While the official dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial isn’t till Aug. 28, the memorial grounds by the Tidal Basin are scheduled to open Monday. So I took a walk over to see how visitors can approach the site.
It’s a beautiful spot, but difficult to get to. The location is remote and the directional signs aren’t very good.
The closest parking is along Ohio Drive. It’s the same street parking that visitors use to reach the Lincoln, Roosevelt, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials, so it tends to be very crowded. Tour buses park on the south side of the Lincoln Memorial, which still is a bit of a walk from the King Memorial across Independence Avenue.
While this area along the Potomac River, National Mall and Tidal Basin is beautiful for biking, I saw little in the way of bike racks. In fact, I spotted only one small setup between the King and Roosevelt memorials.
Metrorail is a good choice for starting a visit, as long as the visitor is prepared for a bit of a hike to reach the site. If the weather is nice, I’d use Arlington Cemetery station on the Blue Line. It’s a nice, flat walk of about a mile, and an inspirational one, because you cross the Potomac River via Arlington Memorial Bridge looking up at the Lincoln Memorial, before bending right toward Independence Avenue.
The trip between the station escalators and the edge of the King site took me 21 minutes, at a leisurely pace. The trickiest part was crossing the roads around Memorial Circle, near the station. My Sunday column dealt with safety issues concerning the crosswalks in that area, but it’s certainly better to use the marked crosswalks in that heavy traffic than to jaywalk, as many people do.
While the Arlington Cemetery station is your most attractive choice, it’s certainly not the only one. Foggy Bottom and Smithsonian stations also are within striking distance. (These two, on the Blue and Orange lines, are likely to be extremely crowded on the Aug. 28 dedication day. Under normal circumstances, Smithsonian station is crowded with museum visitors. At Foggy Bottom, the balky escalators between the mezzanine and 23rd Street NW are being replaced this year, causing delays getting in and out.)
Metro has published an excellent brochure containing walking directions from these and other stations. I strongly urge early visitors to take a copy with them. Otherwise, they will find little guidance as they walk toward the memorial.
The paths and roadways along that western part of the National Mall and the Tidal Basin can be confusing. Right now, the brown pylons that point toward destinations do not list the MLK Memorial. The “You Are Here” maps along the route do mark the location, but unlike the other monuments, the King Memorial doesn’t have its own distinctive icon yet. Instead, tiny white letters say “Future site of Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.”
Those who might want to take in the famous view of the Lincoln Memorial steps, where King delivered his “I have a dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, should know that the Reflecting Pool in front of the memorial is all torn up for a rehabilitation project. The District of Columbia War Memorial, another site northeast of the King Memorial, also is fenced off for a rehab project.
There’s a new traffic signal and crosswalk on Independence Avenue right in front of the King Memorial but that was still a work zone. Right now, the memorial is entirely fenced off and inaccessible to visitors, but that is scheduled to change Monday.
The best view of the King statue is on the south side of the memorial grounds. King looks out on the Tidal Basin, glancing a bit off to his right, toward where jets from Reagan National Airport are taking off. That’s the only noise in an otherwise peaceful setting. But if you approach that way, remember the path around the Tidal Basin is fairly narrow, with low-hanging cherry trees, and there’s no railing between you and the water.
If you’re planning to attend the dedication day ceremonies along with maybe a quarter-million other people, see some further guidance on our Commuter page in the Post Metro section this Sunday.