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Take me out (on a bus) to the ballgame

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Worcester built it, and they came.

The problem is, to get to the city’s sparkling new Minor League baseball stadium, many of them drove. Polar Park, where the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate will hold its home opener Friday, lacks much by way of transit options.

It’s theoretically possible for fans to take a bus to the stadium (though not necessarily to take one home, if the game goes late). The team also does offer shuttles from parking areas.

But in general, parking and transit in the city’s growing Canal District, which is anchored by Polar Park, both leave something to be desired.


Opening Day is this week — both for Major League teams like the Red Sox, whose season starts Thursday, and for many Minor League clubs. So to celebrate, this week’s newsletter focuses on how, exactly, one can be taken out to the ballgame — and, unless you’re the type of fan who doesn’t care if you never get back, how to get home again.

Worcester’s experience — the team has been very popular, drawing thousands of new visitors to the city — underscores the kind of challenges cities across the country confront.

As one local restaurant owner put it to a Springfield Republican reporter last year, “There were no parking solutions to a 10,000-person stadium. I’m not a planner or an engineer, but I still think the parking should’ve been done first.”

New England’s second biggest city is in the midst of a growth spurt, propelled in part by refugees from Boston’s outrageous real estate prices. Part of the reason the city lured the farm team from Pawtucket, R.I., in 2021 was to catalyze economic development in the area. But to sustain that growth without adding to traffic and parking woes, transit options within the city — and commuting links to Boston — need to keep up.


New development is springing up near Worcester’s Polar Park, home of the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

That’s where an idea from Tufts University urban planning professor Justin Hollander comes in.

With a group of students, he put together a plan for a bus-rapid transit system for Worcester that he says would be feasible to implement and provide a better car-free option for visitors and residents.

Bus rapid transit, for the uninitiated, is basically a regular bus — but with added features like reserved lanes and, sometimes, stations instead of bus stops. “The easiest way to think about it is that it’s much more akin to what we’re used to on a fixed rail — it’s limited stops but much more regular service,” he says.

“For a couple of million you could get something off the ground,” he says.

Hollander’s plan envisions a north-south and east-west route that would meet at the city’s historic Union Station. One of the stops would serve Polar Park.

A map of existing and proposed bus routes in Worcester.Justin Hollander

Hollander says he’s had a few conversations with Worcester officials but noted that the city doesn’t run the transit system, which is operated by a regional transit authority.

Still, with billions of dollars in federal aid coursing into infrastructure projects, Hollander thinks now is the perfect time for cities like Worcester to pursue federal funding. “This is the time to do something big and bold,” he said.

Overall, Minor League stadiums as a catalyst for development have a mixed record. But if traffic jams at WooSox games help serve as a wake-up call to invest more in transit in the city, it could have benefits that last beyond baseball season.


Alan Wirzbicki is Globe deputy editor for editorials. He can be reached at alan.wirzbicki@globe.com.