This time, it’s for real: The Washington Nationals played an exhibition game last week at Nationals Park, but this afternoon, they play their first regular season game of 2012 at home.

National fans trickle in from the Navy Yard Metro on M Street SE before an exhibition game last month. (Linda Davidson/THE WASHINGTON POST)


Today’s game starts at 1:05 p.m. That can be problematic for fans who plan to drive to Metro lots and garages, then take trains to the game. They worry that all the spaces will be taken at the outer stations, and there’s no way to tell before you get to them.

I can tell you that for last week’s exhibition game, the Green Line’s Greenbelt lot was very crowded, but there was still plenty of space in the outer rows.

During my online chat on April 2, a fan expressed concern about driving to New Carrollton, at the eastern end of the Orange Line. But another traveler wrote in and said:

“Go to New Carrollton. The garage never fully fills up during rush hour and as you say, a few folks will be leaving at that time, clearing out more space. There is also a public lot across the street from Metro run by the county, it’s never close to full and a few cents cheaper. Well lit and safe, too.”

Another suggested getting in a bit closer and parking at the Prince George’s Plaza station. During this Monday’s chat, I got this message:

“I was the person asking about parking for the Nats game last week. We were coming from Anne Arundel County. We chose Prince George’s Plaza since the Green Line meant no transfer [to reach Navy Yard station, closest to Nationals Park]. There was parking and [we] made it to the game with no problem.”

But then a fan from the west side of the D.C. region asked about parking at the crowded Vienna station, at the other end of the Orange Line. A traveler wrote back and said:

“One possibility for the person going to the Vienna Metro: Get there right around 10 a.m. or so. WMATA has a bunch of spaces designated as reserved spots for people who pay an extra monthly fee for a special pass, but those spots become available to anyone on a first-come first-served basis beginning at 10 a.m.”

But another cautioned:

“From my experience, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Vienna garages can be pretty hit or miss. If you go between 10-10:30, there are usually a bunch of reserved spots that you can park in, but once those fill up you can sometimes have trouble finding a spot until after lunch time when some spots start to open up again.”

Drive in closer, another said:

“I live out the Orange Line in Fairfax County, but when going to a weekday Nats game via Metro, I always drive in to Pentagon City, park in the large commercial garage by the Fashion Center and take the Yellow Line to L’Enfant from there. There is always parking available there since it’s a shopping center lot, not a commuter lot like the Metro parking lots. It will cost a few bucks more to park there than it would at Vienna, Dunn Loring or West Falls Church, but that’s partly offset by the lower train fare from Pentagon City to Navy Yard (just four stops total).”

These early afternoon starts are likely to be the most difficult for such parking. For a late afternoon or night game, the Metro parking areas should start to open up as the early arrivers head home.

To the north and east of the stadium, there’s more off-street parking than ever. But the heaviest traffic congestion you encounter may be on the line to enter the parking area.

In my Sunday Commuter page feature on getting to Nationals Park, I said parking ranged from $5 to more than $40, depending on distance from the stadium. So naturally, a reader was particularly curious about the $5 parking.

You can find that in the HH lot under the Southeast-Southwest Freeway off South Capitol Street. But the Pentagon City parker wrote back with several cautions about stadium parking for an early afternoon game:

“Since lot HH is also a commuter parking lot, it’s frequently not available for Nats parking during business hours. Also, leaving Nats parking after a 1:05 weekday game puts you in the height of rush hour. I used to take Metro to games all the time, but due to their maintenance schedule the service is completely unreliable outside of rush hour. So now I almost always drive to games — and I go to around 30 games a year.”


Through this weekend, riders should not encounter any scheduled maintenance.

They will find the Green Line crowded to and from the game. Metro does a good job handling crowding on the platform at Navy Yard, though I hope they have more than the two employees on the platform that I saw before the exhibition game. Some people arriving from downtown get confused about which way to exit. (The regulars know where they’re going, but opening day draws plenty of occasional fans.)

The bigger problem, I think, occurs at the L’Enfant Plaza and Gallery Place transfer stations. The Gallery Place platform for Red Line trains to Shady Grove can be particularly bad.

A few dodges

* An Orange or Blue Line rider heading to the game could skip the transfer to the Green Line at L’Enfant Plaza and get off the train at Capitol South. From there, it’s a pleasant 15-minute walk down New Jersey Avenue to the stadium area.

* A Virginian who needs to transfer to the Yellow Line after the game could bypass L’Enfant Plaza and make the switch at Archives. That’s a simple walk across the center platform. And the Yellow Line train is likely to be much less crowded at that point.

* After the game, a fan heading for one of the stations on the east side of the Red Line could avoid crowded Gallery Place by sticking with the Green Line to Fort Totten and transferring there.

* Many people are biking to the game. There are now four Capital Bikeshare stations in the stadium area. There’s a bike valet in Garage C, on the northeast side of Nationals Park. And there are plenty of bike stands on the streets nearby.

* Take a water taxi to Diamond Teague Park’s Anacostia River dock, just south of the stadium. Here’s a link to the American River Taxi Web site. And here’s a link for the Potomac Riverboat Co.

* After my Nationals Park guide was published Sunday, Ron M. Linton, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, wrote to admonish me for not mentioning that you can take a cab to the stadium. “This year we have instituted new rules on drop off and pickup in hopes of avoiding pedestrian injury and vehicle snarls,” Linton wrote. “We did a try out at the exhibition game and it worked.” There’s more information about taxis on this page at the Nationals Web site.