In baseball, October is different, and not just for the players. Playoff ball challenges urban transportation systems by drawing huge crowds to small areas at odd hours and on uncertain dates.
Thanks to the Washington Nationals, the District is looking forward to its first experience with postseason Major League Baseball since 1933. The agencies involved in transportation planning and most fans who hope to attend games have little or no experience with this particular scenario.
That doesn’t mean everyone starts from scratch. Verizon Center has experienced plenty of postseason hockey and basketball in the past decade, although the surrounding Gallery PlaceChinatown neighborhood is very different from the one around Nationals Park. Still, transportation officials and fans have dealt with sellout crowds at the ballpark. And they’ve dealt with crowds of visitors unfamiliar with the area’s streets, parking and transit. Nationals Park has hosted events ranging from the 2008 papal Mass to the recent Bruce Springsteen concert.
“We expect sellout crowds, and we want to make sure fans have a good experience getting to and from the stadium as well as at the games,” Terry Bellamy, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, said in an e-mail. “We encourage everyone who can to take transit or Capital Bikeshare, and we are making modifications to our traffic management plan to ensure we can move vehicles in and out as quickly as possible.”
Like the season itself, planning isn’t complete, but here’s some information fans can use as a guide.
A lot depends on the demands of television networks and the weather, to say nothing of the talent and luck of the team. There are scenarios in which the Nationals might play one game at home and be done. (We’re just sayin’.)
The National League starts a best of five Division Series on Saturday and another one Sunday. The National League Championship Series, best of seven, starts Oct. 14. The World Series starts Oct. 24. If it goes seven games, there will be baseball somewhere in November.
Some playoff dates and times will depend on the final regular season standings. If the Nationals finish with the league’s best record, they could play their first postseason home game in the middle of next week. Depending on the start time, it could either complicate the afternoon rush hour or test Metro’s overtime service.
The daily deals site LivingSocial stepped in to finance up to two hours of extra rail service if necessary after games. (Metrorail is open till midnight Sunday through Thursday and till 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights.)
Under the agreement, the first hour would begin at 11:20 p.m., when the last Green Line train connecting to other lines is typically scheduled to leave the Navy Yard station, closest to Nationals Park. If a game is still going at 11:45 p.m., a second hour of extra service will be added.
Fans heading to any weekend games would get another break. Metro canceled the major track work it had planned for the first two weekends in October, partly out of concern for delays and crowding that might affect travel to and from the ballpark.
These tips may come in handy for any Metrorail trip to the stadium:
●The Navy Yard platform can be jammed right before and after games. The Half Street exit is nearest the park and has the most escalator capacity. But if the Half Street side is backed up after games, consider walking east to the station entrance at New Jersey Avenue.
●Crowding can be bad up the line at the L’Enfant Plaza and Gallery Place transfer points. After games, Gallery Place can be especially difficult for fans switching to the Red Line toward Shady Grove. Those heading for Blue or Orange lines will probably be best off transferring at L’Enfant Plaza.
●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, which probably will be less crowded.
These Metrobus routes serve Nationals Park: 74, 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 buses are scheduled to run every 10 minutes. Circulator buses on the Union Station-Navy Yard route will run until 9 p.m. following afternoon games and until midnight for night games. There are no plans yet to extend Circulator service for any late games that could end after midnight.
Before and after games, traffic is 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.
Street parking for nonresidents near Nationals Park is banned or very expensive all the way north to Capitol Hill. Off-street parking options are plentiful. 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.
If you prefer to leave the driving to someone else, there’s a taxi stand on the north side of M Street SE between South Capitol and Half streets. For fans exiting the centerfield gate, that’s about a one-block walk north.
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, on the north side of the stadium. 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.
Capital Bikeshare has three stations close to the stadium and several others a short walk away. People who use Bikeshare to get to the game won’t need to worry about searching for an open dock. John Lisle, spokesman for the District Department of Transportation, said a Bikeshare corral with staff members to check in bikes will be located near the stadium.
If you’re heading from downtown, the Mall or Capitol Hill, it’s downhill toward the Anacostia river front. 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 the better route is down New Jersey Avenue to M Street SE.
●From Eastern Market, walk south on Eighth Street and make a right on M Street SE.
Fans can get to the park by water. The Potomac Riverboat Company runs a boat from Old Town Alexandria to games. You can also buy tickets from National Harbor to Alexandria. A perk of traveling from Alexandria: If you get your ticket online, there’s free parking near the waterfront ( www.potomacriverboatco.com ).