Inaugural Rules Bar Overnight Camping
Friday, December 12, 2008
Federal officials said yesterday that no one will be allowed to camp overnight on the Mall before the presidential inauguration and that spectators will be barred from staking out spots along the parade route until 7 a.m.
The officials spoke at a news conference in which they sought to reassure the public that Washington will be well prepared for the Jan. 20 event. They said they are working out plans for the record crowds expected at the inauguration of Barack Obama, including how they will deal with transportation and security challenges.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has said that 3 million to 5 million people might pour into the city for the event. Malcolm D. Wiley, a spokesman for the Secret Service, which coordinates inauguration planning, told reporters that the agency is preparing for a massive crowd but that "we have nothing to suggest there will be 4 million." He declined to provide the service's internal estimates.
Fenty has said he expects Obama supporters to camp overnight to get the best spots to see the parade. Federal officials made it clear, though, that they took a dim view of that idea. Wiley said at the news conference that 7 a.m. would be "the absolute earliest you can get to a sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue" on the parade route.
The crowd will have to pass through security screening, he said, adding that he did not have details about how that will work. Tickets are required to watch the swearing-in in an area at the west front of the U.S. Capitol, but people without tickets can be part of the activities beyond that restricted area.
To accommodate the crowd, the entire Mall is being opened to inauguration spectators for the first time, with Jumbotrons showing the noontime ceremony at the Capitol.
Sgt. Robert LaChance, a U.S. Park Police spokesman, said that it is "not legal to camp on the Mall" and that tents will be banned. Although the Mall is open 24 hours, it might be swept in a check for bombs during the night, he said.
"What we encourage people to do is come once public transportation is open," he said.
Metro will start running trains at 4 a.m. on Inauguration Day, a federal holiday in the District. Unlike at the Capitol or on the parade route, backpacks, chairs and strollers will be permitted on the Mall, he said. People can also take food and coolers there. But authorities are discouraging people from bringing many items on Metrorail because trains will be jammed.
Inauguration Day will be the centerpiece of a four-day celebration, starting with a welcome Jan. 18 and including a day of service to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 19. The events will wrap up with a prayer service Jan. 21.
Transportation will be extremely difficult on Inauguration Day, officials acknowledged. Lisa Farbstein, a Metro spokeswoman, said Metrorail trains could carry 120,000 people an hour. "Best-case scenario, we can move close to 1 million people" by rail to the inauguration events, she said.
But "it's going to be very uncomfortable," and passengers will probably face long waits, she said.
About 10,000 charter buses are expected, according to Karyn LeBlanc, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Transportation. Some will park near Metro stops; others will transfer their passengers to shuttle buses heading downtown. In some cases, "we're going to ask people to walk" after they get off their buses, she said.
Streets within several blocks of the parade route will be closed to vehicle traffic, although specifics were not provided yesterday. Officials said they typically do not release such details until about three weeks before large events.
Security will be heavy. About 4,000 police officers are arriving from 96 agencies around the country to back up D.C. police, officials said. Metro is asking transit police from other cities for help, and the Park Police will get assistance from other federal agencies and the U.S. military, officials said.
In case of disaster, the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency plans to use a new loudspeaker system on the Mall to tell people what to do, officials said. Still to be determined: how many portable toilets will be set up for the events.