Get Me Out to the Ball Game: II

April 03, 1993

Along with the cry "Play ball!" comes the shout "Park here!" As Oriole Park at Camden Yards prepares to welcome baseball fans back for its second season, transit and traffic officials again gird for fans on their way to the ballpark. A year ago they faced the prospect with hope tinged by trepidation. With a season's experience behind them, they rely less on hope but still admit to a bit of trepidation.

The first season at Camden Yards was a stupendous success from almost every viewpoint -- other than a pennant. Record crowds packed the ballpark, but there were no record traffic jams. The new light-rail system was introduced, and thousands of fans used it each game day. Thousands of others traveled on Metro or special buses, many from outlying park-and-ride lots. Motorists learned to use parking garages around the downtown area rather than flock to the inadequate open parking lots immediately around the ballpark.

So why the trepidation now? Transit ridership began falling off late in the season, and more fans tried to reach the ballpark by car with just minutes to spare before game time. Not enough to cause problems last fall, but enough to worry officials about the trend. If it continues this spring, the traffic snarls that did not materialize last year may yet ensnare motorists.

A few of last season's alternatives to driving will not be available this year, but only because they were not much used. Others, like the light-rail line, will be expanded. It will open service (for games only, initially) to Linthicum in Anne Arundel County and later to Glen Burnie. With a full year's experience behind it, the light-rail operation should run without some of the occasional snags of its initial months. MARC officials have also learned some lessons for inter-city service.

In essence, this year's message to fans is the same as last year's: Don't drive right to the ballpark if you can possibly avoid it. If you must drive, park in one of the downtown garages or, better yet, at one of more than a dozen park-and-ride lots around the suburbs. Best of all, take a bus, Metro or the light rail, all of which will drop you at the ballpark's doorstep at Camden Yards. Come early, stay late. Have a drink or dinner downtown and walk to the ballpark. Most important of all, have fun -- and take your time getting there.

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