Gnome-less Nats game may be good news for Metro riders


A garden gnome likeness of Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth sits near dugout at Nationals Park. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Fans heading to the 7:05 p.m. game with the Mets at Nationals Park are unlikely to encounter traffic and transit congestion quite as bad as what they saw on Tuesday evening, but that was really bad.

Drivers had their own problems on Interstate 395, the 14th Street Bridge and the Southeast-Southwest Freeway. That appears to have been an unfortunate combination of disruptions caused by the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, some accidents and Nats Park traffic.

The focal point of travelers’ complaints, though, was the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station platform for the Green and Yellow lines. Many fans were heading toward the ball park early, knowing that there was a limited supply of the Jayson Werth Garden Gnomes to be handed out at the gates.

Though we’re in midsummer and many commuters are on vacation, some had probably responded to the widespread encouragement — by me, among others — that they take Metro to avoid the traffic congestion caused by the summit. That would have added to the number of riders waiting on the L’Enfant Plaza southbound platform shared by Green and Yellow Line riders.

Metro spokesman Morgan Dye said that between 5 and 7 p.m., 12,000 riders exited at Navy Yard station, nearest Nats Park. That crowd likely consisted of many thousands of baseball, or at least gnome fans, but it also would have included some commuters returning home to the Navy Yard neighborhood.

Dye said Metrorail supervisors were aware that the crowd was building up back at L’Enfant Plaza, but there were limits to what could be done. Some extra service was added, she said, and in addition, a Yellow Line train was converted to a Green Line train at L’Enfant Plaza to take pressure off the platform. (One rider sent a tweet confirming that this had occurred, but said that the Yellow Line riders aboard the train did not hear an announcement that would have alerted them to get off the railcars and wait for the next Yellow Line train. L’Enfant Plaza is where the southbound Yellow Line trains branch off for Virginia, while the Green Line trains continue into Southeast Washington and on to Prince George’s County.)

Dye put in a plug for getting Metro more eight-car trains as a longer-term way of easing crowding on trains.

But some riders at L’Enfant Plaza on Tuesday evening said they weren’t seeing enough Green Line trains of any length, and that when they did, the trains were so crowded they had to let them pass and continued to wait on the platform. During rush hour, the Green Line trains should have been six minutes apart.

But Metro’s daily service report for Tuesday indicates there were some problems along the line that could have widened the gap between trains during the early part of the rush:

3:49 p.m. A Greenbelt-bound Green Line train at Branch Avenue did not operate, resulting in a 6-minute gap in service.

3:59 p.m. A Mt. Vernon Square-bound Yellow Line train at Huntington did not operate, resulting in a 6-minute gap in service.

4:01 p.m. A Greenbelt-bound Green Line train at Branch Avenue did not operate, resulting in a 6-minute gap in service.

Rush hour riders know that any disruption at rush hour can affect crowding on the trains and platforms long after the initial problem is resolved, and a disruption in one direction can affect crowding in both directions.

Perhaps because some fans felt pressure to reach the stadium, tensions among the waiting riders grew, according to people sending Twitter messages from L’Enfant Plaza on Tuesday afternoon.

Game day crowding often is at its worst at the big transfer stations of L’Enfant Plaza Gallery Place and Metro Center. The Navy Yard platform also can be very crowded, but Metro has ways of controlling that by holding Navy Yard-bound trains in the tunnel, or keeping the doors closed temporarily after trains reach the platform. (This also can have a negative effect on platform crowding up the line.)

So far on Wednesday, the Green Line is in “Good” shape, according to the train-monitoring app MetroMinderDC. Traffic is again heavy on the inbound 14th Street Bridge and the Southeast-Southwest Freeway, but not as heavy as it was at this hour on Tuesday.

There’s no giveway on Wednesday night at Nats Park, which should reduce some of the pressure on the fans who are heading for the game. On Tuesday evening, the 25,000 gnomes were distributed by about 6:15, well before game time.

The Post’s Scott Allen reports that some already have found their way into eBay auctions, where bidding had reached $122.50.

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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