washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > MLB > Nationals

District Steering Nats Fans To Rails

Game Crowd Means Road, Parking Woes

By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 13, 2005; Page B01

Of all the unknowns surrounding the first home game for the Washington Nationals -- Will the team win? Will President Bush throw a strike? Where does the name Terrmel come from? -- one thing is clear: Fans should avoid driving to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

"We would like people to take Metro," said Dan Tangherlini, the District's director of transportation, warning drivers away from rush-hour streets that are bound to be clogged for a game that starts at 7 p.m. on a Thursday and features an appearance by the president.

"No Parking" signs installed around Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium warn fans not to leave cars on residential streets while attending games. (Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)

Tangherlini said that Metro, which serves the Stadium-Armory Station on the Blue and Orange lines, is the best option for suburbanites coming in for the game, downtown workers and even commuters passing near the stadium.

"If you commute out of town on East Capitol Street and you're not going to the game, I strongly suggest you find an alternate route," he said. "I strongly suggest you try Metro."

RFK is nearly 44 years old and has hosted its share of big events, such as Redskins games and Grateful Dead concerts, many with thousands more than the 45,000 fans who scored tickets to the opener. But few of those events were on a weeknight during rush hour and fewer still in the past few years when traffic in and around the District has compounded.

Metro officials said they are ready for the Opening Day rush. Extra Metro employees will sell fare cards and SmarTrip cards at Stadium-Armory; they will assist customers at Franconia-Springfield, Greenbelt, Largo Town Center, New Carrollton, Shady Grove and Vienna; and additional station managers and supervisors will be assigned throughout the system.

The officials should be easy to spot; they'll be wearing Nationals hats and shirts that read: "Thanks for taking us out to the ball game."

"We think we'll have a lot of first-time rail users or rare rail users," said Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. "We want to be sure they get some of the nuances regular users get."

Those nuances include putting enough money on fare cards for a round trip and having a SmarTrip card to get cars out of Metro lots, Farbstein said.

After the game, Metro officials said, they will have as many as 14 extra six-car trains to take people home. They also promise that no rider will be stranded, even if the game runs beyond Metro's normal midnight closing.

For those who drive to the game, the challenges will be navigating crowded streets during the latter half of the evening rush. There could also be delays at the ballpark as the team works out kinks in getting people into parking lots. Once in, drivers should be able to find a spot because the stadium has 9,000 spaces -- and from there it's a short walk inside to see outfielder Terrmel Sledge and the rest of the mostly unknown faces that are Washington's new boys of summer.

Transportation officials said that despite all the hubbub about adding a presidential motorcade to the mix, they are confident that the president will come later than most fans and not add to backups.

Parking on streets near the stadium is prohibited except to residents, who must pick up a special parking permit at the stadium. The permits are required for Ward 7 vehicles east of 19th Street and south of Florida Avenue and Ward 6 vehicles south of C Street and east of 16th Street NE and SE and north of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Resident Linda Keyes said that the special permitting has worked for football and soccer games but that she was concerned about enforcement during the long baseball season.

The police "have got to be out there enforcing it and the [Department of Public Works] towing cars," Keyes said.

Some traffic planners have theorized that while traffic leading to RFK will surely worsen on game nights, the evening rush on the whole might improve as thousands of drivers take a detour to the ballpark.

But it remains to be seen whether downtown workers take Metro to games or overwhelm some commuting routes that lead to the stadium. And no one knows what will happen to roads coming into the city, many of which are jammed on a normal night.

"This is our opening day, too," Tangherlini said. "I imagine we're going to learn an awful lot from it."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company