When a professional baseball team first started playing in Brooklyn, their field was so surrounded by trolley tracks that a journalist said fans had to be “trolley-dodgers” to get to the games. The name was shortened and stuck, and thus were born the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers, the only sports franchise I can think of whose name is rooted in transit. During the Dodgers’ era in Brooklyn, World Series contests against their cross-town rival New York Yankees were always dubbed the Subway Series, because the fans (and players) could get from one stadium to the other by subway.
The Dodgers’ 1957 move to Los Angeles epitomized the nation’s move away from transit, and it was more than symbolic that the team settled into a new Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine surrounded by what is still to this day reputed to be the second largest parking lot in Los Angeles. In the early 1960s, when the Los Angeles region got a second major league team, the Angels, the automobilization of baseball was taken to its extreme when the team built a stadium in suburban Orange County, ringed by limited access highways and accessible primarily by car.
Some other U.S. sports teams, mostly in football, followed that anti-urban example, fleeing to car-oriented locations like East Rutherford, N.J. and Foxboro, Massachusetts. But by the late 20th century most franchises had re-discovered the value of a transit-accessible central location. New ballparks from Baltimore to Cleveland to the South Side of Chicago to San Francisco opened with nearby transit service as an indispensible feature. (The one franchise still moving the wrong direction is the backward-looking “Atlanta” Braves who recently announced plans to abandon their city for a distant highway interchange in Nowheresville, Cobb County, Georgia.)
But the Dodgers and Angels are adapting with the times again, luring what could be called “remedial” transit to their auto-oriented ballparks. TransitCenter staff recently sampled both the Dodger Stadium Express bus operated by LA Metro and the Angels Express train operated by Metrolink. While neither has the versatility of the 365-days-a-year 24-hours-a-day trolleys and subways that Brooklynites used to get to baseball games as well as everywhere else, these specialized services do demonstrate transit’s ability to efficiently move large numbers of people in a short time frame from point A to point B for a special event.
Point A for both services is Los Angeles Union Station, built in the Spanish Mission revival style with art deco touches. To easily find the Dodger Stadium Express, we followed legible, attractive signs – now there’s an idea New York could emulate – to the bus stops adjacent to the station, where courteous Metro employees in bright vests directed an orderly line of fans – now we knew were not in New York – toward the waiting buses. In fact, the line was so orderly that we were puzzled, because the bus was sitting with its door open and ample standing room was still available, yet fans were still standing patiently on the curb. One Metro employee solved the mystery with a cultural revelation of difference between the east and west coasts: “Sure, you can get on this bus,” he told us, “if you don’t mind standing.” The lined-up Angelenos were waiting for the next bus so they could have seats. Did we New Yorkers mind standing on a bus? We jumped on, and the bus took off right away. The transit fare was simply to show the driver our tickets to the game. Less than ten minutes later, we were riding swiftly up Chavez Ravine in a lane temporarily designated for buses and swept by the cars stuck in regular stadium traffic. The bus dropped us off near the right field entrance to Dodger Stadium, allowing a much shorter walk than from the auto parking lots. After the game, a line of buses in the same location promptly loaded passengers for a quick trip back to Union Station.
We took transit to an Angels game on a subsequent evening, but that trip was a very different experience than our little bus jaunt to Dodger Stadium. Despite now calling themselves the “Los Angeles Angels”, a name change in 2005 from “Anaheim Angels”, the team plays in Anaheim, 31 miles south in Orange County. (For reference, that’s about as far as it is from Penn Station in Manhattan to New Brunswick on NJ Transit.) Unlike the LA Metro Dodger Stadium Express which consists of a series of buses running frequently before and after the games, the Metrolink Angels Express is a single train with one departure time, leaving from Los Angeles an hour and fifteen minutes before game time, affording no flexibility for fans who might want to arrive early to see batting practice or might show up a little bit late. Probably because of the limited schedule, only about 100 passengers were aboard the train, enough to barely fill perhaps three buses. After a smooth, fast ride through the industrial areas and subdivisions of Southern California, the train deposited us on the far side of a big parking lot from the Angels’ stadium, a five-minute walk to the gates.
The train and crew then remained standing at the Anaheim station throughout the duration of the game, which all you transit costing specialists out there must realize is a big expense for Metrolink: one 31 mile trip out and one 31 mile trip back, with three hours of sitting idle in between, makes for pretty poor equipment and labor utilization, especially near rush hour when the equipment could be earning revenue.
After the game, we hustled to trackside to climb back aboard, because the single departure back to Los Angeles leaves “thirty minutes after the end of the game, or 11:30 PM, whichever comes sooner,” according to the schedule. One of the more unusual timetable footnotes I have seen, it translates to “no extra innings, Metrolink riders!” Miss the train and you could be in Anaheim for a long time late at night.
Our two Southern California baseball transit experiences had one commonality: we saw both the Dodgers and the Angels lose. But the two different stadiums – Dodger Stadium built in 1962 and Angel Stadium built in 1966 – demonstrate the various opportunities and challenges of trying to retroactively provide modern mass transit service to a stadium location that had originally been sited with only the automobile in mind. Dodger Stadium is an easier situation to solve, because it’s not far from downtown Los Angeles and the nearby streets can be temporarily re-fashioned as priority lanes for a frequent bus shuttle which connects to many other lines at Union Station. The Dodger Stadium Express bus has clearly become a practical option for many fans. Angel Stadium is harder to serve with transit because of its far-flung location and auto-dependent surroundings, but even that is starting to gradually change as Anaheim invests in new intermodal options, so the Metrolink Angels Express is at least a start. As the Brooklyn Dodgers fans used to say on their crestfallen September trolley rides home, “Wait ‘til next year!”
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