- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bumper-to-bumper traffic and packed parking lots have plagued Washington Redskins fans who’ve sojourned to FedEx Field for years, but on Sunday, it seemed the only thing fans had to worry about was whether they had time for one more round of beer and burgers before kickoff.

Longtime ticket holders said getting to a parking spot was a breeze for the home opener, compared to games in previous years with their endless lines of cars stretching onto feeder roads and I-495, stalemates between drivers and pedestrians, and tailgaters who’d been relegated to the outer reaches of the area.

To be sure, lines of cars waiting for a parking space still filled the streets after the kickoff, but instead of five jam-packed lanes, there were two, and sidewalks normally crowded with Metro riders were relatively clear as the game got under way.

“It’s definitely better than it has been,” 45-year-old Steve Baumler said.

As droves of fans in gold and burgundy made their way to the stadium an hour before kickoff, the Herndon resident manned the grill in the last row of the Green Permit Parking lot. The season ticket holder for roughly 10 years said he’s seen “a little bit of change” with the parking lots, and so far “the last few years have gotten better.”

Since the team moved to Landover 15 years ago, no shortage of complaints have been voiced about the parking and transportation for games at the stadium.

There are about 20,000 parking spaces for a stadium that seats 79,000. Before and after games, fans can often look forward to idling in their cars. Fans who take Metro face a mile-long walk uphill both ways if they take the train to Morgan Boulevard.

A spokesman for the Redskins did not respond to questions about the parking options, except to advise fans in an email that they should plan to “arrive early!”

Several aisles in front of Mr. Baumler, but still a few hundred yards from the stadium, 29-year-old Brennan Tolstoi agreed that despite the appeal of a parking spot right next to the stadium entrance, it was important for drivers to nab a space near the exit and be willing to hit the road to the stadium in the morning.

“You gotta get here early,” he said while he packed up his burgundy folding chair before heading toward the stadium. “I live in Baltimore and it takes me a little over an hour to get home. You have to be near an exit. I usually get home in time to catch the second half of the 4 p.m. games.”

Perfect weather brought out thousands of fans for the season’s first home game. Ninety minutes before kickoff, the smell of grilled hamburgers and bratwurst hung thick in the air, while groups of friends and families gathered at car trunks loaded with side dishes and coolers of beer.

The lots didn’t open until 9 a.m., but Patrick Mock, 37, of Springfield, said if he’d has his way, “we would have been here last night.”

Despite the fervor over new quarterback Robert Griffin III and the nice weather, Elaine Freedman of Silver Spring said the parking lot did not appear as crowded as she has seen for other games.

“By 12:15 p.m. people are begging for spaces,” she said at about 12:30 p.m., adding that the oddity could be linked to the early part of the season and the only hiccup so far was a few “rookies” in the lot.

Standing outside an off-white RV affectionately dubbed the “Grouper-mobile,” Purcellville, Va. resident Hal Williams said traveling to and from games used to be stressful until he changed tactics.

“We used to be in a big hurry,” the 52-year-old said. “But we’ve changed things. We get here early, leave late, and dedicate the day to the game.”

Mr. Williams’ daughter, Caroline, said she’d used Metro before, but factoring in the 20-minute drive to a station and another 45 minutes of riding and walking, she said, “it’s so much easier to drive.”

Sipping his white wine beneath an umbrella, Dick Creswell, 83, said he and friend Ernie Rotramel didn’t arrive at the stadium until 9:30 a.m., but jostling for spots once they were inside the lot was not a problem.

“I was OK, but as it fills, we’ll see,” Mr. Creswell said as he watched latecomers inch their sedans through the tailgaters making their way to the stadium.

Mr. Rotramel said he’s been a season ticket holder since 1964. Asked if he could pinpoint which years were bad for parking , the 84-year-old laughed.

“To hell with parking. There’s been many years when we’ve had bad games.”

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