Travel tips for events marking 50th anniversary of March on Washington

Robert Thomson
Columnist August 17, 2013

A week’s worth of events marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington will draw many thousands of visitors to the Mall and downtown D.C., but the key dates will be Saturday and the following Wednesday.

Metro officials anticipate that Saturday will be an especially busy day. If you’re just passing through for other destinations, avoid the area around the west side of the Mall. If your goal is to be part of the celebrations, here are some tips to help in planning your transportation.

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
Focal points

The main attractions for visitors, and the gathering place for the big events marking the anniversary, will be the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial just southeast of it, along Independence Avenue.

While these are scenes of great beauty and significance, they’re awfully hard to get to for many people. Parking, always very limited, is especially hard to find during big events. Taking Metrorail is the best bet, but this involves a bit of a walk from even the closest stations.

Still, a quarter-million people managed to get there in August 1963 — long before Metrorail was built — and you can do it in 2013.

The main event on Saturday is the “Realize the Dream” march and rally from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., starting at the Lincoln Memorial and moving over to the King Memorial. The main event on Aug. 28 — 50 years to the day after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — is the “Let Freedom Ring” commemoration scheduled for 1 to 5:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Memorial.

Transit

Maintenance schedule. Weekend maintenance work originally scheduled for the Orange and Red lines has been canceled in anticipation of crowds on Saturday.

The one remaining weekend project will affect only Franconia-Springfield on the Blue Line. Every other train will begin or end at Van Dorn Street, so service will be reduced between Van Dorn Street and Franconia-Springfield.

Riders who would normally drive to Franconia-Springfield to board a train might be better off driving to Huntington station on the Yellow Line.

Service. Metrorail is scheduled to open Saturday at its normal time, 7 a.m. Metro plans to have eight-car trains operating throughout the system, which is unusual for a weekend. Extra trains will be available to enter service to ease crowding. Blue and Orange Line service through Stadium-Armory station will get special attention, because charter buses are scheduled to park in the RFK Stadium lots.

The elevators at Stadium-Armory are undergoing rehabilitation. So riders needing elevator service should either plan to use another station or allow themselves extra time to take the free Metro shuttle between Stadium-Armory and Potomac Avenue, the next station toward the Mall.

Metro plans to operate normal weekday service on Aug. 28.

Stations. Metro officials expect Farragut North and Farragut West to be the primary destinations for participants in the Saturday events. But other stations within walking distance include Smithsonian and Arlington Cemetery.

Also, organizers of the Saturday event plan to operate a shuttle service for disabled people between the Foggy Bottom station and an access point near the Lincoln Memorial.

At this point, Metro planners don’t anticipate any special issues with crowds for the Aug. 28 activities. But it’s possible that late-afternoon riders might encounter extra crowding at L’Enfant Plaza, where people who attended anniversary events might be mingling with fans heading for the 7:05 p.m. baseball game at Nationals Park.

Transit parking. Parking at Metro lots and garages is free on weekends. Those parking at Metro stations for the Aug. 28 activities will pay the normal daily rates. Some may want to buy Metro SmarTrip cards at vending machines inside the stations. These can be used to pay for parking on exit, and they also enable riders to avoid the $1 per trip surcharge that applies to people using the paper fare cards.

On the streets

Charter buses. Buses bringing groups of people to the events need to have a permit from the District government, which will provide parking at RFK Stadium on Saturday. The buses are prohibited from discharging passengers at Metrorail stations.

Near the Mall. Driving and parking near the events will be restricted on Saturday and on Aug. 28. The charter buses won’t be allowed to discharge or pick up passengers at curbsides near the events. No matter how you plan to reach the Mall area on either date, be prepared to do some walking to the memorials.

Traffic is likely to be very slow on the streets around the west side of the Mall. Traffic volume is likely to be much heavier than normal, and police will probably close some streets and restrict parking. The Aug. 28 events include an afternoon speech by President Obama from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

The extra traffic and access restrictions make Metrorail a much better transit choice than Metrobus.

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