Conflux of Events Paralyzes Roads Into City

The Whitehurst Freeway was closed yesterday, causing backups on the Key Bridge, above, and on M Street through Georgetown.
The Whitehurst Freeway was closed yesterday, causing backups on the Key Bridge, above, and on M Street through Georgetown. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2007

It was a splendid early fall day, sunny and pleasant, perfect for running errands, taking the kids to soccer practice or heading into Washington to check out the latest art exhibit.

Except that for thousands of motorists, yesterday was a very bad day to drive into the District. Traffic was snarled along key arteries entering the city because several downtown streets were closed for the triathlon along Rock Creek Parkway, the National Book Festival on the Mall and an antiwar rally in front of the U.S. Capitol.

"This was particularly bad, almost like a perfect storm of road closures," said Mitchell Miller, assistant news director for WTOP radio.

Miller, a former traffic reporter, fielded so many calls from frustrated motorists that he found himself giving directions to help them find escape routes. One man trapped downtown needed a bathroom for his child and "didn't know where to turn, literally," he said. Miller directed another motorist in Northwest Washington to go across town to the Southeast-Southwest Freeway to get out of the city.

In addition to closures related to events, other major streets were closed for construction and ongoing roadwork. "For the average motorist, it felt like the whole city was shut down," Miller said.

D.C. transportation officials said they issued traffic advisories in advance and had urged people to take Metro, but riders on the Red Line also ran into delays. Smoke on the tracks at the Farragut North Station forced trains to share one track for about three hours, and a power outage shut down train service at the Friendship Heights Station for about an hour.

Although D.C. transportation officials also posted weekend traffic warnings on 25 electronic message boards on in-bound routes last week, many drivers apparently didn't know or didn't see the signs.

"We could have a message board the size of Texas, but a lot of people don't pay attention to them," said Erik Linden, a spokesman for the D.C. Transportation Department.

John and Penelope Rahming of Old Town Alexandria headed into the District to meet friends downtown for brunch and then stop at the book fair. What should have been a 20-minute trip turned into an ordeal. Even by "ducking and weaving" down back streets, the trip took twice as long as normal, John Rahming said.

"That was hopeless," he said.

But they weren't late for brunch: Their friends, who were taking the Red Line, were delayed even longer, they said.

Most of the road closures were prompted by the Nation's Triathlon, with traffic prohibited from entering Rock Creek Parkway and Independence and Constitution avenues, among others. The race, which included a 1.5-kilometer swim in the Potomac River, a 40-kilometer bike segment and a 10-kilometer run along Rock Creek Parkway, began at 8 a.m. and featured D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and triathletes from 12 countries and 38 states, according to the race's Web site.

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