As baseball season begins this week, the Atlanta Braves officially relocate from Turner Field – much closer to Atlanta’s downtown – to SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County. The move raises interesting questions about the transit accessibility of new stadiums.
Part of the Braves’ stated reason for their relocation was that Turner Field was not easily accessible to transit. Even though the field was close to downtown, the closest Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) station was a mile away, requiring bus shuttles on game days.
But now SunTrust Park will likely have even greater challenges bringing people to games via transit. For one, the new stadium has no MARTA rail access. And the incentive to drive may be too great, since the park is nestled right at an interchange of two of Atlanta’s busiest highways (I-75 and I-285).
That said, the Braves plan to have a shuttle service connecting major points of interest in metro Atlanta to SunTrust Park. MARTA suggests taking a MARTA bus as close to the stadium as possible, then taking on-demand services or a Cobb County bus. There is also CobbLinc, a bus service connecting Cobb County to Downtown and Midtown Atlanta.
SunTrust Park currently has no rail access, but the region envisions an extension of rail lines into Cobb County. This would be roughly on par with Turner Field’s rail access, with a rail line connected to the field via shuttle.
The bike amenities look to be improved, though now in an area less conducive to biking. Turner Field’s closest bike racks were a mile away, and SunTrust Park is planning a bike valet. In addition, SunTrust Park will soon have a long pedestrian bridge across the freeway.
Yet, most of the emphasis is placed predictably on personal vehicles. Turner Field had up to 12 parking lots on high-demand days, with some accommodations for handicap parking and drop-off. SunTrust Park will have an app with real-time traffic updates about the games, the connection to the nearby Galleria’s parking, and the surrounding interstates. There will actually be 30 percent less parking at SunTrust than at Turner Field.
By comparison, FedEx Field, where the Washington Redskins football team plays, out in the Washington D.C. suburb of Landover, Md., was ranked 30th out of the 32 NFL stadiums in 2012 for accessibility.
Sure, at the Landover location there are acres of parking, luxury vehicles for rent, and bars that provide free bus trips to the games. But the closest Metro is about a mile away, there’s no Capital Bikeshare in Prince George’s County, and little evidence of bike racks, not to mention a bike valet like the one at Nationals Park. The congested Beltway is by no means inviting for non-driving fans, either.
While FedEx Field is miles from central D.C., there are stadiums in city limits, so aren’t those more accessible? After all, cities tend to have better transit than the suburbs.
Nationals Park, within Washington, D.C., has two Metro stops within three blocks of the stadium, though it also has eight parking garages within 10 blocks. The DC Circulator stops half a block away from the stadium and there are eight options for Metrobus within blocks. There’s even bikeshare: three stations within three blocks, corral service for some games, and a free bike valet.
And the fact that Nationals Park works closely with the D.C. Department of Transportation and its transportation demand initiative goDCgo to publicize the many transportation options is important as well. From initial research into the matter, there appears to be little TDM being practiced at FedEx Field or SunTrust Park.
For one example, goDCgo’s Nationals-centered Bus to the Ballpark campaign raises awareness of the Navy-Yard – Union Station Circulator. This connection is especially important because Union Station connects to the broader region through Amtrak, Greyhound, Megabus, and other services.
It will be interesting to see how the situation unfolds in Atlanta at the Braves’ home opener on April 14 – how will people get to SunTrust Park? How will drivers in the area react and how will traffic be affected? Perhaps there’s just not enough incentive for sports franchises to want their products to be more accessible to more fans in more ways. And that’s a shame.
Photo: Nats fans at the Navy Yard Metro station (bootbearwdc, Flickr, Creative Commons).