A Trip Up The Coast: Dodger Stadium Could Learn A Thing or Two
July 10, 2012 Leave a comment
This is the fourth post in a short series based on my recent trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco by train. With an overnight stop in San Luis Obispo and a weekend in San Francisco, there were some great urbanist and transit lessons to be learned.
As a baseball fan, no trip to any city is complete without a visit to the stadium. I’ve been to a game at San Francisco’s AT&T park before, but arrived late from the airport and headed straight inside. This time, I didn’t attend the game, but explored the area all around the stadium as crowds were arriving for the crossbay showdown between the Giants and the Oakland A’s.
So far, San Francisco’s AT&T park and San Diego’s Petco Park are two of my favorite urban stadiums. There are many lessons for Dodger stadium to be found in them, though we also have to realize that Dodger stadium is a diametrically different kind of ballpark. It’s location on an isolated hilltop makes it much more of a suburban style stadium (surrounded completely by parking lots) than any of the country’s urban stadiums.
While some have proposed moving Dodger Stadium to a Downtown location, as a longtime baseball fan and purist I am conflicted with the idea. The urbanist in me says YES! while the fan wanting to retain as much of the history of the stadium says NO. For now, I will assume (as is most probable) that the stadium won’t be moving anytime soon. There are still many improvements that can be made in its current location.
So let’s look… What is so great about AT&T Park?
AT&T Park is part of the city. It is accessible on all sides by the public. You can walk right up to its walls at anytime, gameday or not, ticket or not. The area around the stadium is a public space, where visitors will come and take pictures even if there is no game going on. There are no gates hundreds of yards away from the stadium, blocking access and opened only for cars on gamedays. This stadium is part of the city. When there is a game going on, even the action on the field is publicly viewable to fans outside from beyond the outfield walls.
Fans can watch the game from a walkway behind the stadium. If there are large crowds, they clear the area out after every three innings to ensure that many spectators get to see. Watching from here is not free admission to the entire game, but it’s still a valuable way for the public to be part of the gameday experience.
Multi-Use Ground Level
The stadium’s exterior is a great example of multi-use development. There is a doctor’s office and multiple restaurants around the ground floor. These are open and accessible from the outside and have regular hours whether there is a home game or not.
Wile the doctor’s office may seem a bit out of place, the bars an restaurants contribute to the gameday atmosphere and the neighborhood on off-days. They provide a place for fans to gather and watch away games and for locals to grab lunch or dinner when there isn’t a game. These commercial uses make the stadium building a valuable contributor to the neighborhood on a daily basis, rather than a black hole of inactivity when there isn’t a home game.
The stadium is conveniently located immediately next to a light rail station that serves two of the city’s most heavily used lines. The light rail provides connections to BART and the city’s central Market Street. One block away from the stadium is a CalTrain depot, providing commuter rail service from points south to San Jose.
Behind the stadium is the bay and a ferry dock that provides service from East Bay cities directly the the stadium’s outfield gate. At least hundreds of fans take a boat to each game at AT&T Park.
Also behind the outfield wall, the San Francisco Bike Coalition operates a bike valet. I was there before most fans arrived, but there were already many bikes checked and more people arriving on bicycles by the minute. I know a lot of people who bike in San Francisco and it’s great to see that you can bike right up to the stadium, check your bike at a valet (so you don’t have to worry about it being stolen off of some bike rack somewhere), enjoy the game, and then bike home after. There were signs and friendly attendants that made the valet a visible aspect of the stadium, so fans would see it and know it was there for future use even if they didn’t bike this time.
Finally, as I walked around I was astounded at the fact that I didn’t see a single stadium-operated parking lot. There were some private lots a few blocks away (making use of space under an elevated freeway). A little while later, I did find the stadium lots, across the creek. While it’s still a large amount of land dedicated to surface parking (that may have a better possible use), this land is separated from the stadium and the main downtown section of the city. It does not impede the pedestrian experience or separate the stadium from the neighborhood around it.
I am impressed by the team’s official transportation page and map. Transit directions are listed first, followed by car and then bike information. The map shows transit routes and pedestrian walking routes to the stadium before driving routes and parking lots. The only improvement I would make is to move the bike information higher. The service looked great and it should be marketed higher on the page.
