For months Lt. Ray Welch has been grappling with the traffic and parking problems at Anaheim Arena, searching for ways to accommodate the needs of 17,000 hockey fans at a facility with only 4,500 parking spaces.
But with the Mighty Ducks' season opener fast approaching, he is left with one troubling fact: "The numbers just don't add up," Welch said. "It doesn't work."
While long-term solutions are being sought, Welch and other officials from the city, arena and the Walt Disney Co. have been scrambling to find immediate ways to minimize traffic snarls and parking shortages for the Ducks' sellout debut on Friday.
They have increased shuttle service to satellite parking lots, tapped the Anaheim Stadium lot and encouraged the business sector to sell their employee parking spaces at night. Even the Orange County Transportation Agency has gotten in on the act, offering $4 round-trip shuttle service for all Duck home games from seven locations around the county.
The Ducks will play to a sellout crowd of 17,174 in their first National Hockey League game, an event that has sent a wave of civic pride through the city. The team, owned by Disney, is Anaheim's third professional sports franchise and the first major tenant of the city's new $121-million arena.
"A few years ago the idea that NHL hockey would come to Orange County was a pretty remote chance," said Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly. "It's an amazing sight to see National Hockey League players skating on the ice right in the heart of Orange County. I think this rates among the major sports milestones in Orange County."
Everyone involved is hoping that opening night goes off without a hitch, but all recognize that traffic and parking have the potential to mar the occasion.
The problems became painfully obvious during the arena's grand opening week in June. At a Barry Manilow concert, for example, many ticket holders missed much of his act while they searched in vain for parking.
Since then, Anaheim, Disney, arena and police officials have studied traffic flows and driving habits, looking for quick remedies to the problem.
"Each event at the arena has been a learning experience," Lt. Welch said. "Each time we identify a problem we make adjustments to improve the situation."
Additionally, city officials announced Wednesday that they have acquired about 200 more parking spots from the county and are negotiating a 55-year lease for a plot of land that will yield 1,100 parking spaces early next year.
Despite the recent efforts, Welch and others concerned about the parking and traffic situation acknowledge that the fans will determine the scope of the problem. If many arrive 15 minutes before the game, as Southern Californians are inclined to do, chaos could reign.
"The thing I went to convey to the public is to get there early," said Welch. "We're recommending 90 minutes before the game."
Disney is celebrating the official debut of the Mighty Ducks with a fireworks extravaganza that begins at 7:35 p.m. The game begins at 8:05 p.m.
Aggravating the potential for problems is the fact the opener falls on a weekday, not a weekend. Welch said weekday events often coincide with rush-hour traffic.
To help guard against gridlock, police are having 29 officers and civilian employees direct traffic, which will be monitored at the department's computerized Traffic Control Center. Arena officials are staffing the parking lots and booths with about 50 employees.
Hockey fans are being encouraged to car-pool and avoid the Katella Avenue exit from the Orange Freeway. The recommended routes to the arena are: westbound on Katella, Auto Center Drive off Ball Road and southbound Douglass Road from Cerritos Avenue.
Savvy spectators have learned to bypass the arena parking lots altogether and park at privately owned satellite lots that offer shuttles to the facility.
For example, at the Catch Restaurant, hundreds of people park for free, enjoy dinner or cocktails and pay $3 for a round-trip door-to-door shuttle to the arena.
Hugh Biesinger, property manager of Stadium Towers Plaza on Katella Avenue, just west of the Orange Freeway, said he has about 1,600 parking spaces that can be utilized for Duck games. He said it's about a five-minute walk to the arena and he charges $5 to park, $1 less than the arena.
Unfortunately, he said, the "interest in parking here has been very lackluster. . . . We're happy to serve as an alternative, but not too many people are aware of what we're offering."
Anaheim Arena will face its first major hockey parking challenge Friday night when more than 17,000 fans flock to the Mighty Ducks' season opener. Traffic experts recommend that motorists avoid heading east on Katella Avenue toward the arena. Here are the best ways to get to arena lots:
* Ball Road: Go to Auto Center Drive, which empties into main lot, or go south on Sunkist Street, east on Cerritos Avenue, south on Douglass Road into main lot.
* Katella Avenue, westbound: Go toward arena and turn into main lot or off-site parking.
* Orange Freeway: Avoid Katella off-ramp. Exit at Ball Road.
1. Anaheim Stadium
Available spaces: 16,400
Cost: $5 to park, free shuttle to arena
2. Stadium Towers Plaza
Available spaces: 1,600
Cost: $5 to park, $3 for shuttle to arena
3. The Catch Restaurant
Available spaces: 450
Cost: Free parking, $3 for shuttle to arena
Compared to other hockey arenas with similar capacities, Anaheim Arena ranks about in the middle in terms of fans per parking space for a sellout crowd.
Parking Venue Capacity spaces Spectrum (Philadelphia) 17,380 3,000 Chicago Stadium 17,317 7,000 San Jose Arena 17,310 1,800 Anaheim Arena 17,174 4,500 Dallas Reunion Arena 16,814 6,400 Nassau (N.Y.) Veterans Memorial Coliseum 16,297 6,500
Fans per Venue parking space* Spectrum (Philadelphia) 5.8 Chicago Stadium 2.5 San Jose Arena 9.6 Anaheim Arena 3.8 Dallas Reunion Arena 2.6 Nassau (N.Y.) Veterans Memorial Coliseum 2.5
* At capacity
Sources: Anaheim Arena, individual arenas
Researched by CAROLINE LEMKE / Los Angeles Times