should be at the very least quite challenging. There's one interesting indicator of how difficult it could be: the Nats don't have a single midweek day game at home on this season's schedule.

16 comments:

Tony D. said...

R.M.,
Funny you mention the new Nats ballpark. It was featured last night on HD Theaters "Build it Bigger." Just plain awesome to put it lightly. One thing I noticed from last nights piece was that there are residential homes literally next door to the ballpark. Any idea how these residents feel about the new yard? Any complaints or concerns must have fallen on deaf ears, as "Build it Bigger" and your post proves.

Anonymous said...

Well at least this ballpark was designed with plenty of public transit options in mind (unlike a certain other "plan") ...

- Timmy

James said...

Marinelayer,

I lived in DC (in the District and in Arlington for eight years combined). The Metro is a much more efficient system than BART, even though the basic setup of the trains themselves are identical (aside from the colors and pleather seats, the trains/cars/seats look and sound like BART). Metro was designed as a hub-and-spoke system where where most journeys require a transfer. However, transferring is a breeze because the cars are longer and have three doors on each side, as compared to BART's two (making entering/exiting trains much easier). The trains are shorter, but run much closer together. In addition, where BART has four lines running from Daly City to the Embarcadero, this doesn't happen on Metro. The red line doesn't have track overlap of any other line, but all other lines each have overlap with one other line within the Federal Center, but then branch out again. Each line has at least one transfer point to each other line, but transferring is seamless given the frequency between train arrivals at stations (I have seldom had to wait more than about three minutes). Even if there is a breakdown at some point within the system, while somewhat problematic, there are usually ways to get around the system... it has the ability to single-track trains between most stations in the Federal Center and many stations are served by more than one line, so you can oftentimes transfer out of the problem. Metro doesn't reach out as far into the suburbs as BART does, but there are nine suburban spokes, as compared to BART's five. People use Metro because it is reliable, clean, safe, and frequent, and fans will use Metro to their new stadium for these reasons. Even if the trains are crowded going into and out of the games, the frequency makes up for it and the croweded conditions will last only until the train reaches the transfer points. From Navy Yard, it's only two very quick stops to L'Enfant Plaza, a transfer point to the Yellow, Blue, and Orange Lines. Another two quick stops and you reach Gallery Place/Chinatown, which is the transfer point to the Red Line.

Contrasted to BART, I suspect the reason that there is such abysmal ridership levels to the Coliseum is that trains run 15 or 20 minutes apart and the cars are crowded for long stretches of time because it's not a transfer-friendly system.

Metro was simply mapped and designed better than Metro. That's the reason they have the ridership levels they do.

Anonymous said...

Timmy,

Actually, you'd be hardpressed to find anyplace in DC that isn't served well by public transportation. But keep eating those sour grapes!

Jeffrey said...

Timmy,
Have you read the actual proposal on the City of Fremont website with the traffic plan, or just tyoing to read your own words?

Marine Layer said...

To be fair, DC proper is more dense than most of the Bay Area and Metro was built to take advantage of that. BART is more of a regional service and can't have the same kind of coverage.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've read the plans and I'm not at all impressed, thanks.

Listen, all I'm saying is that the DC ballpark was built with convenient mass transit in mind, thus assuring themselves of a fighting chance of LONG-TERM success. Of course success on the field usually has a fair say in attendance, but if you can get folks in and out of the ballpark conveniently, you've gone a long way. Fremont, on the other hand, was not designed this way and time will tell whether this will hurt them or perhaps hinder or prevent them from ever seeing this come to fruition.

Sour grapes? Not sure what that's supposed to mean ... don't confuse me with anyone else and please don't assume you know me or for that matter anything about me or what I stand for. You'd be foolish to do so and very wrong if you did.

What I stated in my first post is true ... debate this all you want and condemn me for exposing the truth, but it is what it is. By the way, I am a guy that would have yelled the emperor has no clothes as well ... in this case, the ballpark has no convenient transit options.

- Timmy

James said...

ML... exactly! The bay area, outside of SF, will never draw the same ridership as Metro for that reason. If people have to drive to a BART station and wait up to 15 minutes to board a crowded train, it is simply much easier and faster to drive to the ballpark. And Cisco Field will have the built-in advantage of having things to do before and after the games. All these claims of lack of public transportation are patently overblown, evidenced by the fact that only 15% of A's patrons now use BART.

