Getting to the Promised Land
The Happiest Place on Earth... except for Tijuana (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)
Columbia's official guide to gameday at the Baker Athletics Complex (highly recommended reading):
Step one: DON'T PANIC
Getting around New York City, and Manhattan in particular, is all about your state of mind. If you're an overly aggressive or too passive driver, you will either drop dead of a tension-induced stroke or become the victim of a panic attack, respectively. The city is fraught with double-parkers, Kamikaze cabs with no regard for life and limb, and people who routinely make right turns from the extreme left lane.
But fear not! The road to the Baker Atheltics Complex is filled with special advantages and other options that can make the whole experience livable, decent, fun even.
The key to avoiding disappointment, dyspepsia, and dismemberment is to LEAVE YOURSELF A LOT OF TIME. Other than the Homecoming game which starts at 1:30, and the Dartmouth game which starts at 4pm, the Columbia home games will begin at 12:30 this season, (some times could change, but that's how it stands as of now). With another season's worth of pre-game activities in the works, the worst thing that could happen is that you show up an hour or so before the game and enjoy a good time in the picnic area. Is that so bad? And if you just make it in time for the game, well then you made it. Either way, going early is the way to go.
Baker or Morningside: Make Your Choice Now
Before we talk about getting to the actual game by car, ask yourself where you'd really like to keep you gas-guzzling SUV for the day. Do you want to park it up at the very tip of Manhattan, or do you want to keep it near the Columbia campus where you can spend a very pleasant morning and late afternoon/evening before and after the game? This is not exactly a rhetorical question, as there ARE things to do and see not far from Wien Stadium... but it's not exactly a culinary hotbed, in fact it's quite residential, (in the Baker Field neighborhood of Inwood there are actually a few houses... detached houses in Manhattan!).
My advice would be to park the car near the Columbia campus, which is only 100 blocks or so from Baker Field, (I will discuss how to get to the game from campus and more to do around Morningside Heights later). There is more to do, see, and definitely eat around there.
A path in Inwood Hill Park... yes, this IS Manhattan!
BUT definitely choose one game, and check out Inwood and its environs during the season. Parts of Inwood Hill Park are the only pieces of Manhattan that still look as they did in 1524 when the Dutch explorers arrived.
A few blocks South of Inwood is Washington Heights, a very resurgent neighborhood with lots of interesting Latin restaurants and shops.
The Cloisters... an excellent Marital Bargaining Unit if I say so myself
One Washington Heights highlight about 30 blocks South from the Baker Field is the lovely Cloisters. Most Columbia students get sick of the Cloisters after a few years, (some classes make you go there too many times), but it's a great place for the uninitiated. It's also not a bad date spot. So, if you have a wife or girlfriend who's none too pleased about being dragged to a football game, the Cloisters can be your olive branch. No need to thank me if your lady ends up thinking you're a romantic genius; like Billy Flynn, all I care about is love.
But How Do We Get to Neverland?
The directions to the Baker Complex provided by the athletic department are very good. You can use them with confidence... UNLESS you're coming from Queens, Long Island, or Eastern Brooklyn via the Belt Parkway. If you are one of those people, I'm about to save you anywhere from 45 minutes to 7 hours by urging you to never, never, even if you're a Penn fan, NEVER take the Cross Bronx Expressway!
The Cross Bronx Expressway... dear Lord, why us?
The Cross Bronx Expressway was designed by Robert Moses a brilliant but evil man whose disdain for ordinary people was well documented by Robert Caro in The Power Broker. If you live in New York, drive in New York, or are thinking about driving in New York, you owe it to yourself to read this book. One great section details how the Cross Bronx Expressway was poorly designed from the outset, destroyed good middle class neighborhoods like East Tremont, and virtually guarantees traffic jams at the drop of a hat. And the kicker is, a lot of other urban planners in the 40's, 50's and 60's emulated this man and his designs. Robert Moses is a big reason why driving in America sucks.
So avoid the Cross Bronx, take the Grand Central Parkway to the Triboro Bridge, follow the signs to Manhattan, (DON'T MAKE "THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES" MISTAKE AND END UP IN THE BRONX), and THEN take the Harlem River Drive North. Take the HRD to the 10th Avenue/Dyckman Street exit, (this is also the end of the Harlem River Drive, so it should not be hard to miss), go past the first light and then make a right onto 10th Avenue, (you'll be driving under an elevated subway track). 10th Avenue runs parallel to Broadway and will take you straight up to 215th Street, 218th Street, or wherever you want to go in the Baker Complex vicinity.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Harlem River Drive is officially a parkway, so if you're driving a U-Haul or a big bus of people, you can't take it. Otherwise, you and your sedan, SUV, pickup truck, etc. can enjoy it.
