washingtonpost.com  > Metro > The District
Getting Around

Metro Moves the Crowds As Most Drivers Stay Away

By Katherine Shaver and Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 21, 2005; Page A29

Many of Washington's streets were nearly deserted and drivers moved about easily for most of Inauguration Day, as visitors and office workers followed the advice of city officials and either walked or took Metro.

Nearly 200 square blocks were closed to traffic or access to them was restricted because of the presidential inauguration. Outside that security zone, only the occasional car rolled along roads that are normally filled with commuters, buses, delivery trucks and all manner of workaday vehicles. Intersection traffic monitors placed at strategic spots to handle heavy crowds looked bored at times. Only the inaugural parade moved slowly, and that, of course, was by design.

A D.C. officer talks with one of the many drivers stuck in late-afternoon traffic at 15th and K streets NW. (Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)

The worst tie-ups of the day came in the afternoon on K Street NW, where drivers struggled to maneuver around each other and the blocked-off sidewalks forced pedestrians into the streets.

District Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini said most east-west travelers were forced onto K because some routes were still closed for the inaugural parade and others were being closed for inaugural balls.

Otherwise, he said, the day wasn't so bad. "The inauguration stuff proceeded pretty much without a hitch," Tangherlini said. "Overall, a lot of people took the advice and used alternate means to get in here."

The Metro transit system was braced for one of its busiest days ever but reported no major problems.

Some trains were delayed on the Blue and Yellow lines around the Pentagon Station when a pile of leaves started smoking in a tunnel at 3:15 p.m., but transit officials said the incident was cleared within 45 minutes. And a broken-down train at McPherson Square caused 15-minute delays for some Blue and Orange line riders at midday.

Many workers had the day off, so the tens of thousands of tourists and inauguration attendees didn't make the morning crush any worse than usual, Metro officials and riders said.

"It wasn't too bad," said Kami Arbnot-Cason, 37, of Upper Marlboro as she headed home from work about 5 p.m. on the Blue Line. "It's just a little more crowded than usual. There are no delays, surprisingly."

As of 5 p.m., 440,681 trips had been taken on Metro, putting it on pace for somewhere in the range of 650,000 for the day, similar to most weekdays. Officials announced that 748,900 trips were taken Wednesday, making it the fifth-busiest day in the system's history.

President Bush's first inauguration, which was on a Saturday, drew 602,000 riders. Bill Clinton's first inauguration drew 811,000 riders; his second pulled in 455,000. The ridership count for Clinton's first inauguration was second only to the 851,000 riders for Ronald Reagan's funeral in June, Metro officials said.

Metro ran 14 eight-car trains to handle the crowds yesterday, and 69 Metro employees stood in stations to handle questions from out-of-towners and other riders unfamiliar with the city's subway.

About 8 a.m., it looked a bit like a typical morning rush hour, and trains had standing room only. But instead of bleary-eyed, briefcase-toting commuters, most passengers were tourists dressed in colorful scarves, elephant ties and red-white-and-blue garb. Texans in floor-length fur coats and cowboy hats stood elbow-to-elbow with college students sporting "Kerry Edwards" T-shirts and families arguing over which stop would get them closest to the parade route.

By 9 a.m., many trains heading in from the suburbs were uncrowded until they reached stations near the Capitol and the parade route.

"It was great," said Gary Mosley, 67, a farmer from Surry, Maine, who met family members from across the country to view the swearing-in. "We got right out and right off with no problems whatsoever."

Federal Center SW seemed to bear the brunt of the morning crowds. About 10:15 a.m., the station platform was so jammed with people standing in lines to take the escalators up to the mezzanine that there was no room for passengers arriving at the station to get off trains. At one point, a line four people wide waiting to board the escalators stretched the length of the station platform, looped around and back again.

By nightfall, the red-white-and-blue outfits had been replaced by riders in sequined gowns and tuxedos, an indication that the glittered set wasn't above hopping on the municipal transit system for the city's biggest balls in four years.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company