The only good thing to say about an unspringlike forecast for baseball’s opening day Thursday is that clouds, cold and a chance of rain could ease post-game congestion around Nationals Park.The seats should be filled for the Nationals’ 1:05 p.m. start against the Atlanta Braves. But the faint-hearted and under-dressed may depart before the afternoon rush hour is in full swing.
If not, fans tend to lose much of their post-game enthusiasm as they head for the Half Street Metro entrance or the 14th Street Bridge. Now that travelers have had a couple of years experience with Nationals Park, let’s review some of the lessons that can improve their mood, no matter how the team fares, on opening day and beyond.
First, some special notes about opening day: The stadium gates will open at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Parking garages B and C will open at 10:30 a.m. All other parking lots will open at 11 a.m.In anticipation of a large crowd and long lines at the gates, the Nationals advise fans to arrive extra early, take transit if possible and leave backpacks and bags at home so they don’t have to be examined at the gates. Also note that Metro police and the Transportation Security Administration could set up their random inspections of riders’ property at any time at any station entrance, causing further delays and disruptions.
Look for some extra crowding this afternoon on the Green Line. At 4 p.m., the Nationals will host Fan Fest at the stadium. Metro says it will add Green Line trains if necessary after the event. On Thursday, Metro says, it will have some eight-car trains on the Green Line and will run special shuttle trains between Mount Vernon Square and Navy Yard. On days like this when there’s a sellout crowd, Metro expects to carry about 20,000 people to and from the games. But opening day is unusual in that many fans will emerge from the stadium around the time rush hour is getting underway. It’s possible for fans to wait 30 minutes or longer to enter the Navy Yard Station.
Here’s some further guidance for game days.
* Even on when there’s not a huge crowd at the stadium, the Green Line and the Navy Yard platform can be jammed right before and after games. Metro does a good job getting fans onto and off the platform. But crowding can be very bad up the line at the L’Enfant Plaza and Gallery Place transfer points.
* Metro uses some crowd control techniques that are necessary for safety but mystify or annoy fans. Before games, trains heading for the Navy Yard platform might stop in the tunnel, or they might pull up to the platform and keep the doors closes for a moment till the platform crowding eases. After games, police may temporarily stop crowds at the street entrances until the platform is clear. Green Line riders sometimes are surprised to find they are on a shuttle traveling only between Navy Yard and Mount Vernon Square.
* Most fans exit and enter on the Half Street side of the Navy Yard Station, because it’s a short walk to the stadium and that side was designed for game day crowds. Before the game, the Half Street side may be exit-only, and afterward, entrance only. The New Jersey Avenue side may be less crowded, though it’s a longer walk to the ballpark, and fans must cross M Street SE.
* As with any big event, riders should make sure they have enough value on their SmarTrip cards or Farecards so they don’t have to stand in yet another long line at the fare vending machines on their way home.
*Parking at Metro lots and garages is free on weekends and federal holidays.
* Buses provide a bit of a release valve for Metrorail, though they can get stuck in the traffic. These Metrobus routes serve Nationals Park: 70, P1, P2, V7, V8, and V9. Also, the District operates a Circulator bus route linking Navy Yard Station, Eastern Market Station and Union Station. The stop nearest the stadium is on the New Jersey Avenue side of the Navy Yard Station. This route also is convenient for reaching the restaurants along Barracks Row.
* The 14th Street Bridge across the Potomac doesn’t have an easy side during rush hour. The traffic is always heavy at peak periods in both directions. Leave plenty of extra time.
* For those plotting a trip with an online map or GPS, the ballpark’s address is 1500 South Capitol St. SE, Washington, DC 20003-1507.
* Don’t be thinking about finding an easy spot in the neighborhoods around Nationals Park. The District already thought of that. Street parking for non-residents is either banned or very expensive all the way up to Capitol Hill.
* Afternoon commuters will find extra crowding around M Street and South Capitol Street, near the stadium. Watch for D.C. traffic-control officers and police in that area.
* There are more than 250 bike racks around Nationals Park, and there’s a free bike valet service in Red Garage C at the corner of N and 1st streets SE.
Capital Bikeshare has a station at First and N streets SE, by the northeast corner of the stadium.
If you’re heading from downtown, the Mall or Capitol Hill, it’s downhill toward the Anacostia riverfront. You’d be doing the pre-game walk in daylight for most games. Here are some possible routes:
* From L’Enfant Plaza, walk south on 7th Street, go left on I Street and continue south on 6th Street to M Street SW. Turn left and walk to South Capitol Street.
* From Federal Center SW, come down 3rd Street, turn right on E Street, left down 4th Street, left on I Street to a right on 3rd Street, then a left on M Street SW.
* From the Capitol area, walkers can proceed down South Capitol Street, but I prefer New Jersey Avenue. It’s a very straightforward route to M Street SE.
* From Eastern Market, walk south on Eighth Street and make a right on M Street SE.