Parking: The Odyssey
Option 1: Donate to CU!
Now if you're going to park near Baker Field, your options are limited, but there ARE options. Your first option is to send a big fat check to the Athletic Department and grab one of the sweet spots in the Baker Complex itself reserved for generous donors. Seriously, I can think or worse ways to spend your money, and having a spot at Baker is like being a shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway during "Buffettstock"... you get to enjoy your investment in a party atmosphere!
Option 2: Parking Garages Ahoy!
Another option is to use one of the several parking garages in the vicinity. There are more and more of them sprouting up along the way to the stadium these days. Last season, the Athletics Dept. worked out a discount deal for fans with football tickets on game day at one of these garages, and I will update you if that is renewed.
The newest garage, (I just noticed it last month), is the facility on 10th Avenue and West 218th Street on the east side of the street.
There are other garages on 10th Avenue and on Broadway not far from the 218th entrance street for Baker Field. These places tend to change their names frequently so instead of trying to look them up, I would strongly advise that you DRIVE slowly and carefully and keep your eyes open for the available lots.
Option 3: Street Parking, or "The Hunt"
Of course, you can try being really sneaky and try to park for free on the residential streets around the area. This is really something for early-birds, as the spots fill up fast. In fact, there aren't a lot of spots to begin with because Inwood is really residential and the local folks like to keep their spots for the weekend. BUT, the eagle-eyed among you may be able to find a nice spot and enjoy knowing that you're a winner even before kickoff by saving a few bucks with a free spot. There are a couple of important pitfalls to avoid:
a) If you aren't really good at parallel parking, don't even think about parking on the streets of Inwood. The hilly terrain makes even seasoned parkers a little nervous, and all those scratched bumpers and fenders on the parked cars are proof of the "goofs" people make from time to time.
b) Inwood is not really a high-crime area, especially during the day, but you should never tempt fate. Lock your cars. DO NOT keep any packages or valuables in plain sight in your car, and you probably should leave them out of the trunk too if you can. This is especially true if you are driving a car with out-of-state plates.
c) Make sure to check the street signs to see if you're parking in a legal spot. Saturdays are usually immune from alternate side of the street parking rules... but not always. You cannot park within six feet, either way, of a fire hydrant, and you also need to give a lot space for bus stops. You cannot block any driveways. And if there's a yellow strip painted on the curb, you can't park there either. A good M.O. is to eye every open spot with EXTREME SUSPICION, the chances are more than likely that the spot is there because it's not a legal spot.
d) You may be hampered even further in your quest for free parking if the NYPD blocks 218th Street at Broadway which often happens on game days. To be safe, just find your way to Seaman Avenue, which runs parallel to Broadway on the WEST and start looking for spots there. You might consider printing out a Google Map of Inwood, NY to learn to navigate the local streets better. Remember to look out for one-way streets and the occasional street fair which often pops up and further kills parking opportunities on the weekends.
TIME OUT! WHY IS THIS SO HARD?
Manhattan is a great and unique place. One of the things that makes it so unique is that every inch of land is super-valuable and the chances of any institution setting aside lots of space for occasional parking is not likely or even sane. Most sensible people living in all parts of Manhattan do so without a car, regardless of their economic stature. A day or two driving around here will tell you why.
That's why we have the best public transportation system in the world. And luckily, there are a number of more relaxing and reliable ways to get to Baker Field.
The #1 Train: Just about your best bet
Public Transportation Option 1: From Columbia Campus
You can ditch your car at one of the many parking garages near the Columbia campus, or try to find free street parking, (it's not much easier than Inwood, but doable), and then take public transport from there.
The easiest option is to take the #1 Uptown local subway train which you can pick up at several stations in the area, most notably the 116th Street station right outside the campus gates. If you're walking about the area, you can also find the #1 at the 103rd, 110th, and 125th Street stations. BUT before you descend the station staircases, (and in the case of the 125th Street stop, ascend), make sure you're entering the station on the UPTOWN side. A sign telling you whether you're about to enter the "uptown only" or "downtown only" side will be clearly visible at each entrance. Luckily, you can't go wrong at the 116th station, as any of the staircases will send you to both the uptown and downtown trains.
To ride the NYC subway you will need a Metrocard. I recommend the $7.50 all-day "fun pass" that will allow you a full day's use of the subways AND buses no matter how many times you choose to ride. Unless you're absolutely 100% sure you'll only be going to the game and back, this is a good value. If you are just going to the game and back, go to the booth or the automated Metrocard machines and buy a $4 card, (note: the $7 all-day pass is ONLY sold at the machines, not at the booth). The machines take cash, credit and debit cards.
