The week ahead: Nationals baseball and cherry blossom bloom bring crowds to D.C.


The Nationals will start the 2013 season with a 1:05 p.m. game Monday at Nationals Park. (Greg Fiume – Getty Images)

Watch for crowding throughout the week on the streets near the Tidal Basin and on Metro as the cherry blossoms reach their predicted peak bloom. The first week of April will be a pretty typical springtime experience, the Capital Weather Gang says. The temperature will bounce between mild and chilly. There’s a good chance of rain Friday.

Monday is opening day for the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Monday’s game starts at 1:05 p.m. Wednesday’s start is at 7:05 p.m. and then 4:05 p.m. on Friday. So commuters will get the full range of experiences dealing with Nats traffic during the season’s first week. See the Capital Weather Gang’s NatCast.

The Wizards play at Verizon Center on Tuesday night and the Capitals are home Thursday.

Join me for my weekly online discussion about local traffic and transit issues, starting at noon Monday. You can submit questions now.

Getting to Nationals Park

Much of the transportation network around the stadium is the same as last season, but here are some tips for newcomers and those travelers who may still be in spring training.

Taking Metrorail: The Green Line’s Navy Yard station is the closest to the ballpark. The train platform can be jammed right before and after games. The Half Street exit is the nearest to the park and has the most escalator capacity. If the Half Street side is backed up after the games, consider walking east and across M Street to the station entrance at New Jersey Avenue.

Using buses: These Metrobus routes serve Nationals Park: 74, A42, A46, A48, P6, V7, V8 and V9. Also, the District operates a Circulator bus route linking the Navy Yard station, Eastern Market and Union Station. The Circulator service hours are extended when the Nationals play.

Driving: Before and after games, traffic is particularly slow in the blocks around South Capitol and M streets, on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and on the 14th Street, Douglass and 11th Street bridges. On game days, D.C. police close Half Street SE between M and N streets, and N Street SE between South Capitol and First streets. For the exhibition, the closings start at 11 a.m. and continue till two hours after the game.

Access for people with disabilities: Passengers can be dropped off along First Street SE or along South Capitol Street near the stadium’s two accessible elevator entrances. After games, passengers may be picked up at the South Capitol Street location. Some accessible parking is available for single games in garages B and C. Fans must have valid disabled parking placards or license plates, as well as their single-game parking pass purchased from the Nationals.

Biking: There are more than 250 bike racks around Nationals Park. In addition, the park has a free bike valet in Garage C at First and N streets SE. The valet takes bikes two hours before the game starts and closes an hour after the last inning. Capital Bikeshare has three stations very close to the stadium.

See more Nationals Park travel tips.

South Capitol Street ramp

The District Department of Transportation this week is repairing the ramp from southbound South Capitol Street to southbound I-295. The ramp will be closed through Friday.

Cherry Blossom Festival

This weekend will be a busy one for festival events.

On Saturday, the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival will draw crowds throughout the day for free music at venues around Seventh and Water streets SW. The fireworks go off after sunset on the Washington Channel. The nearest Metrorail stations are Waterfront and L’Enfant Plaza.

Sunday is the date for the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run and 5K Run-Walk, from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m., starting and ending on the Washington Monument grounds. The nearest rail stations are Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, but watch out for Smithsonian throughout the festival. It tends to get very crowded.

Festival travel tips

Here are some basic tips for getting around to Cherry Blossom Festival events.

Riding Metrorail: The transit authority notes that ridership can spike by 15 percent during blossom season and the weekend ridership can approach weekday levels. Metro will suspend its major weekend track work program through April 14. Despite the crowding, taking Metrorail will almost always be better than driving to downtown Washington because of the traffic congestion.

Walking: Smithsonian is the Metro station closest to the Tidal Basin, but it’s jammed at blossom time. If you’re up for a little more walking, get off at L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Triangle or Foggy Bottom. For a great walk in good weather, get off the Blue Line at Arlington Cemetery station and cross the Potomac River on the Memorial Bridge, past the Lincoln Memorial to the Tidal Basin.

Biking: Capital Bikeshare has many bike stations along the Mall. See a map at www.capitalbikeshare.com. Riding around the Mall and East Potomac Park is delightful, but bike parking is limited. There is some parking near the Washington Monument and by the Jefferson Memorial.

Parking: Parking near the Tidal Basin during blossom time is extremely scarce, and traffic is heavy. Drivers can park at Hains Point and take a shuttle. Very limited parking for disabled people is available near the memorials.

See more travel tips for cherry blossom season.

New Circulator hours

Starting Monday, opening day for the Washington Nationals’ season, the D.C. Circulator’s Union Station-Navy Yard route and the Potomac Avenue-Skyland route will extend service hours and days through Sept. 30.

These bus routes offer a convenient option for fans who don’t want to deal with crowds at the Green Line’s Navy Yard station near Nationals Park.

The Union Station-Navy Yard route will run from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Service hours will be extended further for night games, and buses will be added on the route.

The Potomac Avenue-Skyland route, operating via Barracks Row, will run from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 am. to 9 p.m. Saturday.

Stringfellow Road widening

The Virginia Department of Transportation is widening two-lane Stringfellow Road to four lanes along the two crowded miles between Fair Lakes Boulevard and Route 50.

Work is scheduled to be done in summer 2015.

Utility relocations began in October 2010, and they are scheduled to be done this spring as the road work starts. That will result in overnight lane closings and occasional closings during the day.

During the first year of construction, workers will build a northbound detour road parallel to Stringfellow Road between Melville Lane and Point Pleasant Drive. Crews also will build the first section of a new bridge over Big Rocky Run as well as the new southbound side of Stringfellow Road.

95 Express Lanes

The 95 Express Lanes project will close the Telegraph Road bridge over Interstate 95 near Quantico for about nine months starting this week.

During that time, workers will demolish the old bridge and build a new one over I-95 and the future express lanes.

Telegraph Road traffic will be detoured to Russell Road or Route 1 to reach I-95.

This probably will add to travel time during both morning and afternoon rush hours.

The new bridge should open in late 2015.

Arlington Boulevard

The Virginia Department of Transportation will continue closing lanes on Arlington Boulevard (Route 50) at the interchange with Courthouse Road and 10th Street in the Rosslyn area.

On Monday, closings are scheduled for the westbound side from noon to 3 p.m. and on the eastbound side from noon to 5 p.m.

Tuesday through Friday, closings on the westbound side are scheduled for 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and eastbound from 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

495 Express Lanes free ride

This weekend, the operator of the express lanes on the west side of the Beltway in Virginia will be offering free rides to drivers. No need for an E-ZPass. See previous posting on the express lanes get-acquainted special.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Robert Thomson · April 1, 2013