Team, Transit Officials Pleased With Performance

By Daniel LeDuc and Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Thrilled with the Washington Nationals' dramatic victory in Sunday night's home opener at the District's new ballpark, city officials and team executives focused yesterday on action off the field and promised some fine-tuning.

Traffic flowed smoothly outside the stadium, despite concerns about potential gridlock. Inside the ballpark, however, fans ran into congestion at concession areas. In some cases, innings stretched by while people waited in lines for hot dogs. Some popular items sold out.

The Nats began a road trip after playing in the home opener and an exhibition game Saturday night. They begin their first extended homestand Monday with a 7:10 p.m. game against the Florida Marlins. That will be the first test of the ballpark on a weekday, with fans competing with rush-hour travelers.

That "is in some ways a whole nother animal," said Gregory McCarthy, a Nationals executive working on the ballpark.

The team and city officials will spend this week evaluating operations. But they said they do not expect significant changes, given the success of the weekend opening. Concessions will get extra attention, however.

"Lines were a concern for us. They're not necessarily where we want them to be. We expect it to better by Monday," said the team president, Stan Kasten. "Once a problem happens, it doesn't happen again."

Kasten said the shortages were the result of some stands not being replenished quickly enough.

The Nationals made adjustments throughout the weekend and will continue to do so, Kasten said.

Outside the ballpark, changes were evident between Saturday night's exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles and Sunday's official opener against the Atlanta Braves.

"Team ambassadors" were more spread out through the neighborhood to direct fans along the best sidewalk routes. And the courtesy shuttle between the free parking lot at RFK Stadium had additional pickup points after Sunday's game.

The free "Nats Express" was popular, with fans filling up Lot 8 at RFK and overflowing into an adjacent lot.

Sunday's game was a sellout, with about 41,000 people on hand. Combining that with the newness of the ballpark, the lines for virtually everything from food to parking to Metro to the shuttles were probably the longest they will be.

"We thought we dispersed the huge throng that came," McCarthy said.

District transportation officials said roads were relatively clear. Transportation Department spokeswoman Karyn LeBlanc said "small tweaks" might be made to some traffic patterns for Monday's game.

For those who drove and didn't follow the rules, enforcement officers were out in force. On Saturday, 72 cars were towed from illegal parking places, and on Sunday, 31 were hauled away. The Department of Public Works, which enforces parking regulations, wrote 716 parking tickets over the two days, with fines ranging from $25 to $30.

Public Works spokesman Linda Grant said the department waived a $100 towing fee as a "courtesy" to fans whose cars were hauled.

Metro was promoted as the best way to the ballpark, and more than half of the fans at Sunday's game took the train, transit officials said. The trains carried 21,492 fans to and from the newly expanded Navy Yard Station on the Green Line, fewer than the 26,000 Metro had projected.

Still, the ballgame and large crowds for the cherry blossoms swelled ridership, and Metro officials said they were pleased with the transit agency's performance. On Sunday, ridership was 332,737 trips. Average Sunday ridership is 207,735.

On Saturday, Metro recorded its fifth-highest Saturday ridership, 580,771 trips, of which 15,141 were for the Nationals exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles. The transit agency opened at 5 a.m., two hours early, to accommodate participants in the National Marathon.

The busiest time for the Navy Yard Station on Sunday was from 3:30 p.m. to the start of the game at 8:15 p.m. To help control crowds, Metro Transit Police sometimes directed fans to ride single file up the escalators. Transit Police and rail personnel were monitoring the crowds at both entrances. Metro also deployed 15 extra trains on the Green Line and four extra on the Red and Orange lines, officials said.

There were minor glitches. After the game, some riders were surprised to learn that they had to get off Green Line trains at Mount Vernon Square instead of Fort Totten. That's because those trains were heading back downtown and turning around at the Anacostia Station to return to Navy Yard to pick up more riders leaving the game, spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

On Saturday, the crowds riding up the escalators were overloading the motors, so technicians made adjustments, according to Dave Lacosse, who oversees escalators and elevators. On Sunday, some escalators shut down briefly because loose screws from nearby construction became trapped in the plate at the top or bottom of the steel steps.

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