When you get to the platform, again make sure that you are on the UPTOWN side awaiting the UPTOWN train. Once you get the train it will take 25-35 minutes to get to the 215th Street station and that's where you get off and walk the three blocks uptown to the Baker Field complex.
If the subway isn't for you, for the last several years Columbia has been running free shuttle buses to and from Baker on game days. They usually run from the 116th Street and Broadway entrance, but ask the security guards at the gate to be sure. I'm not sure how long it takes for these buses to reach the stadium, but they will always be slower than the subway. (There is no faster way to get around Manhattan than the subway... none).
A number of NYC buses, (not free, you need a Metrocard), run to the Baker Field area, but I really don't recommend using them. They are extremely slow, (what do you call it when you have sex on a NYC bus? "Joining the 1-mile-an-hour club"), and erratic on the weekends. BUT if there ever is a fire on the subway or something, it's good to know they're there.
Public Transportation Option 2: Elsewhere in Manhattan
It doesn't matter where else you are coming from in Manhattan, you only have two options for getting to the stadium via the subway. Any #1 train station will take you there and so will the "A" train. The A train runs on the far West side of Manhattan, through Brooklyn, past JFK airport, and all the way to a neighborhood where I did a lot of my growing up called Far Rockaway. The uptown or Manhattan bound A takes you the 207th Street stop, which is the last stop. Exit at the 211th Street exit and then you can either walk the seven blocks along Broadway, (about 35% of a mile), to Baker or better yet, enter Isham Park on your left and enjoy a nicer trip that will take you to Seaman Avenue along the left side of the park and you will see Wien Stadium right in front of you at the end of the avenue. This is a more scenic walk and will give you a better idea of what Inwood is like.
**IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT SUBWAY SERVICE ON THE WEEKENDS**
Sometimes, service on the 1 and/or A trains is disrupted for track work on the weekends. BUT you can find out beforehand about any service changes by visiting the great website Straphangers.org for all the info. The good news is that the 1 and the A will almost surely never be affected by service disruptions at the same time. In my 26+ years riding the subways I have never seen this happen.
The Marble Hill Station on Metro North
Public Transportation Option 3: The Metro North Miracle
One of the most beautiful ways to get to a Columbia game is on the Metro North commuter railroad. Take the HUDSON RIVER LINE to the Marble Hill stop and simply walk over the footbridge to Baker Field. The views of the Hudson that you will get if you're coming from the North, (if you're looking to go this way from Grand Central Terminal, it's not a terrible idea, but much more expensive than just taking the subway from another station on the West Side), are just great.
You can always try to hail a yellow cab and tell the driver to take you to WEST 218th and Broadway, (don't say "Baker Field," there's a very good chance he won't know what you're talking about), and go that way. I expect the trip will cost about $12-$15 in cab fare not including tip... but it varies.
In NYC there are also non-yellow, so-called "gypsy," cabs that may honk their horns at you and offer you a ride. The official rules in the city say that you can't take a ride with them without arranging it in advance, but I have found they are usually reliable. The price should be about the same as Yellow cab, but they don't use a meter... so make sure you agree on the fare before you get in.
What if I'm coming from New Jersey, and I want to take Public Transportation?
New Jersey Transit trains take you to Penn Station where you can get the #1 and A trains, or a cab. I'm not sure about the reliability of NJT trains or buses on weekends, but perhaps some of my readers would like to chime in about that in the comments section.
Isn't the Subway Dangerous?
Not really. It's dirtier than it should be, but in general it's fine. Here are some subway safety tips for the very cautious. Basically, keep your wallets and valuables secure, try to ride with or near larger groups of people, and try not to telegraph the fact you're a tourist by pulling out a map every two seconds. It's okay to ask fellow riders directions; most New Yorkers like proving they know the City.
I'm Coming from JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark Airport. What should I do?
A cab from Newark directly to Baker is actually not that terribly expensive. But from the other major airports, I suggest you get into Manhattan via a cab and then take the subway, unless you have lots of bags which will make the whole day a pain. In that case, try to get to your hotel first, dump the bags and then follow the directions above.
What if I get Lost?
Go into almost any store you see and ask for help. Store owners can sometimes seem surly, but they'll probably help you. Cops on the street will be good too.
Can't I Just Come with You?
Yes. But you have to babysit my daughters during the game if you do. I'd love the company, but I don't think that will work. I am with you in spirit, I promise.