Smooth Leadoff To the Nationals' Weeknight Games

Patrons easily transfer from the Red Line to the Green Line at Gallery Place, one of the stations where Metro planned to have extra workers to help fans.
Patrons easily transfer from the Red Line to the Green Line at Gallery Place, one of the stations where Metro planned to have extra workers to help fans. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
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By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Chalk up another first for the Washington Nationals: The team played its first weeknight game in the new ballpark, with fans working their way to the stadium during the evening rush.

Officials said that traffic moved smoothly and that Metro was able to handle the thousands of extra riders drawn to the game. The contest marked the team's return to Washington after its regular-season opener, before a full house, March 30.

"It looked like a typical rush hour," said Karyn LeBlanc, spokeswoman for the District Department of Transportation.

She said traffic was running so smoothly on South Capitol Street that the department abandoned a plan to adjust traffic signals to blink yellow to keep traffic moving. DDOT tweaked its plan by asking pedestrians to cross busy M Street SE at particular points to ease traffic flow.

The ballpark holds more than 40,000 people, but there were plenty of unfilled seats on a cold, damp night. Perhaps because of the smaller crowd, lines at concession stands were much more manageable than on Opening Day.

With the temperature at game time 50 degrees, there were more people in line for Mayorga coffee than for beer. The wait for a chili dog all the way at Ben's Chili Bowl was down to 12 minutes, compared with several times that long for the first game.

Gregory McCarthy, spokesman for the Nationals, said the team is working hard to improve stadium operations with every game. "Knock on wood, the plan seems to have worked. So far, so good," McCarthy said.

The Nationals are at home through Sunday, with games every day but today. The biggest traffic test will probably come tomorrow. Besides the Nationals' game, there is a Wizards contest at Verizon Center and a D.C. United match at RFK Stadium.

Transit officials and team executives have said they think the crowds can be accommodated throughout the season, particularly because many people will use Metro. More than half of the fans at the March 30 game came by Metro, using the Navy Yard Station nearby.

Charles Thomas of Arlington County said he was going to take a taxi to last night's game but decided on Metro instead.

Some fans were left behind on the platform at L'Enfant Plaza as Green Line trains filled up. Others crammed into trains, their red Nationals caps touching. "I was hoping to beat this by leaving early," Nathan Caldwell of Bethesda said. "I guess not."

At L'Enfant Plaza, Metro officials in reflective vests helped guide fans transferring to the Green Line, making up for a lack of clear signage. Lisa Farbstein, spokeswoman for Metro, said it will take practice for fans to unravel the ins and outs.

"The first time, you're a rookie. The second time, you're a veteran," she said, watching the crowds at the Navy Yard Station. "By the third time, you're looking for shortcuts."

However, the platform at Navy Yard was nearly empty, and getting out of the station was a breeze, even with one of the three escalators temporarily closed for a test.

Metro was to have staff last night at Gallery Place-Chinatown, L'Enfant Plaza and Navy Yard stations to help fans. After the game, Metro planned to operate up to 10 extra trains on the Green Line, four extra on the Red Line and five extra on the Orange and Blue lines.

Although officials are promoting Metro as the best option, the Nationals are selling parking spaces to ticket-plan holders. The team announced last weekend that it would begin offering some spaces to single-game ticket-buyers through its Web site, Some of the parking lots were only half-filled at game time last night.

Transportation officials said they didn't expect a rush at the end of the game. "The night is fairly chilly," LeBlanc said, so "crowds will start leaving early, which will help as well."

Despite the weather, some intrepid fans decided to take advantage of the more than 250 bicycle racks that surround the stadium. Ken Marshall and Lindsay Moore rode their bikes from Woodley Park and locked them on N Street SE.

"Riding your bike is really the fastest way to get in and out," Marshall said. They chose the spot to lock their bikes because there seemed to be a lot of police officers and pedestrians around.

"They better be here," Moore said.

They were.

Staff writer Robert Thomson contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company