Fans hope parking fears are off base

How Much?
On Opening Day last year, Dodger fan Andrew Melton registered his surprise at learning that the parking fee at Dodger Stadium had risen from $10 to $15 - and he had only $10. He was allowed through anyway.
(Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Charitie McArthur says she bleeds Dodger blue. She thinks Vin Scully is a genius, wept with joy when Steve Finley’s grand slam clinched a division title in 2004 and scored big when she got married at home plate at Dodger Stadium the following summer.

But as the team returns to town this week for the new season, the 32-year-old teacher from Redondo Beach is already cringing. It’s not the team’s prospects that have her down, but the prospect of the bad traffic expected at this weekend’s games.

Opening Day in 2007 has already gone into the record books as one of the worst traffic days in stadium history. A new parking system, requiring fans to park and exit in certain locations as opposed to picking their own spots, led to epic gridlock.

“Leaving the game was like walking out into a war zone,” McArthur recalled of her two-hour journey out of the stadium parking lot. “There was literally nowhere you could go.”

The Dodgers, for their part, like their parking prospects this year, pointing to a lineup featuring 1,000 new spaces, which were created when some landscaping between lots was removed. As for the team, they play host to the world champion Boston Red Sox at Dodger Stadium tonight and Sunday afternoon, followed by the regular season opener Monday against the division rival San Francisco Giants.

“We know that weekday traffic can be particularly challenging, but we hope that the addition of . . . new spaces, coupled with a city and state holiday” -- Cesar Chavez Day on Monday -- “ease the congestion,” wrote chief marketing officer Charles Steinberg in an e-mail to The Times. “Nonetheless, the best way to avoid traffic is to come early. The parking lots open at 10:40 a.m., and Opening Day is a great time to watch batting practice and check out the 2008 innovations” to the stadium.

The traffic at 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium, however, may be bush league compared to the expected turnout for Saturday night’s game against the Red Sox at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. More than 100,000 tickets have been sold. That’s about 10,000 more than for a USC football game -- when traffic isn’t exactly peachy.

The Dodgers will be running free shuttle buses from Dodger Stadium to the corner of Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard near the Coliseum beginning at 11 a.m. and continuing until two hours after the game. Fans using the buses are asked to enter the Sunset/Elysian Park gate at Dodger Stadium and to reserve a spot on the buses by calling (323) 224-1507. Parking is free at Dodger Stadium but $25 at the Coliseum.

The bus service to the Dodger game is the exception, not the rule. Once the season begins, the Dodgers will remain one of the few teams in the Major Leagues without mass transit serving their stadium.

The other big league parks in California -- in Anaheim, San Diego, San Francisco and Oakland -- are next to rail lines. And the stadiums for the Padres and Giants were deliberately built with a limited number of parking spots, many of which are expensive, to encourage people to take mass transit. The Angels’ ballpark is next to a Metrolink and Amtrak stop, although train schedules aren’t coordinated with game times.

Conversely, the Dodgers have more than 16,000 parking spaces, more than enough for most games. Buses used to stop behind left field, but service was suspended after the 1994 season because of transit budget cuts. In 2004, low ridership prompted the team to suspend the shuttle service it provided that year on Friday nights from Union Station.

City and county transportation officials have said they don’t have the money to add new routes and that altering existing ones would inconvenience other riders. So the closest bus stop remains on Sunset Boulevard, down the hill from the park.

And the Dodgers aren’t willing to foot the bill for new service.

“We think this should be done by the public,” said Howard Sunkin, the team’s senior vice president. “We’ve spent in excess of $150 million to restore the stadium, with more to come, and our fans are looking for public transportation.”

With traffic worsening, the Dodgers and owner Frank McCourt -- who made his fortune in the parking business in Boston -- tried a new pitch last year. They raised the cost of parking from $10 to $15 a game and tried to bring order to the vast lot that circles the stadium.

But the plan hinged on telling Angelenos how to drive. Many didn’t want anyone messing with their shortcuts -- or at least not anyone who had just raised parking and ticket prices.

“I’ve never seen the likes of it,” said Wally Weisman, who lives on the Westside. “We sat in the same place for two hours, and we have preferred parking.”

Weisman, 72, said that the situation improved greatly as the season progressed, but he was never convinced that the new system was better than the old one. “What I did basically in terms of exiting was disregard what they required and drove past the attendants and the stop signs,” he said, adding that not going to the games was not an option because “I’m an addict.”

As for Charitie MacArthur, love trumps all. She plans to return for her usual share of 15 games or so this season. But the thought of traffic at the Coliseum game has her feeling a little, well, blue. “I think we’re going to watch that one at home,” she said.

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