Traffic Is Light, but Commute Not Without Obstacles
By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2004; Page A27
Rush hour in the nation's capital was abloom with pageantry yesterday. A line of shiny, black sedans, police cars and motorcycles paraded across the town. Newly posted flags flapped along some of America's most famous bridges and highways. And a caisson rolled down Constitution Avenue.
In the everyday part of the city, though, thoughts came down to a single question: How do I get home?
A carpooler from Woodbridge fretted about catching a ride. A worker from Annandale weighed a trip on Metro against one on Virginia Railway Express. And drivers from all over plotted departure times and escape routes.
Bill Faith woke up thinking about it. At first, he figured he would take VRE -- that way, he would have a sure thing. But then his wife offered to drop him at the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, so he figured taking the Metro would work better. He knew not to wait in a carpool line as he usually does.
"I took the Metro so I wouldn't be caught," he said, adding that he understood the hassle and that, actually, he thought it was a pretty rich part of life in Washington.
"It's so cool," he said. "This is something [people] never see because they live in [such places as] Ames, Iowa."
Faith left his office at his normal time of 5:30 p.m., he said. But judging by the unusually empty streets at that hour, he could tell that most people took off a lot earlier.
By the time the body of former president Ronald Reagan arrived in the area shortly before 5 p.m., many roads that officials feared would be backlogged with drivers as the procession passed had barely a car on them. Likewise, the limited flow of cars on most major routes out of town resembled traffic on a Saturday morning more than that of a weekday rush hour.
Transportation officials credited the light traffic to advisories that went out this week on Web sites, roadway signs and radio stations and in the media that warned drivers to avoid the processional routes.
Officials also said that traffic problems were greatly diminished because the federal government allowed employees to leave work early and because the District government closed at 2 p.m. yesterday. That cleared the city of tens of thousands of workers before the procession hit town, and set an example for many private firms that followed suit.
Many workers seemed to heed the advice from officials to take Metro. Rush-hour service that included extra Metro cars and trains began running at 1 p.m. yesterday and lines were crowding by mid-afternoon. By 3 p.m., at least 50,000 more people than usual had traveled on Metrorail, officials said.
By 6 p.m., 626,737 riders had taken Metrorail, compared with 548,022 a day earlier. Ridership continued to be heavy throughout the evening and looked on pace to surpass normal weekday averages of between 650,000 and 670,000 riders, officials said.
A region filled with maddening traffic and many just-plain-mad drivers turned out to be a dutiful servant of the national interest.
"I think we know that we're the nation's capital, and certainly we know that we have a ceremonial role to play and we adjust to it," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "Drivers understand this is a role we have to play, that it's important for the nation."
Anderson added that "given the massive disruptions, things are going about as well as we could have hoped."
Nevertheless, many commuters were annoyed that road-closure information, which changed throughout the day, was not available sooner.
"I understand why the city's doing what they're doing, I just think they should have put the decision out sooner," said Melissa Adams, who took the subway to a commuter bus because her usual ride fell through. "Finding out [yesterday] morning is a little late."
The closures greatly complicated the lives of sluggers, that unique brand of commuter who stands in ad hoc lines where drivers pick them up so they can all use the carpool lanes to get home.
One of the most popular lines forms at 14th Street and New York Avenue NW so carpooling drivers can use the 14th Street Bridge. But since that route was blocked, many commuters struggled to figure out what to do.
"Can anyone HELP me . . . trying to get home today from above Constitution," began one posting on a slugger's Web site. "Willing to leave anytime today (wishing I drove now). Did not know they were closing Constitution at 3PM until I was already on my way slugging into the city. I am new to slugging and need some help getting to the Horner Lot. Just need some options if nothing else."
A later posting indicated that the commuter would take Metro to Springfield, where he would catch a bus to his car in Woodbridge.
Transportation officials said motorists should expect rolling street closures today near the Capitol, and tomorrow on parts of Constitution Avenue, Rock Creek Parkway, and Massachusetts Avenue as Reagan's coffin is moved from the Capitol to Washington National Cathedral. There will also be closures tomorrow afternoon along the Southeast/Southwest Freeway, Anacostia Freeway and Suitland Parkway as the funeral procession returns to Andrews Air Force Base, officials said.
Metro officials said free shuttle service will be provided from the Stadium-Armory Metrorail station -- at Lot 3 of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium at 19th and East Capitol streets NE -- to near the Capitol tonight from 11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. Shuttle bus riders will be dropped off at Seventh Street and Madison Drive on the Mall. Those returning to RFK Stadium will be picked up at First Street and Constitution Avenue NE.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company