Monday, April 6, 2015

Arriving at the Turnstile by Public Transit

The official Opening Day game of Major League Baseball has already been played.  Over the next week, the other Major League teams and most minor league teams will also begin their regular seasons.  With college teams having already played twenty or more games, it’s a fine time of year for a baseball fan.

Every year about this time, I explore the connection between urbanism and baseball.  Last year, I mused on the extent to which urbanism and baseball were compatible.  A year before, I updated and republished a list of the Northern California ballparks that were within walking distance of urban settings.

This year, I’ll return to the ballpark list, but with a twist upon which I should have struck years ago.  As I pondered twelve months ago, ballparks can sometimes be too much of an intrusion on downtowns.  But neither should ballparks be located so that fans can only arrive by private cars.

Therefore, for many if not all communities, the ideal ballpark location is one that can conveniently reached by transit.  Indeed, much of the early history of baseball is tied to transit.   As baseball grew to its current form in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, teams could only survive if fans could reach the ballparks by streetcar or other transit options of the time.  It’s ironic considering that the their current ballpark has only become transit friendly in recent years, but the Los Angeles Dodgers  still carry a nickname from the early years when their ballpark adjoined trolley lines. 

Today, in a world where the dominance of the automobile is starting to wane, having ballparks with good transit access is a model that shows signs of returning.  Or, as this tabulation from Urban Design Associates shows, has already begun a comeback.

So, to celebrate the beginning of the 2015 baseball season, I’ll offer a quick tour of Northern California ballparks that I consider transit friendly.

But first, a couple of caveats.  One, while most ballparks may be reachable by local bus routes and extended walks, I don’t consider those to be transit friendly.  Instead, I’m looking for ballparks where the transit line deposits passengers close to the front gate and where the number of transfers or intermediate stops is limited.  In a related criterion, I prefer transit lines where fans heading to the ballpark are a sizable portion of the riders as gametime approaches, allowing the ballpark experience to begin early.

Two, living in the transit-limited North Bay, I can’t downgrade a ballpark because it doesn’t have a strong transit connection all the way into the North Bay.  The fact that a North Bay ball fan must take a slow bus ride or two followed by a BART trip to reach Evans Diamond on the Cal campus is a North Bay problem, not an Evans Diamond problem.

With that preamble, here’s my list, in order of distance from the North Bay.

#1 - Albert Field in San Rafael:  Albert Park is the homefield of the San Rafael Pacifics who play in an independent league, outside of affiliated baseball.  I’m cheating slightly when I open with this ballpark.  Although today it can be reached by Golden Gate Transit and a half-mile walk, I don’t consider that a strong transit connection.  But when the SMART trains begin running sometime before the 2017 season, fans will be able to ride a train to and from the ballpark.  Unfortunately, the half-mile walk will remain, but the walk will hopefully be in the company of other ball fans who also arrived by train.

#2 – Evans Diamond on the University of California campus:  I spent many spring afternoons as a student doing physics homework in the stands behind first base of what was then Evans Field.  Multiple upgrades since that time have made it an even better place to watch a ballgame.  And it’s only a couple of blocks from a BART station.

#3 – AT&T Park:  The Giants’ homefield is a fine example of a city ballpark.  Even better, the transit connections are strong today with the streetcar line and the ferry dock behind center field, and will become even better with the Central Subway now under construction.

#4 – Coliseum: The Coliseum is a poor ballpark.  Never a gem, it was undermined by an ill-conceived renovation for football and is now a dingy, dreary setting, enlivened only by the continuing underdog successes of the A’s.  However, the ballpark is readily accessible by BART, which may be one of its best features.

#5 - Raley Field:  Much like Albert Park, I’m cheating by including the homefield of the Sacramento River Cats on the list this year.  Raley Field is a fine facility, but its current transit accessibility is limited.  However, the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento are working toward a streetcar system that would interconnect the State Capitol, Raley Field, the Amtrak station, and the growing urban communities north of downtown Sacramento and across the river in West Sacramento.  It’s a bold vision that would change the Sacramento region and make Raley Field an even more vibrant place.

#6 – Aces Ballpark: I’m going outside of North California to name this Reno ballpark, home to the Reno Aces of the Pacific Coast League, but the rail connection is too strong not to mention.  The front gate at Aces Ballpark is only feet from the Reno Amtrak station.    Furthermore, a casino hotel also adjoins the parking lot.  Once aboard an Amtrak train, one can do the full Reno experience of baseball and gaming without needing a car.

Those are my top six.  Let me know if I’ve missed a ballpark that I should have included.

Schedule Reminder

The Petaluma City Council will consider the possibility of a drought-related building moratorium at their meeting on Monday, April 6.  I’ll be there to reinforce the points I’ve previously made regarding a moratorium.

·         It’s past time to implement stricter water conservation standards to reflect the drought, the possibility of which was predicted two decades ago and has now come to pass.

·         If a moratorium of 45 or 90 days is required to implement the new rules fairly and effectively, I’m supportive.

·         If the possibility of a more extended moratorium comes under consideration, I’m adamantly opposed.  It’s time to adjust to the new normal, not to twiddle our collective thumbs while hoping for a meteorological miracle of a return to normal rainfall pattern.

The meeting will commence at 7:00pm in the City Hall at 11 English Street.

If you’re planning on attending the meeting and looking for a primer on the California drought beyond the limited concerns of Petaluma, I recommend this article from the New York Times.  As always, the problem remains that much of the water usage in the state is for agriculture and therefore under a different set of rules governing a drought response.

Obviously, agriculture is essential to the economy of the state, but the dual challenge will be to responsibly rein in agricultural usage and to build the infrastructure to deliver the newly conserved water to the other elements of the state’s economy that are equally essential.

Next time, I’ll touch one more time on baseball.  I’ll share an article that was addressed to folks who refuse to accept that baseball is evolving in ways that are mostly better.  I’ll accept the premise and then argue that a similar resistance to change affects urbanism.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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