Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tales From The Crypt (The Dodger Stadium Parking Lot), Day 3

Three days into this McCourt Parking System ordeal, and still the Dodger Stadium staff hasn’t figured this one out. My experience last night was marginally better than on Opening Day, but that was attributable more to the lower attendance (slightly over half the size of Opening Day) rather than parking system/attendant competence. And even with the lower crowd volumes, the attendants appeared to be either indifferent or further complicating matters. At this stage, I don’t know if the problems with the McCourt parking system reflect human error or system shortcomings, but I have to guess that both factors will contribute to yet another failing over this weekend’s series with the San Diego Padres, which will attract higher attendance levels more similar to Opening Day's.

I exited the Harbor Freeway northbound at about 6.30p and got to the hill leading up to the Sunset Gate by 6.40p. (I opted to enter via the Sunset gate as it is most convenient for me to leave via this gate, rather than be forced onto the Harbor Freeway southbound.) From there, let me explain what happened next:

  • Traffic up the hill to the Sunset Gate parking booths was so packed that people were not moving through the turnstiles (even though they had already completed their $15 transactions--the parking booth attendants should really wear bandanas and cowboy hats). The line extended all the way back to Sunset Boulevard. Inside the park, attendants were inexplicably blocking cars from continuing up the first hill to the outer ring (which in prior years moved traffic in a counter-clockwise direction around the stadium). The attendants’ decision to hold cars back was befuddling, since now there is no traffic allowed to travel around the outer ring (nor were there any pedestrians crossing the street), so clearly the delay wasn’t made for cross-traffic to flow. We were just standing there, pausing on the incline up, without reason.
  • Fifteen minutes later, I had inched my way up the hill and weaved my way over to the left hand side of the upward incline, ready to scrounge for general admission parking. Lot 1, the closest lot to me (on my left), was my target.
  • The closest and most logical entrance/exit to Lot 1 had its access blocked off, with two parking attendants standing there to enforce the blocked gate (these attendants were not providing any assistance any other way). So I had no choice but to continue to the outer ring and drive clockwise along the outside circumference toward the other, farther end of Lot 1, where they were letting people in to park.
  • Once inside Lot 1, parking wasn’t all that difficult, as there were plenty of open and unused parking spots. Why the attendants weren’t rushing cars up the hill, leftward around the circumference, and down into Lot 1 as fast as humanly possible, was beyond me. It wasn't for shortage of supply.
  • By now, though, the wait to get up that first hill had lasted so long, that the national anthem had ended and the Dodgers’ lineup was being announced. This whole parking ordeal added at least 10-15 minutes to my parking time and was definitely longer than normal—and I couldn’t help but think that this was during a low-attendance mid-week game.
  • By the time I made it to the stadium after a brisk ten-minute walk, the Dodgers lineup was being announced and I was in as they took the field.
  • Complaints about clueless and unhelpful parking attendants appeared to be validated even on night three of this ridiculous plan. Again, I got to the stadium well ahead of first pitch and even I couldn’t make it up the hill without delays.

Getting out of the stadium was fine though I left with two out in the ninth (Saito walked the next batter before retiring the final batter) and literally ran to my car from the field level seats (yes, I snuck down from the reserved level). In the time it took those last two batters to have their at bats, a quick jog/run had gotten me to my car, back out the formerly-blocked entrance, and out of the stadium. This was a pretty smooth egress but I have to say that it wasn’t any smoother or quicker than it would have been last year.

And again, this was on a light attendance game.

Having visited the Stadium two of its three days, I have to say that tonight was an improvement over Opening Day, and (potentially) a hopeful step that we’re moving in a positive direction. The logistics still appear to cause illogical delays in traffic flow, but parking did operate more smoothly than on Monday. However, I do think it’s unfair and well premature to call this plan a success, however, on almost half the first day’s car volume. Attendance for the game was only 33K, so in theory every car should have had roughly two spaces to itself.

Personally, I’ve gone from vehement anger to tempered pessimism (and I’m sure Josh from Inside The Dodgers will label this a rousing success in his next column). But let’s wait and see how the parking plan handles the division rival Padres over the weekend.

