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Transit, Traffic Lessons from RFK Opener

There was a moment yesterday when I thought I'd regret having recommending Metro as the way to get to the Nationals opener. It came while standing on the platform at Metro Center at about 12:15 p.m. The platform was packed. The trains were packed.

When the first train pulled in, the people on the platform spread out in a solid phalanx across the doorways, preventing passengers from exiting the packed cars. After those inside had broken free, there were only a few seconds for people to board before the doors closed. And as you know, they do close, despite the best efforts of some would-be Sampsons to pull them apart.

I looked at the electronic board. First thought was that the arrival times were too far apart and the trains should have been eight cars rather than six. When the next train pulled in, it was as jammed as the first, but I was reluctant to wait for the express train that would follow it, because that would have gotten us to Stadium-Armory only a few minutes before the 1:05 p.m. game time -- not enough, I calculated, to get us through the bag checkers and ticket takers and into our seats by the first pitch.

The Gridspouse, who has just gotten back from Tokyo, looked around the platform for the pushers with the white gloves, to help us squeeze aboard the train. Seeing none, we went with the flow and somehow managed to board.
About a third of our car exited at Smithsonian, bound no doubt for the cherry blossoms. That reduced the volume from crushing to merely jammed.

It wasn't till we reached Stadium-Armory that I started to rethink the idea of longer or more frequent trains. The platform there also was crowded, and before our group had reached the escalators, another train was pulling into the station. It was good to see some of Metro's top officials -- I spotted Steve Feil, Jim Hughes and Ray Feldman, and there may have been others -- on the platform. There were at least four transit police officers there, too.

In the stadium, the lines for food were about as long as the lines to board the trains. And they moved about as quickly. So I started to mellow out on the Metro experience.

After the game, we boarded the free Metrobus shuttle, across from the Armory, for a 10-minute drive to Union Station. The shuttle was good planning, because it helped spread out the post-game crowd, and good for us because the trip from stadium to Silver Spring Station was a brisk 45 minutes.

-- Metro and the other planners for the new stadium will need many ways of spreading out the arriving and departing crowds -- spreading them out in time and space.
-- There has to be a lot of publicity about those methods and about the parking and traffic rules in the areas around the South Capitol Street stadium.
-- Yesterday's attendance was far short of a full house, yet it stressed transit and traffic. For the 2008 season in the new stadium, planners envision a sellout for every game at a location few fans are familiar with. That's a challenge.
-- The planned expansion of the Navy Yard Station and the addition of rail cars are essential for success. Despite efforts to spread the crowd (encouraging people to walk down 12 minutes from Capitol South Station, for example), most fans still will ride to the closest possible point.

Based on yesterday's experience, likely the final opener at RFK, what would you add to the list of lessons for the future?

By Robert Thomson  |  April 3, 2007; 8:35 AM ET
Categories:  Events  
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By a big screen HDTV and watch the game at home!!!

Posted by: Steve | April 3, 2007 9:44 AM | Report abuse

The one suggestion I would have is that if Metro is going to run "express" trains, they need to time them so that they get to the stadium with a little more time to spare. Even an express train leaving from Vienna at 12:15 is going to cut it too close for some fans.
On a side note, I thought that Metro has long argued that "express" trains were not possible on its system? Due to the Rosslyn tunnel bottlenecks or some such, I have been under the impression that it was just not possible. I am sure that many commuters who park at the Vienna station would be very interested in having trains that take them directly to Metro Center (via one stop at Rosslyn).

Posted by: Brian D | April 3, 2007 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Yes, Brian D, I wondered that also...

Posted by: cb | April 3, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Express trains at rush hour can't happen due to spacing between trains. WMATA says that it's possible at non-rush periods because the trains run further apart. It seems like they'd never be able to reach full speed, though.

