Without commissioning a study, or consulting a traffic expert, parking expert or Metro expert, I have the solution to the Redskins' game-day traffic and parking blues:
See how simple that was? And it only cost the price of the Sunday newspaper.
Get on the Metro an hour earlier than you did last week or last season. Get in the car 45 minutes to an hour earlier than you did last week or last season.
And what if you don't want to leave earlier? Give up your tickets, silly. There's still a long, long waiting list. If the traffic is too tough for you, stay home.
Never has so much been made over something as common as NFL game-day traffic. As usual, Washington leads the league in one scary department: whining. With the Internet, our whining is nationally known. We should be embarrassed. We can't clean up an inch of snow without closing the federal government. We can't keep the schools open through a medium-strength rainstorm. And now we can't get ourselves to a football game without making a national ruckus. Surely, there must be a better reason to have so much angst.
There is one thing related to sports on which I'm an expert: going to stadiums. There are 30 NFL stadiums. I've been to all of them except the new one in Cleveland. I've been to the largest ones--and therefore the most difficult to negotiate in traffic--more than 10 times each. And I never see people in such an uproar that local officials nearly have to declare a state of emergency. The traffic heading to the Cowboys' Texas Stadium is a nightmare if you're trying to get there with less than an hour to go before kickoff. Same for Buffalo. Same for Giants Stadium. Same for New England. That goes double for Miami. Thankfully, the Lions hardly ever sell out.
When the Bills play on a Monday night, meaning a 9 p.m. kickoff, you have to get there at 6 p.m., or heaven help you. The place where you never, ever, under any circumstances want to cut it close is 3Com Park in San Francisco. How many incoming roads can you have when half the stadium is bordered by the bay?
What I'm saying here is, Redskins Stadium is no worse than a lot of stadiums when it comes to traffic. It's not as bad as some, particularly New England's Foxboro Stadium. Parking in Landover looks downright plentiful compared to the parking at Texas Stadium. For a noon game there, arrive at 10. Suppose you roll in at 11? Shame on you, and I hope your tank is full of gas.
Washington's big problem continues to be RFK Stadium. There is nothing better than a downtown stadium. A hundred roads run in and out. Downtowns are designed to handle, in some cases, millions of commuters. So a Sunday football game for a downtown stadium is a day at the beach. RFK was a dream most of the time. Everybody had a favorite "secret route," and you could leave, say, Fairfax at 12:20 p.m., and have a reasonable shot of settling into your seat by a 1 o'clock kickoff. We all got spoiled. Had Jack Kent Cooke been able to build his stadium in the District, somewhere near the new convention center, where it ought to be, or at the RFK site, life would be beautiful.
But this just in: The Redskins don't play at RFK anymore. They don't play downtown anymore. It seems I have to remind my wife of this every week.
Me: "Honey, it's 10:30, why are you still in a bathrobe?
Her: "Well, because when they played at RFK, I could leave at 12:58 and be in my seat at the end of the anthem."
Me: "That's fine, honey, except for one little detail: THEY HAVEN'T PLAYED AT RFK IN TWO YEARS!!!"
All I heard for five years around here was how the Redskins needed a new stadium, a big and comfortable place that could accommodate some of those people stuck on the waiting list, blah, blah, blah. Hey, be careful what you ask for. An 80,000-seat stadium has seats in heaven and it causes traffic jams.
Okay, the parking situation needs to be improved and a Metro station right at the stadium, as is the case at MCI Center, would help dramatically. But guess what? New road construction and Metro improvements aren't forthcoming any time soon. Leaving earlier is the answer. Get over it.
The silliest argument I hear is, "If I leave early, it becomes an all-day event."
So? Eight times a year, you can't get someplace two hours early? At last week's Redskins-Jets game in the Meadowlands, thousands of cars were in the parking lots at 9:35 a.m., for a 1 p.m. game. Wonderful smells of breakfast were everywhere and virtually every seat was occupied before kickoff. In San Francisco, where the parking lots are full two hours before game time, it smells as if Wolfgang Puck is cooking in every aisle. Rain or shine. It's part of game day in the NFL for non-whiners.
Most new stadiums are going to smaller seating capacities, not larger, especially the baseball-only yards. The Pittsburgh Pirates' new park reportedly will hold fewer than 40,000. The newest football palaces hold fewer than 70,000. So we have a problem, but it's nothing unique. Washingtonians are simply going to have to break comfortable old habits and get with a new program. Either that, or stay home. Any reduction in the number of cars or the whining will be a relief.