Stepping back from the situation, let me reiterate that even on the lightest night of the year, the new McCourt parking plan provided little to no incremental value to the consumer over last year’s plan—and yet parking now costs 50% more than last year.

The only purely positive thing to say about tonight’s situation was that it is comforting to have more parking attendants directing traffic after the game, even if they are clueless and largely unempowered before the game. I have to think that the mere presence of more attendants would help make the parking lots a safer place through which to walk, particularly for a family with young kids following a night game. But from a logistics perspective, again, we are no better off; my own experience was predicated more on my early departure rather than clever civil engineering.

Sometime in the middle of the fourth inning, as I sat there and watched the Dodgers go back to sleep after stoking a three-run lead, I had the crazy brainstorm idea that the bad parking logistics are all part of Frank McCourt’s master plan. Not only will he bilk you for $5 more to enter the lot—soon, he’ll probably charge another $5 on top of that for motorists who want to be able to leave the lot in a smooth and orderly fashion. Heck, for an extra four to five bucks on top of that, he'll get the new parking lot attendants (who are idle for 2+ hours during the game) to squeegee your windshield as you watch the game. And how about an auto detailing while you watch the game, for another $30 (+$10 if you want the hand wash to include sealer wax)? At this stage, I wouldn’t put any half-baked idea past the McCourts—those are exactly the kind of ideas on which their administration thrives.

Oh yeah, and the Dodgers won thanks to a two-hitter, leaving them a half-game out of first place. So luckily, not all was lost.


Anonymous said...

Here's what I don't get about the new parking plan. They've limited each gate so it serves only a few lots, right? But this only works if the people attending the game come to the entrances in proportion to the number of spaces each entrance serves. What happens if lots of people come to the "Sunset Gate" but very few come in through the "Golden State Gate"? There is no way to balance out the flow.

Steve Sax said...

Spot on, Daniel. Not only is it a flow issue through the gates (the McCourt Parking Plan assumes equal flow rates can be accommodated through all four games), but also assumes that each gate has the appropriate amount of lot spots nearby. In other words, if lots 1/2 fill up and are exhausted, their current plan would result in a closed Sunset gate, which will only further exacerbate the parking frustrations.

Lasorda said...

If this dynamic is so obvious, wouldn you have thought that the McCourts (who are FREAKING parking lot owners!) would have realized this?

Maybe the system should be closer to the zoned seating system that Southwest Airlines pioneered. You have certain lots opened up for the early check-ins, then once filled, you slot the other lots for people who come in later? Then again, Southwest gives out peanuts.

Anonymous said...

If I was the parking czar, I would:

1) go back to the old parking system,

2) setup a shuttle system carrying people from Dodger stadium to several outside lots, setup in various different directions,

3) reserve several exits for the shuttles so it was obvious that you have an advantage in leaving early by taking the shuttle,

4) take the financial hit that comes with fewer people parking in the Dodger stadium lot, and

5) glory in the increased customer satisfaction, thus increasing ticket sales and my overall take.

KidCuba said...

Parking is still bad, and any way you slice it, its really bad considering no one was at the game the past two nights. Wait until this weekend with the givaways and hoopla... thats pull your hair out time!

Griffster said...

Hubbie and I will be going down to Dodger Stadium tomorrow night. Given that we have a two hour drive to get there, we're going to be primed for bad thoughts towards the McCourts if we get stuck in their parking mess.

The basic idea of the current plan is all right - get people to park fairly close to the gate they came in. This cuts down on the meandering around in the parking lot and the ripple effect of that on inbound traffic. Get in, park, walk - and the reverse to leave. It is the guys driving around slowly, and driving and driving, once in the gates - holding up people behind them - that cause some of the backup.

However, blocking off the lots and preventing interconnectivity is just plain dumb, like daniel z says. There's got to be a mechanism for balancing the flow - the ability to let the overflow from one gate go into other areas.

So, how about taking away the barriers that delimit the lots, and encouraging people to get in, use their brains to get parked quickly, and walk to the stadium?

Oh wait, that is what we used to do and they decided it doesn't work.