I agree whit BrianD's point about the express trains not running early enough. Part of Opening Day is arriving in time for the pregame ceremonies (player introductions, F-18 flyover, ceremonial first pitch, etc.). Imagine if the President had come to throw the first pitch. You don't want to be on a 12:15 train in that situation if you ever want to enter the ballpark (due to airport-style security except without the asinine shoe and liquid policies).

Posted by: Rich | April 3, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Schedule games as to not coincide with the evening rush. Traffic was terrible. All those folks who could not get on the trains were sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. It took me an hour and a half to get out of the city!

Posted by: Bob | April 3, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I'm always amazed at how Metro cannot learn from past experiences. This is the third year the Nationals are playing at RFK. The Redskins played at RFK for decades before that with even more fans. Yet Metro would have me believe yesterday's home opener was the first time they had several thousand sports fans show up at the Stadium/Armory Station. Mark these words, next year's opener will be a disaster for Metro and the Navy Yard Station.

Posted by: Amazing | April 3, 2007 11:52 AM | Report abuse

For those who are going to complain about the usual rush hour + RFK traffic, move back to wherever in flyover country you came from. IMO, going to the ballpark and being part of the crowd (both the good and bad aspects) is part of the ritual of enjoying a major-league ballgame in a big city. Streets will be filled with cars and pedestrians. Metro will be packed solid. Do you think it has ever been easy and uncrowded to get to/from Wrigley Field or Fenway Park? If you want a suburban stadium where everyone can drive and have few traffic problems, I hear the Texas Rangers have a nice stadium (Dubya got it built) situated in the middle of an office park.
Now that I have chided our agoraphobic friends, Rich and Amazing have good points. Metro is thinking in the right direction to schedule 'express' trains, but they need to be considerably earlier arriving at the ballpark due to the extra time it takes for the large crowds to exit the station and the aformentioned security issues. Yes, getting out of (place your company's name here) Stadium will be insanity on opening day next year. It's a new part of town that many are not familar with, with newly opened parking lots, shuttle bus routes and street grids. To compare the days of the Redskins is irrevelant because there were 10 at most games per year, and thousands of fans arrived at the RFK lots hours early to tailgate, which staggered out the crowds.
Like many other facets of our lives here, y'all need to chill out and find some patience. It was a perfect day for baseball. Waiting to get down the escalator to the trains so you can get home? Maybe you should start up a conversation about baseball with a random stranger to bide your time.

Posted by: Dino | April 3, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

run the express trains earlier and run more than one! i would have waited for an express train, but i squeezed onto a local one because i didn't want to get there late.

there was also a major backlog at the stad/armory station after the game -- why not run express trains after the game, too? (and let people use the stairs to get down rather than forcing all of us onto the escalators.)

Posted by: troylet | April 3, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

I forgot to mention that I rode one of the free buses to Union Station and then took the Red Line to Metro Center (where my office is). Worked great. I only use public transport for weekday afternoon games, but I'd happily pay to use this service for future such games. The bus was far more pleasant than waiting at Stadium-Armory.

Posted by: Rich | April 3, 2007 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Rush hour on the metro was just as terrible (and I'm not from a flyover). I really hate standing by as 4 metros pass before I can consider squeezing on. I was 1/2 late picking my son up from daycare. The only time I regret metroing is when it can't get me to where I need to be on time. We needed longer trains yesterday during rush (maybe not to the game, but definitely to accomodate the post-game)

Posted by: mfd | April 3, 2007 1:14 PM | Report abuse

1/2 hour I meant. Also, to clarify, I was not at the game (but do appreciate baseball in DC!)

Posted by: mfd | April 3, 2007 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for being cynical, but look...people should realize by now that when it comes to events like these, they are truly on their own--to find out about it, and plan around it. No amount of money or resources can truly solve issues like these. There are just too many variables.

Posted by: CPS | April 3, 2007 1:20 PM | Report abuse

The big problem that the new stadium will have is that it'll only be on the Green Line. Much like RFK is only on Orange/Blue (which for all intents and purposes is the same line).

