Before Nationals Park opened in 2008, D.C. transportation planners prepared for the traffic volumes and transit use that would occur if each game were a sellout.
Metro rebuilt the Navy Yard station exit at Half Street to handle a crush of extra riders. Traffic enforcement systems were drawn up out of concern that streets would be gridlocked and residential parking impossible.
Most of these troubles never happened, partly because of the planning and partly because attendance hasn’t matched the highest hopes. Meanwhile, more off-street parking became available. Regular fans figured out the best routes and times for travel and settled into patterns.
Still, each spring brings change. The 2012 home opener was Thursday; here are the latest travel tips.
●The Green Line and the Navy Yard platform can be jammed right before and after games. Metro does a good job managing the platform, although for last week’s exhibition game, I saw some confusion among newcomers about which exit was best. The Half Street exit is nearest the park and has the most escalator capacity. But after games, if the Half Street side is backed up, consider walking east and across M Street to the station entrance at New Jersey Avenue.
Those transferring to the Blue or Orange lines will probably be better off doing so at L’Enfant Plaza rather than continuing north to Gallery Place, then taking the Red Line over to Metro Center and boarding a Blue or Orange train.
Fans heading for a Red Line destination on the eastern side of the line might be better off skipping the transfer at Gallery Place and instead continuing on the Green Line to Fort Totten.
Fans heading toward Alexandria or Springfield after games can change to the Yellow Line at L’Enfant Plaza. But they might be better off staying on the Green Line for one more stop and making their switch at Archives. Archives probably will be less crowded, and it has a center platform, so transferring riders can just walk across to their Yellow Line trains.
●Parking at Metro lots and garages is free and easy on weekends and federal holidays, but on weekdays, payment is required. That’s usually by SmarTrip card, but some stations now take credit cards. They are Addison Road-Seat Pleasant, Anacostia, Branch Avenue, Dunn Loring, East Falls Church, Franconia-Springfield, Glenmont, Greenbelt, Grosvenor-Strathmore, Huntington, Landover, Largo Town Center, Naylor Road, New Carrollton, Prince George’s Plaza, Rockville, Shady Grove, Suitland and Vienna.
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. (The Circulator no longer stops inside the garage at Union Station.)
●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. Before the exhibition game, traffic was stop-and-go on the northbound Douglass Bridge, just before the stadium.
D.C. traffic control officers were both assertive in directing drivers and helpful in answering questions, but the two at the intersection of N Street and South Capitol had a particularly tough job dealing with turning and stopping traffic and with lost drivers.
●Street parking for nonresidents near Nationals Park is either banned or very expensive all the way north to Capitol Hill. Off-street parking options are more plentiful than ever. The lots and garages are north and east of the stadium. Parking prices for single games range from $5 to more than $40, depending on the distance from the stadium.
●Since the end of last season, the District has opened two freeway spans on the 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia River. A third span, the one for local traffic, is scheduled to open in May with two lanes inbound and one outbound, an interim configuration.
In June, the city plans to open the ramp that will take traffic from southbound D.C. 295 onto the freeway bridge. A ramp from the outbound bridge to northbound D.C. 295 should open in September.
●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.
●More than 250 bike racks are around Nationals Park, and a free bike valet service is available in Garage C at N and First streets SE. For the exhibition game, many bikes were chained to the racks, and the valet also was busy.
●Capital Bikeshare has four stations within walking distance: First and N streets SE; M Street and New Jersey Avenue SE; First and K streets SE; and Fourth and M streets SW.
The new bridge for the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail over the CSX tracks on the west bank of the Anacostia River is scheduled to open late this month. That will complete the trail segment from Benning Road down to South Capitol Street and the stadium. This is a great area for a stroll, and boat services connect Alexandria and Georgetown.
If you’re heading from downtown, the Mall or Capitol Hill, it’s downhill toward the Anacostia riverfront. Here are some possible routes:
●From L’Enfant Plaza, walk south on Seventh Street, go left on I Street and continue south on Sixth Street to M Street SW. Turn left and walk to South Capitol Street.
●From Federal Center SW, come down Third Street, turn right on E Street, left down Fourth Street, left on I Street to a right on Third 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 straightforward route to M Street SE, and about 15 minutes from the Capitol South Metro station.
●From Eastern Market, walk south on Eighth Street and make a right on M Street SE.