Ballpark, Race, Blossoms To Test Parking Prowess

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By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2008

If you're thinking about taking a leisurely drive around the District this weekend, you might want to reconsider.

In addition to the nationally televised Nationals opener at the new ballpark Sunday, tomorrow will bring an exhibition game between the Nats and the Orioles, the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival and the National Marathon.

The events will bring thousands of fans and tourists to the city and a potential traffic and parking nightmare.

If you insist on driving, avoid the Mall, Tidal Basin, the area near the new ballpark and anywhere else tourists or runners might be. Which is pretty much everywhere this time of year.

"Take Metro, take Metro, take Metro," said Karyn LeBlanc, spokeswoman for the District's Department of Transportation.

Metro will open two hours early tomorrow to get people to the National Marathon, which starts at 7 a.m. near RFK Stadium and the Stadium-Amory Metro station. Several thousand runners are expected to gather for the race, which winds through the city and ends back at the stadium about 1 p.m., accompanied by massive road closures.

Then the National Cherry Blossom Festival -- one of the city's biggest events of the year, with more than 1 million visitors -- kicks off at 10 a.m. with the annual Smithsonian Kite Festival on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

The first pitch of the invitation-only Nats-Orioles game is at 6 p.m. tomorrow; Sunday's season opener begins at 8:05 p.m.

Metro is adding extra trains and staff to accommodate the crowds expected to attend the events, but build some extra time into your travel schedule, and bring your patience.

A packed house of 41,000 baseball fans is expected for opening night Sunday. Officials also expect lots of confused drivers circling the ballpark trying to find their assigned spots or, ignoring the recommendations, seeking to nab a metered spot in the neighborhood. Add to the mix that most folks going to the game are unfamiliar with that part of the city, and well, you get the picture.

But the real test for baseball planners will come April 7, the first game that starts during the weeknight rush. Assuming that any glitches discovered Sunday are fixed, the 7:10 p.m. game against the Florida Marlins will test whether Washington can handle an urban ballpark like Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago, which were built before baseball fans demanded oceans of parking.

Getting into the city by car shouldn't be much of a problem, because baseball traffic will be going in the opposite direction of most commuters. But once they're in, drivers have few options.

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