Parking at Nationals Park – The Real Tragedy
As the inaugural presidents race at Nationals Park approaches, get ready to hear Stan Kasten shouting “Take Metro!” on every media outlet in town. Parking availability will be slim to none around the new Nationals Park.
As somebody who used to leave his office at 6:30 by car, and be in his seat at RFK in time for the star spangled banner, this won’t be an easy transition. But it’s a fair enough compromise. RFK Stadium was unusually accessible by car for an inner city ball park, with major highways funneling right into a parking lot. We couldn’t expect the same to be true of any other location. The Navy Yard metro stop is close enough to the new Nationals Park, and there are tens of thousands of parking spots at metro stations. In the end, I could cry about parking availability all I want, but I doubt I’d want to be exiting Nationals Park by car, since (unlike RFK) I’ll be hitting surface roads with traffic cops and post-game crowds crossing streets. The thought sends shivers of FedEx Field flashbacks up my spine.
No, the scarcity of parking spaces is not the real tragedy here. The real tragedy is taking shape over the left and center field walls, where construction is almost complete on the two above-ground garages that were part of the deal with major league baseball to approve the stadium site. Everybody knew that above-ground garages would be unappealing, but in a classic case of bureaucratic decision making, that’s what got approved. Major League Baseball held fast to its deadline, the city and the team held fast to their budget, and the rest of us get stuck with these two ugly behemoths for generations to come.
As unforgivable acts of civic shortsitedness go, this one tops my list as a Washington Nationals fan. When I learned of the plan to build these garages above ground, I was extremely disappointed, but when I saw them for myself on a recent tour of the new stadium, I was positively stunned. If they had to be above ground, did they still have to be right over the outfield walls by the stadium’s main entrance? The photo to the right is from the location of the owner’s suite behind home plate. Yes, that’s the U.S. Capitol dome being blocked by the new garage. Sure, they’re going cover the garage with advertising posters and plant cherry trees in front of it, but is this the DC skyline view we were promised?
For everybody’s sake, I hope that the team, the city, and major league baseball can start thinking beyond the outfield walls. The new Nationals Park should be a source of civic and fan pride, but that can’t come 100% from the amenities within the park. New ballparks should integrate and represent the neighborhood and the city, becoming attractions unto themselves, drawing tourists when they come to town, and driving ticket sales even when the team falls short of expectations. This isn’t rocket science. You don’t have to have the Rocky Mountains of Denver or the San Francisco Bay to pull it off. New ballparks have taken advantage of the comparatively nondescript skylines of Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee. You’d think we could have done better.
With luck, the new Nationals Park will pour in buckets of money for both the city and the Washington Nationals team, and additional parking options will built in the adjacent neighborhood in the next couple of years. Then perhaps we can have some serious discussions about ripping these things down and starting over.
Flickr photos by Scott Ableman