Verizon Center moves slightly smaller (but more comparable to average MLB game day) crowds for NBA and NHL games, with less issues. Why? Because it's served by the Red, Green and Yellow lines, with a Blue Line special to cut across the Potomac. Also MetroCenter (and the Blue/Orange Lines) are only two blocks away.

Metro is going to need to figure out how to disperse the crowd to the other lines, or L'Enfant Plaza is going to get a workout as well with all the transfer traffic it'll see.

Posted by: Kim | April 3, 2007 1:25 PM | Report abuse

These lessons are also a great case for the ol' go to the game early and enjoy things like batting practice.

If the game starts at 1PM, don't plan to arrive @1245, try something like 1130.

Posted by: Kim | April 3, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Rushhour out of the city yesterday was truly horrific, Metro, street traffic and even pedestrian traffic. DC needs to do what several other large cities do for Opening Day; start the game later in the afternoon so once the game ends and people get out to Metro, the height of evening rushhour has passed. Baltimore always starts opening day at 3:05pm so by the time the game ends and folks get out to public transportation or walk back towards their cars, its 6:30pm or later in the evening and the height of downtown rushhour is over.

Posted by: Scott | April 3, 2007 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Well, as to the stairs vs. escalators question, at least at the 19th & C St. entrance to the Stadium/Armory station (the one you get to by going aroound the south side of the armory and then a block south on 19th St.) the down escalator was turned off so it was no different from stairs. I understand that Metro feels obliged to leave one escalator running up, otherwise non-ball game patrons trying to exit that station could never get out as long as mobs of ball fans were coming down. The entrance at 19th & C St. is the best way to leave the game since the majority of fans follow the crowd in front of the armory and into the line to go down into the station from the north. I have used the other entrance for years and almost never fail to get on the first train available.
As to the new stadium, I hope Metro officials will have shuttle bus service to the Capitol South and/or Federal Center Southwest stations on the Orange/Blue lines so that folks destined for those two lines don't jam the green line trains to L'Enfant Plaza to change. Maybe shuttles to one of the Red Line stations might help as well, or shuttle buses to L'Enfant Plaza which would help out Orange, Blue and Yellow line patrons might be the answer. But if every metro rider has to take the Green line to get to their changing station to ride another line it'll be worse than the current situation.

Posted by: mjk | April 3, 2007 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Was also a nightmare; surely not baseball or blossom-related?

Posted by: MARC | April 3, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse


The baseball game was originally scheduled to be a night game (7PM start) but the Lerner's had it moved up so the game would be over in time for Passover.

Posted by: Kim | April 3, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Wow, I took the Metro (Farragut North to Union Station, so the opposite direction) and rode the MARC (5:51 express) and it was one of the nicer commutes in a while.

Posted by: Columbia, MD | April 3, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

There's a large undeveloped area across the Anacostia from the new ballpark, where (I understand) the new DC United stadium is to be built. Why not allow people to park there, and build a pedestrian bridge across the river? It's potentially got easy access to 295, and would be easily accessible to suburban drivers (and get them off of the city streets).

Posted by: Nats Fan | April 3, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

"There's a large undeveloped area across the Anacostia from the new ballpark, where (I understand) the new DC United stadium is to be built. Why not allow people to park there, and build a pedestrian bridge across the river? It's potentially got easy access to 295, and would be easily accessible to suburban drivers (and get them off of the city streets)."

There's already a garage there, too, for the Anacostia Metro stop. You can either take the train one stop or walk over the Douglass Bridge on South Capitol Street. I suspect that people will initially be reluctant to walk through what is a pretty shady area (Howard Road), but that if enough people do it, others will come to realize that there is safety in numbers.

"there was also a major backlog at the stad/armory station after the game -- why not run express trains after the game, too? (and let people use the stairs to get down rather than forcing all of us onto the escalators.)"

