Inauguration Day travel tips
By Robert Thomson,
On Jan. 21, the transportation system for the nation’s capital will be stretched and stressed and strained, much as it was when it handled more than a million travelers for President Obama’s first inauguration. If the network performs as well as it did last time, everyone involved should feel pretty good.
That includes travelers, who played a major role in the successes of January 2009. On the roadways and sidewalks, on Metro’s platforms and escalators, and aboard buses — at all the places where there was crowding and confusion — situations that could have turned out badly turned out all right because people kept their cool.
Some were well-prepared, others ready to ask for help when they got confused. Some were just plain patient when they were stymied. Here are some tips to help it run well again.
Prepare for the cold
Dress in layers. You might start out in the warm environment of a car or bus; you might get rosy-cheeked from a brisk walk.
Then you’re going to stand around for hours waiting for the noon swearing-in ceremony or the inaugural parade that follows. Travelers may also be delayed at bus stops and at the entrances to Metro stations.
Also, the weather that greets you in the morning might not be the weather that accompanies you home. Prepare for what’s likely to be a very long day.
Although planners expect a smaller crowd than in 2009, travelers still will be better off leaving their cars behind. Many streets in the District’s core will be closed or have restricted access. A security zone will be maintained by people with a limited sense of humor and very little sympathy for your personal tale of woe.
Metrorail and your own feet are likely to be the best modes of travel. Bus service worked pretty well, but the routes could be confusing, some services had more demand than capacity and buses sometimes got stuck in congestion.
Biking is increasingly popular in the Washington region, and there are more bike lanes than last time. But as cyclists close in on the Mall, they will find themselves moving no faster than the nearby pedestrians. Also, bikes won’t be allowed on Metrorail on Inauguration Day.
The day’s best transportation vehicle? Sensible shoes.
Those of us who took transit last time didn’t need to be told afterward that Metro set a ridership record. Although I highly recommend this mode of travel, you should be prepared for the effects of crowding at popular downtown stations. Platforms and escalators may be jammed. Police may periodically stop people from entering stations until crowds diminish. Some station access points will be used as entrances only and others as exits only.
Escalators may be turned off and used as stairs. Riders are likely to press against doors or try to hold them open, causing them to break and forcing the operator to take the train out of service.
Some stations may be shut without warning for security and safety reasons. Metro says the Smithsonian, Archives and Mount Vernon Square stations will be closed. I’d also avoid the Federal Triangle station, which was shut for many hours during the last inauguration for safety reasons.
Outer parking lots and garages are likely to fill up early in the morning. Once downtown, try to avoid transferring trains just to get a little closer to your destination. The crowds in the stations will slow your progress, and you can probably reach your goal just as quickly by exiting the station and walking a few blocks.
Service plans: Metrorail will open at 4 a.m. and close at 2 a.m., providing rush-hour service from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. and charging rush-hour fares for that period. Although it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, people parking at Metro lots and garages will be charged the regular weekday rates. The fee is collected at the exit, by SmarTrip or credit card.
Metrobuses will operate weekday rush-hour service in the morning and begin afternoon rush service early. Many buses will be detoured around inaugural events.
MetroAccess, the paratransit service, will be operating during the same hours but can get stuck in traffic, so plan on extra time reaching destinations.
Picking stations: The best options within walking distance of the Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue NW are Arlington Cemetery, Foggy Bottom, Farragut West, Farragut North, McPherson Square, Metro Center, L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Center SW, Capitol South, Gallery Place, Judiciary Square and Union Station.
The Arlington Cemetery station might seem like an outlier, but if the weather is good and you’re up for a walk, the view across the Arlington Memorial Bridge toward the Lincoln Memorial is spectacular — and very presidential.
MARC: Trains will operate on special schedules, and all riders must have reservations. Round-trip tickets cost $25. Regular MARC tickets won’t be accepted.
Trains will go toward the District from 7:30 to 11 a.m. Outbound service will begin at 1:30 and continue till 7 p.m. on the Penn and Brunswick lines. The Penn Line will not operate north of Baltimore’s Penn Station.
Maryland commuter buses: No service on Inauguration Day.
VRE: No service.
Although it’s a holiday, travelers are likely to encounter several rush hours as people head to the inaugural ceremony at the Capitol and the parade to follow on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Many will not attempt to do both. Shortly after the swearing-in, Metro stations south of the Mall and the Capitol will become intensely crowded. After the parade, stations north of the Mall and the Capitol will share the experience.
The District will have a bike parking area at 16th and I streets NW. There will be racks to hold hundreds of bikes, but it’s first come, first served. Owners will be responsible for parking and locking their bikes.
Capital Bikeshare will operate two corrals on Inauguration Day to serve its members attending the swearing-in and the parade. They will be at 17th and K streets NW (Farragut Square) and at 12th Street and Independence Avenue SW, near the Department of Agriculture.
All motor coaches must have a trip permit from the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, which can be done online. They must also register for parking, which also can be done online. For questions, call 202-608-1113.
Buses will not be allowed to discharge passengers at Metro stations. The authorized drop-off points may be one to three miles from the main events.