Nationals fans planning to park at Metro station unlikely to strike out

Robert Thomson
Columnist April 11, 2012

The Washington Nationals are scheduled to play their 2012 home opener Thursday, so I’ve been talking with travelers who have tips on getting to Nationals Park. During an online chat April 2, they talked about the prospects of finding parking at Metro lots and garages before games.

This is easy on weekends and holidays, when Metro parking areas are free and uncrowded. During the week, parkers must pay, and stations at the end of lines — despite the size of their parking areas — can be packed with commuters. One fan who was bound for last week’s exhibition game asked about parking at the New Carrollton and Greenbelt Metro stations. Later, I received this letter in response.

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. View Archive

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

There shouldn’t be a parking problem at Greenbelt after the morning rush. Many reserved spaces are close-in and remain unoccupied. They become available to the general public at 10 a.m.

The only problem at Greenbelt is significantly higher-than-average crime statistics.

Alan L. Seltzer, Beltsville

DG: The Greenbelt station did rank 10th systemwide in crime, with 46 serious crimes involving people and property last year, according to Metro transit police statistics. (The New Carrollton station had 38.)

I drove to the huge lot at Greenbelt early on the Tuesday afternoon of the exhibition game and found it crowded, but there were plenty of spaces in the outer rows, and a few closer in, if a driver wanted to search for them.

Metro has no system for advising people about the availability of parking in real-time throughout its facilities. During the chat, riders told me that some post-rush-hour space would probably be available at New Carrollton.

Take bus to train

This writer offered several tips to get to the ballpark, including leaving the car at home.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Rather than driving to the Metro parking lot, think about taking the bus. I think a lot of Metro riders don’t even think about using the bus to get to an end-of-the-line station. Those end stations are fed by a lot of buses, and many of them go closer to one’s house than one would think.

The price is a lot cheaper than parking. It might take a little longer on either end of the trip, but when you’re going to an afternoon game, you probably have 10 or 20 minutes extra to kill anyway, which is the extra amount of time you’ll probably have to spend by taking the bus, depending on the distance of the bus stop.

And if you use the Next Bus service [the smartphone app and Web information system that predicts bus arrivals], you shouldn’t have to use any more time than that.

For an afternoon game, the buses will almost certainly still be running on the way home, even if you have limited service in your neighborhood. As a bonus, you can use the time sitting on the bus to play Angry Birds and drink an extra beer at the game (if you can afford it), because you won’t have to drive home.

Read the Metro system Web site a little or speak to an experienced rider on the bus to learn about the system. The Metrorail and bus system is pretty comprehensive, but so much of it is sort of a secret to those who don’t ride it often.

Get a SmarTrip card. Load it up with money so you don’t have to spend time getting paper Farecards, especially on the way back from the game. And you’ll have it for the next game you go. You don’t ever have to stand in line at the fare vending machines anymore, because you can load it up online now.

Jon Boneau, Falls Church

DG: I like the idea of using Metrobus or the suburban bus systems to reach stations, especially for the occasional afternoon games, when service will still be frequent after the games. For a night game, it becomes less practical, because the suburban service falls off sharply late at night.

As Boneau said, it’s worth exploring the timetables.

“I kind of understated how much of a pain the bus can be compared to cars,” he wrote in a follow-up message. “For one example, you’re completely at the mercy of the bus schedule for the return trip, and you could easily just miss it and have to wait an hour for the next one.

“It’s not the greatest solution for one-time users, but for someone who’s gone through the learning curve of figuring out which buses go where and when, using the bus as a connector to the Metro can be pretty much a no-brainer.”

By the way, not every rider feels comfortable depending on the Next Bus predictions. Many times, the predictions are accurate to within a few minutes — but not always.

Beltway timeline

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Do you know the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plans for completing the Capital Beltway improvements between Eisenhower Avenue and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge? There has been no activity for what seems like months, and most of the equipment is gone. This is in stark contrast to the Maryland side of the Wilson Bridge, which was completed years ago.

Robert Fisher, Alexandria

DG: The construction involving the bridge and four interchanges — two on either side of the Potomac River — was planned to conclude with the work in and around the Beltway’s Telegraph Road interchange. The wrap-up of the project there is dependent on good weather for work that includes paving and lane marking.

That work is scheduled for this spring and summer, and there will be some traffic disruptions for it. But the result will be the elimination of the three-lane bottleneck on the Beltway west of the Wilson Bridge.

Some work on Telegraph Road will probably stretch into next year, but every little thing should be done by June 2013.

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