Spaced-out at Camden Yards Parking: Authority must address how stadium will function with fewer spaces.

July 13, 1996

WHEN CONTRACTORS building Baltimore's football stadium begin roping off the construction site Monday, fans may finally come to appreciate one of the most undervalued features of Camden Yards: easily accessible parking.

Visitors to the ballpark may adore the cobbled Eutaw Street alley or the sweeping backdrop of the B&O Warehouse. But the facility has also been made a smash success by the relative ease of parking and access.

When a center-city site was chosen a decade ago, critics envisioned a gridlock nightmare. Indeed, fans who have visited other parks -- Philadelphia and New York, come to mind -- know you can stew in a post-game traffic jam for a half-hour or more.

But Camden Yards quickly became a testament to transportation planners as much as to the architects. Light-rail serves fans from points north and south; the parking lot, with quick interstate access, helps travelers from the south, west and northeast. But the parking landscape is about to change for the worse.

Those 5,600 parking spaces at Camden Yards were never enough. But the supply did keep everyone from having to go more than a half-dozen blocks to find room in a downtown garage. As the football project knocks out up to 2,600 Camden Yards' spaces this summer, the balance will shift dramatically.

The Maryland Stadium Authority is negotiating to buy and lease nearby property for more ground parking, but that solution may come too little, too late for this season.

Short-term, there's need for a major publicity campaign: Just as Orioles' fans learned over the years to negotiate the residential streets surrounding Memorial Stadium, many will have to change their parking habits at Camden Yards (though nearby neighborhoods fear their streets will become fans' fallback.) Light-rail continues to be popular for some 5,000 fans per game. Others, who live far from light-rail, should try express bus service.

The stadium authority has been focused on football, in the face of design criticisms and an unforgiving two-year schedule. But if it relegates the parking puzzle to an afterthought, it could sour fans on a trip to the ballpark.

Pub Date: 7/13/96

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