Roundtable on Parking Has Yielded Few Answers

With just weeks to go until the opening of the stadium, nearby residents are concerned about traffic and parking, issues the city is still working on.
With just weeks to go until the opening of the stadium, nearby residents are concerned about traffic and parking, issues the city is still working on. (By Jacqueline Dupree)

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By Jacqueline Dupree
Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ballpark and Beyond is adapted from Jacqueline Dupree's blog on development in Near Southeast, an area between Capitol Hill and the Anacostia River that is being transformed by the construction of the Nationals baseball stadium.

Having just about reached my limit when it comes to writing about stadium parking, I'm going to cut to the chase and pass along the biggest items from Friday's roundtable on parking and traffic issues at the new Nationals baseball stadium, by the City Council's Committee on Economic Development.

The session began with Advisory Neighborhood Commission representatives testifying about the community's concerns that no traffic and parking management plan has been unveiled, and with not many days until Opening Day on March 30, neighbors are getting increasingly nervous that plans and signage won't be ready.

Although legislation proposed last week by council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) could eventually become the mechanism for handling on-street parking near the ballpark, it won't be in place when the stadium opens. Residents want to know how parking is going to be restricted to prevent stadium-goers from descending on nearby streets in search of free parking and bringing to the neighborhood what has frequently been referred to as "controlled chaos."

Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) became frustrated when trying to find out who is actually in charge of coordinating the government agencies who have a hand in the ballpark and communicating information to the public. "Who do I call? Who's driving the train?" he asked a number of times. After much back and forth with Gregory O'Dell of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and Judi Greenberg of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, it was finally agreed that the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is now in charge of organizing and implementing the stadium's traffic and parking plans.

For a roundtable that aimed to discuss these plans, determining who's in charge was a good step, except that the Committee on Economic Development does not have oversight responsibilities for DDOT, and no one from the agency attended. Apparently there had been plans to hold this session jointly with the Committee on Public Works and the Environment, which has oversight over DDOT, but that did not come to pass.

Wells focused a number of times on the idea of the neighborhood embracing the ballpark as part of its culture and part of the character of the community. How neat it will be for residents to be able to walk to games, he said, expressing his hopes that the ballpark is a positive experience for fans and residents. (Putting the stadium on South Capitol Street "was not a hostile act by the government," he said.) He also spoke of how the stadium's on-time and on-budget completion should be a real celebration for the city, but that he doesn't want it to become known as the "ballpark with a traffic catastrophe."

Gregory McCarthy of the Nationals testified about the team's continuing efforts to plan for the onslaught of fans, ranging from the mailing that has gone out this week to season ticket holders on purchasing parking passes to a planned media onslaught beginning in February to educate stadium-goers about the best ways to get to the park. Short version: Take Metro! Walk! Bike! Park in Metro parking lots! Don't drive to the ballpark unless you've already got a parking pass!

There still is no signed agreement between the Nationals and the city for use of RFK as free satellite parking for non-season-ticket holders, though clearly both sides anticipate it will get done. But Brown did not seem too enthused that the Nationals are covering expenses to run the lots but are not paying the city to rent the spaces.

The team anticipates having 5,000 spaces for season ticket holders available in lots within walking distance of the ballpark. Other than one lot that sits underneath the Southwest Freeway on the west side of South Capitol Street, all lots will be in Southeast. Prices for parking in these lots will range from $15 to $35 per game, depending on how close the lot is to the stadium.

Representatives from DDOT and other city agencies met with community leaders Monday to discuss the traffic and parking plans, and another meeting was scheduled to take place last night.

Also, two public meetings on Wells's proposed curbside management plan are scheduled for next week. The first will be Tuesday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I St. SW, and the second will be Wednesday at Brent Elementary School, 301 North Carolina Ave. SE. Both meetings will run from 6:30 to 8 pm. The Committee on Public Works and the Environment has scheduled its hearing on this bill for Jan. 30.

Video of this hearing is available at http://octt.dc.gov in the Channel 13/on-demand video section.

Jacqueline Dupree, a Post staff member, has been tracking the neighborhood's changes since 2003. For information and photos, go tohttp://JDLand.com.


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