Marine Layer said...

Timmy, you can't honestly think you've been "exposing the truth." It's long been acknowledged that the biggest issue with the Cisco Field plan is transportation.

The biggest difference between the two, besides the public vs. private financing issue, is that in DC the ballpark is being introduced into a market where transit use is very well ingrained and integrated as part of the culture. That is definitely not the case in the Bay Area.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps not exposing, but at least acknowledging that this is indeed an issue.

Clearly folks that went to Candlestick for years were not used to accessing via public transit, but since moving to downtown SF, they've surely made good use of existing lines of public transit which has in no small way been a factor in their attendance.

- Timmy

Jeffrey said...

Transportation things that I like:

1. Heavy Rail- New Amtrak station in the Neighborhood.

2. Freeways- Two freeways close by and what appears to me to be an efficient traffic flow design as a part of the proposal. Currently, 680 North and 880 North are problems at commute time in the area, but existing projects should correct some of the problem by the time it matters for the ballpark. And...

3. Surface Streets-New Fremont Blvd-McCarthy extension to help with South Bay traffic. Existing Milpitas-Warm Springs Blvd provides a surface route for South Bay Fans on the eastern side of 880.

4. BART shuttles from Fremont and eventually Warm Springs BART. This one is iffy, as the station has to be built first... but when Warm Springs BART is finished and there are shuttles to the stadium, there will be little difference in mileage when compared to AT&T Parks BART with MUNI connection situation.

James said...

Timmy,

Ahhh, but there's a difference between San Francisco and the east/south bay area. San Francisco is a transit-oriented city and a large percentage of the residents don't even own cars. Many of those who do drive don't have parking at home and have to park on the street, playing musical cars on street cleaning days, and therefore, once they have a parking place, they don't want to move their car unless they are going to Target or Home Depot. Factor into that several other reasons people don't drive to the games, including (a) lack of parking at AT&T Park; (b) cost of parking there; (c) utter gridlock in the neighborhood; (d) a convenient location to downtown, where people can easily get to games after work. You can't compare that to a suburban park where the mojority of the fans have cars and driving is a part of their daily existence. Even in Oakland, only 15% of fans currently use BART.

As a San Franciscan, I can tell that the biggest reason attendance is up is because people simply love the experience that AT&T Park affords them. We love the food inside the park and we love the venues outside. We love the convenience to our places of employement The A's cannot compete with that experience as long as they play in the Coliseum. The best thing for long-term growth is to move where people and jobs are. For an Lafayette resident who works in SF to make the choice between the A's and the Giants, there's no contest... the A's will lose out almost every time. By taking the team to Fremont, it will tap into the Silicon Valley employment centers and south- and east-bay residents. I don't understand why this concept is so hard for people to grasp. The A's are stagnant in Oakland, attendance is down, and the team is simply too close to the Giants, which offers a good team and a fun experience.

transic said...

Re: DC

A lot of the crowd issues will depend on how well they do in the standing. If, let's say, the Nats are 30 games behind by September, then I don't think there would be a problem getting in and out. Heck, if they are 30 games out by September even I would be tempted to show up, and I live in another city. ;)

Just to see what this Nats park is all about.

bartleby said...

James,
I was with you until the "Giant offer a good team part." Fun experience I'll buy, good team, not so much.

James said...

Bartleby... yeah, you're right. I'm still stuck in the whole Bonds mindset. And besides, every game I go to the Giants win (maybe I should clone myself and sell my double to Wolff, LOL). I don't watch games on the tube a whole hell of a lot. But without Bonds, even though I think he needs to be to prison, I don't know how I'll cope without the rubber chickens, LOL.

bbison said...

The shuttle bus from RFK might not be as bad as you'd think. There's already the RFK access road that runs along the river. It's only open for events at RFK. If they can use that as a dedicated bus lane, it gets them part of the way there. But those last few blocks...

You know, Wrigley has no parking to speak of. I've been going there for 40 years, most of it driving when I didn't live in the neighborhood. Somehow, we got by.