They can't run express trains after the game due to rush hour and the decreased intervals between trains. As for the other point, as other people have noted, there has to be a way for people to EXIT the stations. Ever been to Metro Center when all the escalators in a particular spot are turned off? It proves how stupid a lot of people are because they immediately all flood up (or down) all available escalators and leave no room for people to go the other way. I've tried to go down stopped escalators just inside the faregates when a Red Line train has just stopped and all the idiots flood up the stopped escalators at once, and you really have to be ready to shove people if they won't move over. The Stadium-Armory stop does serve things other than RFK (the local neighborhood being one), just as Navy Yard will serve other things besides the new ballpark, and in both cases WMATA does need to provide for the other traffic.

Posted by: Rich | April 3, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I respect the decision to move yesterday's start time to the afternoon because of the Jewish holiday. However, the game still could have started at 3 or 3:30pm, therefore ending by 6 or 6:30pm, and many/most people could have gotten home by sundown for the holiday; sunset is now something like 7:35pm or 7:40pm. Plus, I enjoy day games on Opening Day, maybe its a personal preference but it feels more like Opening Day when you can play hooky from work and go to the ballpark and grab a beer.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Just a wild idea.

What if from the new stadium they ran an express bus over the Douglas Bridge, up I-295, over the Pennsylvania Avenuve bridge and to the Potomac Avenue Stop on the Orange and Blue. Would probably take as long as a bus going through the pedestrian traffic from the new stadium to Cap. South.

Posted by: Andrew | April 3, 2007 3:04 PM | Report abuse

By far the best way to go to a game and avoid traffic problems is by bicycle. There are bike lanes on East Capital, you get to park feet from the entrance (for free) and you never have to fight with traffic. Of course weather is not always cooperative.

Posted by: VC | April 3, 2007 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I work at the Navy Yard, and it will be interesting to see how Metro handles all of the fans next year.

By the way, anyone willing the wager that the new ballpark will be named Ronald Reagan Memorial Stadium?

Posted by: Leroy | April 3, 2007 4:14 PM | Report abuse

to echo other concerns metro was a disaster. people were literally falling over each other trying to get off the escalator. maybe i do need to "chill" and strike a conversation as a previous poster suggested, but what I'd really like is to be able to get home at a reasonable hour. it took me 2 1/2 hours to get home last night because I live in springfield and work in NW. maybe it is nice to play hooky and go to opening day, but for those of us who can't, its miserable.

Posted by: lauren | April 3, 2007 4:27 PM | Report abuse

This is an idea, not so much for metro, but for the Nationals. They should try to have more pre-game AND post game events, that would encourage people to come earlier and stay later, and that would help the crowds from getting TOO overwelming.

Posted by: Dave | April 3, 2007 4:57 PM | Report abuse

How did the express train work? I didn't think that Metro could have an effective express train because it is on the same track as the regular trains. It seems as if they would still have to wait for the train in front of them to stop, even if the express train did not stop. Did the fact that there were fewer trains on the tracks help? Did you all get to Stadium-Armory faster than the normal time?

Posted by: Didn't go to the game | April 3, 2007 5:28 PM | Report abuse

I couldn't agree more with VC that bicycle is the best way to go if you live within 10 miles of RFK. I rode my bike yesterday morning from home (Arlington) to work (Dupont) then to RFK for the game and back home. No stress at all.

Posted by: SL | April 3, 2007 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock - in what world does it take 12 minutes to walk from Cap South all the way to RFK? Sure, you could cover that distance if you didn't have to cross streets, wait for traffic, but it's quite a ways to go even from Eastern Market. A lot more than a 12 minute walk anyway. Maybe I just misunderstood the post...

Posted by: 12 minutes?! | April 3, 2007 6:27 PM | Report abuse

But seriously, ugh! No 1:05 weekday games. Sure it's fun to be part of the crowd at a the game, but it's not so fun to be joining the 25k or so of you when you're levaing the game and I'm going home from work.

