July 4 in D.C.: The getting-around guide


Visitors to the National Mall watch fireworks over the Washington Monument on Independence Day. (Bill O'Leary/WASHINGTON POST)
Robert Thomson
Columnist June 30, 2012

What with the congestion and the security precautions for Independence Day celebrations, having fun can be hard work, but hundreds of thousands will manage it.

Some of these planning tips may help ease the strain. Count on crowds all around the Mall and the main approaches. Taking transit, biking or walking are all better choices than attempting to drive and park. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and patience.

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. View Archive

Driving

Car travel will be especially difficult for people coming in from Virginia. Many roadways around the Mall will be closed from early morning until late at night. Parking near the Mall will be very limited. Watch for emergency no parking signs. There will be some spaces very early at Hains Point, but approaching the area will be difficult because of heavy traffic and street closures.

These are among the roadway closings: Arlington Memorial Bridge, Rock Creek Parkway south of Virginia Avenue NW, Lincoln Memorial Circle and all approaches, the ramp from Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge to Constitution Avenue NW (with inbound traffic on Interstate 66 directed to the E Street Expressway), Constitution Avenue NW from 23rd to 14th streets, the eastbound Route 50 ramps to the George Washington Parkway and roads by the Iwo Jima Memorial, the ramps connecting the parkway to the 14th Street bridge and East Basin Drive from the 14th Street bridge ramp to the Inlet Bridge.

The High Occupancy Vehicle lane restrictions on I-66 and I-95/395 will be lifted Wednesday. The reversible lanes on I-95/395 will be southbound from 1 p.m. Tuesday until midnight. On Wednesday, the lanes will be northbound from 2 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and southbound from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. The lanes will reopen northbound by 3 a.m. Thursday.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will adjust signal timings at more than 100 intersections along major roads, including Routes 1, 29, 50, 7, 123, 236 and 244. Signals will be timed to help move traffic into the District during the day and then south and west from 9:30 p.m. to midnight.

After the fireworks, the District Department of Transportation will again conduct Operation Fast Forward to test emergency evacuation plans while easing the flow of outbound traffic.

On some designated evacuation routes, including Connecticut Avenue, Georgia Avenue and 14th Street, the signals will be re-timed to provide longer green lights for traffic leaving the city. This is scheduled to begin about half an hour after the show ends and will continue for an hour.

SoberRide

The anti-drunken-driving program SoberRide will offer free cab rides to people 21 and older from 10 p.m. on Independence Day to 4 a.m. Thursday. To get a free ride home in the D.C. area (up to a $30 fare), call the SoberRide program toll-free at 800-200-8294 (TAXI).

The Mall

The Mall will be open to the public at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Entry will be restricted to specific points, where people will be subject to security checks. The Capitol grounds will open at 3 p.m.

Performances on the Washington Monument grounds begin at 6 p.m. The Capitol Fourth concert on the west lawn of the Capitol starts at 8 p.m. The fireworks are scheduled to start about 9:10 p.m. and last about 20 minutes.

Other events

●Baseball: The Washington Nationals will play the San Francisco Giants at 11:05 a.m. at Nationals Park. Note the unusual start time. There’s more parking around the stadium this year, but there’s also likely to be more traffic on the 14th and 11th Street bridges, on the Douglass Bridge and on the Southeast-Southwest Freeway.

The District had hoped to open the new ramp from southbound D.C. 295 to the inbound 11th Street bridge in time for July 4, but the project manager thinks late July is a more likely target.

The closest Metro station to the stadium is Navy Yard on the Green Line.

●Parade: The National Independence Day Parade is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday along Constitution Avenue NW from Seventh to 17th streets.

●Folklife Festival: The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is a series of free outdoor cultural events on the Mall that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors over two weeks. After Sunday’s events, the festival picks up on Wednesday and continues through next Sunday. The festival hours are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Metrorail

On Wednesday, trains will operate from 7 a.m. to midnight. The transit authority says that near rush-hour service levels will be provided from 6 p.m. to midnight, but for most of the rest of the day, the scheduled will be comparable to Saturday service. No track work is planned. It’s a holiday, so no Rush Plus trains.

After 2 p.m., every other Orange Line train in the direction of New Carrollton will terminate at Stadium-Armory and return to Vienna. After 6 p.m., northbound Yellow Line trains will terminate at Mount Vernon Square.

Off-peak fares will be in effect, but they will reflect the fare increases that take effect Sunday. That includes a $1 surcharge for trips using paper Farecards. Parking is free on holidays at Metro lots and garages.

In a change from previous years, the Smithsonian station will be open throughout the day. But it will be available for entries only after the fireworks.

Because of the crowding, bikes will not be permitted.

Metrobus

Buses will operate on a Saturday schedule. Some buses will need to detour around closed streets. Updates on the detours will be available on Metro’s Web site at www.wmata.com .

MetroAccess

MetroAccess, the paratransit service, will operate on a regular schedule, but subscription trips will be canceled. So riders need to call MetroAccess use the Metro Web site to make July 4 reservations before 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

D.C. Circulator

No detours anticipated. The Georgetown-Union Station and Union Station-Navy Yard routes should be particularly helpful for July 4 events.

Travel tips

Metro expects to carry more than half a million passengers on the holiday, with the biggest crowds in the evening. The Smithsonian and Federal Triangle stations will be very crowded. Better bets within walking distance of the Mall are the Farragut North, Federal Center SW, Capitol South, L’Enfant Plaza, Archives, Union Station and Judiciary Square stations.

The transfer stations at Metro Center, Gallery Place and L’Enfant Plaza will be very crowded. Consider walking a few extra blocks to avoid the hassle of transferring.

The elevator at Capitol South is out of service for repairs. The escalators at many downtown stations will be intentionally turned off for safety.

Because of the changes in transit schedules and the disruptions on the streets, the Trip Planner on Metro’s Web site and the Next Bus arrival time calculator won’t be of much help on July 4.

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