Cherry Blossom Festival: Traveler’s guide

When the transit authority issues a service advisory, the announcements rarely come from the boss himself. Yet it was General Manager Richard Sarles who stood before TV cameras Tuesday at Metro headquarters, along with the transit police chief and deputy general manager, to outline Metro’s plan for handling crush loads of tourists this spring.

How the D.C. region’s transportation system performs during the National Cherry Blossom Festival is worthy of such high-profile attention. This is the annual stress test for the rails and roads. Whether you’re a tourist or commuter, use this guide to identify stress points that could challenge travelers and get tips on navigating by transit or street.

Events

The Cherry Blossom Festival is March 26 through April 10, with a peak bloom predicted for March 29 through April 3. But it’s not just about the Tidal Basin’s cherry trees.

March 26: Festival opening ceremonies, 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. Nearest Metro station, Judiciary Square.

March 26: National Marathon, 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Starts on 22nd Street, near RFK Stadium. Metro opens at 6 a.m. Nearest station, Stadium-Armory. Race is very disruptive for traffic, with many street closings. Route includes East Capitol Street; Minnesota Avenue SE; South Capitol Street; P Street SW; Maine Avenue SW; Ninth Street SW; Constitution Avenue NW; 18th Street NW; Connecticut Avenue NW; Columbia Road NW; Harvard Street NW; Michigan Avenue NW; North Capitol Street; K, H, 13th and C streets NE.

March 26-April 10: Daily Cherry Blossom Festival performances at Sylvan Theater, Independence Avenue and Raoul Wallenberg Place SW near the Washington Monument; noon to 5 p.m. weekdays, noon to 6 p.m. weekends. Nearest Metro station, Smith­-
sonian
.

March 27: Blossom Kite Festival, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW, near the Washington Monument. Nearest Metro, Farragut West.

March 27: Ranger-guided Cherry Bicycle Tours, 1 to 4 p.m., Jefferson Memorial parking lot. Contact park service, 202-426-6841. Nearest Metro, Smithsonian.

March 31: Nationals Park opening day, 1:05 p.m. Nearest Metro, Navy Yard.

April 2: Fireworks at 8:30 p.m. 600 Water St. SW, on the Southwest Waterfront. Nearest Metro, Waterfront.

April 3: Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, 7:40 to 11:30 a.m.; starts on 15th Street and Jefferson Drive NW, near the Washington Monument. Route includes Independence Avenue, Memorial Bridge, Rock Creek Parkway to Kennedy Center, Ohio Drive. Metro opens at 5 a.m. Nearest station, Smithsonian. No parking in East or West Potomac parks.

April 9: Cherry Blossom Parade starts at 10 a.m., Constitution Avenue and Seventh Street NW, and ends at noon, Constitution Avenue and 17th Street. Nearest Metro stations, Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Archives.

Tips for travelers

l Metro will convert five rush-hour trains on the Red and Orange lines to eight-car trains starting Monday. The extra service, providing 640 more seats, will remain after the festival, Sarles said. There will be no weekend track work during the event.

l  Smithsonian Station is closest to the Tidal Basin and many events, so it handles huge crowds at blossom time. Sarles said transit police may designate the Independence Avenue side or the National Mall side as exit-only or entry-only for safety. Consider using other stops near the Mall, including Federal Triangle, L’Enfant Plaza, Gallery Place and Metro Center. Changing trains at Metro Center, Gallery Place and L’Enfant Plaza can be daunting at crowded times. Skip the transfer, exit the station and add the walk to your sightseeing.

l Although Metrorail is the best travel bet at blossom time, tourists should avoid traveling during the peak commuting times of 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. It’s also cheaper to ride Metrorail off-peak.

l Two warnings about Metrorail for tourists: The car doors are very sensitive, so don’t try to prop them open and don’t lean against them. On escalators, Washingtonians stand to the right and walk to the left.

l Get a SmarTrip card to pay for rail and bus rides and Metro parking. At many stations, it’s the only way to pay for parking, and it can save money on bus and rail fares.

l During the festival, drivers can park along East Potomac Park and take a free shuttle from the Hains Point parking area to the Tidal Basin. Shuttles will run every 30 to 40 minutes from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

l The District’s red, black and silver Circulator buses have several routes that can be helpful to visitors, including a north-south line between the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and the Southwest Waterfront, another between Union Station and the Navy Yard area that stops near Nationals Park, and an east-west route that links Georgetown and Union Station. The regular fare is $1. See details at www.dccirculator.com.

l A bike valet service will be operated by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the three festival weekends at the Jefferson Memorial. During the week, bike racks will remain but the area will be unstaffed, so bring a lock.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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