Fan and Civic Pride
AT&T Park sits on a portion of street named for its Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays. There are multiple statues of Giants greats outside the stadium, and fans spend time taking photos with the statues before and after the game. The stadium and its surrounding grounds contribute to a sense of civic pride, just as the team that plays inside does.
With all of this in mind, what can be done to improve the fan experience and contribution that Dodger Stadium makes to the surrounding neighborhood and Los Angeles?
The biggest improvement is to make it a place to go, and make it publicly accessible all the time. Right now, there are gates that close off the stadium far below at the parking lot entrances. Of course, nobody has any reason to go to the park if there’s not an event at the moment either. Real improvement of the Dodger Stadium experience will take development. Housing, restaurants, a baseball museum… All of these things could bring more life to the area and make Chavez Ravine a regular part of daily life as well as a destination.
It’s hard to add any use the ground level of Dodger Stadium because for most of the perimeter, there is no real ground level. Because the stadium is build into the hill and not just on top of it, any new retail that is open to the outside would most likely be in the form of additional development around the stadium structure.
Transportation is perhaps the area where Dodger Stadium could use the most immediate improvement. While many fans take the Dodger Stadium Express Bus, it isn’t nearly as good as it should be. I took the Angels Express Metrolink train to Anaheim last week. Exactly 50 minutes after departing Union Station, I was off the train and walking through the parking lot at Angel Stadium. I have sat in traffic on the Dodgers Express bus for 45 minutes before and only been half way from Union Station to the ballpark. We eventually got off the bus and walked. Dodger Stadium is far closer and its express service gets much more use than the train to Angel Stadium — but it pales in comparison when looking at ease of use and reliability.
I look forward to the day when we’ll have a rail link to Dodger Stadium (if I had my way, it would be part of a line heading through Silverlake to Glendale), but until then, the bus must be improved. A bus only lane would do wonders. It would be easy to implement and would speed the travel times considerably. For a start, this should be implemented right away at least along Elysian Park Ave all the way into the stadium. Including Sunset Blvd. will take some more planning, but should be accomplished soon enough.
Because it sits atop a large hill and further from the rest of the city, I don’t think Dodger Stadium will see the same amount of bikers as AT&T Park, but with some improvement of facilities and marketing, I know plenty of people who would be glad to bike to the games. Many fans are coming from bike-heavy Downtown and Silverlake, and a staffed bike valet would give them peace of mind when they are inside the stadium and a protected lane into and through the parking lot would give them peace of mind on the way.
Lastly, Dodger Stadium currently does next to nothing to contribute to civic pride. While there is plenty of Dodger Pride in LA, there is no reflection of this at the stadium. Dodgers fan blog “Vin Scully is My Homeboy” brought this up a few years ago, but why in the world are there no statues at Dodger Stadium?
Fans and visitors alike are always taking pictures at Star Plaza and the statues outside Staples Center (I know because I used to watch them from my office across the street). Baseball’s first African-American player, Jackie Robinson, will forever be known as a Dodger. He grew up in Pasadena, went to college in Los Angeles, and his number is retired by every Major League team, yet I see no memorial to him at Dodger Stadium. There is a plaque at the Coliseum for him and the Mets’ new park in NY has an entire entry rotunda dedicated to Robinson. I think at the very least a statue at Dodger Stadium would begin to do him justice. I’d also love to see a statue dedicated to Vin Scully within his lifetime. Chick Hearn’s memorial outside Staples Center is a fan favorite, and Vin Scully is arguably more well known and loved.
The current point of entry to Dodger Stadium is an outfield wall immediately abutted by a parking lot and a couple team stores in temporary tents. These structures should be permanently built (seriously, temporary tents at a major league facility?) and there should be an entry plaza outside center field with statues and other iconic elements. At Angel stadium, for example, while there are no statues on the entry plaza (there are some inside), there is a replica baseball diamond and large hats, with a huge main entry gate. This is the location of many family and fan photos before and after games. No such spot exists at Dodger Stadium, and the creation of something(s) iconic would absolutely contribute to more civic and team pride.
Taking lessons from AT&T park (and other stadiums) and applying them to fit with the location and structure of Dodger Stadium will enhance the gameday experience for fans and the everyday connection between the stadium and the city. There is a lot to be done, but some of the beginning steps are clear.