Posted by: Not from flyover | April 3, 2007 9:12 PM | Report abuse

I think it was great fun tailgating, especially after seeing that hot dogs were 6.25! One question, why don't the back gates to the stadium open earlier instead of 11? and why isn't it posted that the back gates don't open until 11? Also, why does a hot dog cost $6.25? I would have bought one if it were 3.00 or even 350. At what point is the price too much where you don't get enough volume to create the money? They certainly lost money from my family purchasing a drink and hot dog just with how much the hot dog cost.

Posted by: go early | April 3, 2007 10:30 PM | Report abuse

Hopefully the nwe stadium will have a bar nearby where you can plesantly wait out the rush. Oh, yeaaaah, Barracks Row.

Posted by: Stick | April 4, 2007 8:01 AM | Report abuse

"Dr. Gridlock - in what world does it take 12 minutes to walk from Cap South all the way to RFK? Sure, you could cover that distance if you didn't have to cross streets, wait for traffic, but it's quite a ways to go even from Eastern Market. A lot more than a 12 minute walk anyway. Maybe I just misunderstood the post..."

You misunderstood. He was talking about the new ballpark at that point. Most people using Metro will insist on using the Navy Yard stop when it might be easier (and maybe faster) to walk from Capitol South. Sure, the neighborhood is bad, but if enough people make the walk there ought to be safety in numbers.

Posted by: Rich | April 4, 2007 8:42 AM | Report abuse

A shuttle bus could still be operated from Union Station to Navy Yard. Right now there is an N22 bus that runs this route, but they could run expresses too, particluarly since there is a bus garage right across the street from the new stadium. Potentially some buses from there could be used to help shuttle around in between their regularly scheduled shifts.

Also, I have been told that the DC Circulator will be extended to the new stadium.

Once the Federal Transit Administration has completed their move to the Navy Yard area, expect even more pedestrian and auto traffic.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 8:55 AM | Report abuse

I waited out the 20 minutes between trains after last night's Caps game. Take into consideration that I left the arena as one of the last ones out, then had to wait while my girlfriend went to the bathroom (a time dragger in itself), then we went to Chipotle (who charged me double for four extra pieces of meat and because the guy behind the counter didn't speak English, couldn't complain). Anyway, we get down to Metro about an hour after the game ended and the platform for the Red line was PACKED. The empty train pulled in to become not so empty any more (I wont go into the moron who walked in and stood next to the partition, but he was physically lifted by me and another rider to a space not blocking the door). We transfer to the Orange which was packed then waited another 20 minutes for that train to arrive. Granted the wait at Gallery Place was about 10 minutes, but still shouldn't they have another train going SOMEWHERE on the system an hour after the game is over?

Posted by: Metro and Sports | April 4, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Expecting the worst last night with the Cherry Blossoms near peak, the nice 80-degree weather, a 7pm Nats game AND a 7pm Caps game, I worked from home yesterday. Although I got to the office this morning and right away the horror stories from YESTERDAY (not Monday) started.

With the current transportation infrastructure in this city, there is no way the people of DC could ever be safely and efficiently evacuated out of the city in a real emergency. Yesterday's tourist and non-regular workday crowds in the city on a lighter than average volume work week (its spring break for most public schools) goes to show the shortcomings of transportation in DC. And Metro is not the answer to solving the city's problems as the media and the Post, in particular, constantly advertise. The roads are just as bad: At 6:30pm yesterday evening, WTOP reported delays into the city on nearly every major road (I-395, I-66, I-295, GW Parkway), keep in mind these delays are against the rushhour flow. Once you got to the city, Constitution and Independence were complete gridlock anywhere west of 14th/15th St as were most of the numbered streets from 14th to 23rd. I'm not sure there even is a grand solution to the city's inept transportation infrastructure, however I fear the day a mandatory evacuation of the city is ordered.

Posted by: Scott | April 4, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

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