"Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd." Just don't try to ride a bike there. That's the unfortunate reality for fans of most of California's professional baseball teams. While many of the state's major and minor league franchises offer abundant parking for motorists, facilities for bicycling baseball fans are practically nonexistent. Of California's five major league baseball franchises, only one--the San Francisco Giants--offers secure staffed bicycle parking.
At a time when California faces significant challenges with traffic, pollution, energy, and obesity, why aren't the state's professional sports teams doing more to encourage bicycling? What is the responsibility of major traffic-generating enterprises such as ballparks to promote environmentally sustainable transportation options for getting to their facilities?
San Francisco Giants: Visionary Innovators
When the San Francisco Giants began planning for their new downtown baseball stadium in the early 1990s, many neighbors expressed concerns about the traffic that a new ballpark would generate. To alleviate these objections, the Giants developed a comprehensive transportation management plan, which included excellent access to light rail, commuter rail, and ferries. The plan also included a first for major league baseball: indoor, secure, staffed bike parking.
The Giants contracted with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) to staff the bike parking facility, located on the southern side of the present SBC Park (nee Pacific Bell Park) overlooking the waters of McCovey Cove. The SFBC is a 4,400-member nonprofit advocacy group which promotes bicycling for everyday transportation. The SFBC has for many years provided valet bike parking for numerous events throughout San Francisco, and the coalition was successful passing legislation requiring secure bicycle parking at major events in the city. Valet bike parking at the SBC Park facility was a logical extension of the coalition's work.
On the April evening following Giants slugger Barry Bonds' 660th career home run, the bike parking facility at SBC Park attracted dozens of exuberant baseball fans. "That was the best trip ever down Embarcadero," said Danny Torza of Sacramento, as he wheeled in. "It was like a parking lot out there. Those drivers are going to miss the fireworks after the game."
A regular bike commuter, Torza attends 10-12 Giants games every year, making a multimodal trip combining a drive from Sacramento, a ferry from Vallejo, and a bike ride from the ferry terminal. "This is great. It's crazy to drive into the city. The best way to get to SBC Park is by bike."
The bike parking facility at SBC Park is regularly staffed by Kash, a longtime San Francisco bicycle activist who goes by just one name. He'd like to see 400 bikes per game, but gets an average of 100, saying, "MUNI to the ballpark is so convenient I'm actually losing customers to mass transit," Kash says. "The number of people bicycling to the park varies with the weather. We get more for day games, and when the weather is warmer. I'm seeing a 20 percent annual increase in bikes parked."
As riders roll up, Kash hands them a clipboard to sign-in. He staples a numbered slip onto their handlebars, and gives them a stub to reclaim their bicycle. "How long will you stay?" asks one rider. "Until the last bike is out," Kash replies, later confessing "I'm not really a baseball fan. I'm here for the bikes."
Active with the bike parking operation at SBC Park since its inception in 2000, Kash is well familiar with the routine. He greets the many regulars, directs people to the entrances and will-call windows, provides patient instruction to first timers, and recruits passersby who notice the bike parking.
CBC member Steve Hall bikes to the park from his office five blocks away. "My company has season tickets, so I see a lot of games. Biking is definitely my preferred way to get here." As the time for the first pitch approaches, bicyclists continue to stream in. Many riders of expensive bikes say they wouldn't ride to the game without the secure parking. A smiling father rolls in with two kids on small bikes. Young couples on dates, groups of older men, fans of all ages, bikes ranging in value from cheap to priceless--all express gratitude and enthusiasm for the bike parking.
Alfonso Felder, transportation director for the San Francisco Giants, has been pleased with the response to the bike parking. "We are committed to providing our fans with a variety of convenient means to get to SBC Park," Felder said. "The people who bike to the park really appreciate the service, and it's attracting more people every year."
One regular bicyclist who uses the SBC Park bike parking is Michael Burns, director of San Francisco's transportation agency MUNI. The agency is teaming this season with the Giants and the SFBC on an ad campaign for the city's buses to promote the bike parking: "The secret to easy parking at SBC Park is to ride your bike."
The bicycle parking at SBC Park has also provided a great organizing opportunity for the SFBC. Kash encourages parkers to take the coalition's newsletter, provides information about ongoing campaigns, and answers questions about the organization. "If you approach people with a petition, they often tune out," says Kash. "But if you offer them a valuable service, they are more receptive to your message. A lot of people encounter the SFBC for the first time at SBC Park."
Los Angeles Dodgers: Automotive Nightmare
If the San Francisco Giants are visionary innovators for multimodal access to the ballpark, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the arch-villains of automobile dependency. The franchise's roots go back to transit-rich Brooklyn, where the team was known as the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. The franchise relocated to Los Angeles in 1957, in part to build a larger facility with more parking. Callers to the Dodgers' offices can listen to a history of the team narrated by famed broadcaster Vin Scully, which boasts of the expansive parking lots.
Legend has it that Dodger's owner Walter O'Malley took a helicopter ride with county officials above Los Angeles, scouting for a location for the new Dodger Stadium. As they hovered over the empty 300-acre lot at Chavez Ravine, surrounded by three freeways and within sight of the downtown skyline, O_Malley is said to have pointed and asked, "Can I have that?"
The franchise has been tied to the car ever since. The 56,000-seat Dodger Stadium is surrounded by 16,000 parking spaces. The franchise generates 2.4 million car trips over the course of the season, adding nearly 11,000 pounds of smog-producing emissions to Los Angeles' already chronic air pollution.
According to John Olquin, director of public relations for the Dodgers, the stadium offers no staffed bike parking and limited bike racks, if any. (Unconfirmed as of press time.) Olquin doesn't believe there is significant demand by Dodgers' fans for improved bicycle access. "We're located up on a hill, surrounded by freeways," said Olquin.
"I think the Dodgers are being short-sighted in underestimating the desire and ability of cyclists to ride to Dodger Stadium," said Kastle Lund, executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. "Traffic near Dodger Stadium can only be described as beyond gridlock, even by LA standards."
Lund suggests that bicycling could be a faster, less stressful way to get to the stadium, which is located in Elysian Park, which is a popular cycling destination. "Baseball season happens during the best weather," said Lund. "It could be a very pleasurable ride. It's certainly safe, as the cars are essentially parked. I'm sure a lot of those motorists would love a better option."
The Future of Baseball Bike Parking
California is a hotbed of both bicycling and baseball. It should be easier to combine the activities, which would have a positive impact on the state's air quality, energy use, traffic congestion, and public health. Baseball franchises could work proactively to encourage alternatives to driving, including bicycling. Indeed, the national trend has been to build new stadiums in downtown locations, often as part of urban redevelopment efforts.
"The Giants should be commended for their commitment to providing diverse transportation options to their ballpark," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "More teams could easily set up similar bike parking programs, which aren't expensive, serve numerous patrons, and generate significant goodwill for the franchises. Professional baseball teams are highly visible enterprises that are sensitive to public opinion. I'd encourage bike activists around California to demand their baseball teams do more to provide alternatives, including bicycle access."
Paul Dorn is executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition. This article originally appeared in the summer issue of the coalition's quarterly newsletter, the CalBike Advocate. For purposes of full disclosure, Dorn is cursed by ancestry to be a long-suffering Boston Red Sox fan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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