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To Transit Schemers Add Skaters, Paddlers, Pedalers

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By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

Nathan Nahikian had what he thought was a brilliant plan to get from his Arlington house to downtown Washington to see Barack Obama sworn in as president. Bridges closed to personal cars from Virginia? No problem. Metro trains bursting with humanity? Pass. He was going to break out the kayak and paddle across the Potomac.

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As a guy who teaches people how to kayak for a living, Nahikian knows the river well. He has even helped his wife, who works at a Georgetown law firm, devise a kayak commuter route on heavy traffic days. So he figured the trip would be a piece of cake.

Stephanie Morrisette, a wetlands biologist/professional roller derbyist who is flying in for the inauguration from Northern California, checked out the city maps and secure zone restrictions online and saw nothing about good old-fashioned roller skates. "I'm not worried about getting around people or through people, because I deal with that all the time with the crowd at bouts," she said. Her partner, John Henry Dale, will be riding his skateboard to keep up.

As the big day draws near, inauguration goers have been seized with logistics planning. The talk is all about strategy to beat the crowds, avoid the traffic headaches and navigate around a complicated phalanx of hard and soft secure zones, barricades, cops, cones and street closings. "We want people to think outside the box," Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation urged recently.

They have.

Calls have flooded Rep Burks's Segway rental store in the District. "People get excited about taking a Segway to the inauguration," he said. A Segway is one of the few private vehicles that will be allowed, like bikes, on city streets and across bridges. "But then they find out they can't get inside the secure zone with it, and they realize it's not such a great option." Segways, like bikes, strollers and other wheeled vehicles, are not allowed near the Mall or parade route.

But even if they were, Burks's Segways have all been snapped up by Obama's people.

Some people's transit plans, if drawn on a map, would take on the distinct shape of a pretzel.

Some Northern Virginia residents who live north of Springfield are actually traveling south first to catch one of the special VRE inaugural trains that sail right into Union Station. Others in Maryland who live close to the D.C. line are driving miles out of their way north to Germantown to catch another inaugural MARC train into the city. (The trains will make no close-in stops.)

Others are obsessed with being the first ones on the Mall.

Cindy Castro, who is flying in to National Airport from Los Angeles at 6 p.m. Monday, plans to dump her luggage at her Arlington hotel, then hit Metro at 1 a.m., one hour before it closes. She'll hang out in a bar in downtown Washington until she can line up at a security checkpoint about 3 a.m. "Are we nuts or what?" Castro wrote in an e-mail.

Get two Virginians coming to the inauguration together and talk quickly turns to worrying about routes and comparing notes. James Fussell plans to arrive at the Springfield Metro station at 4:30 a.m., get off at Arlington Cemetery, then walk into the District. Phil Reed will spend the night with his mother near American University. Greg Blaisdell plans to hoof it from his Arlington neighborhood, peek to see if he can get down the stairs at the Ballston Metro and, if not, walk the four miles into the District.

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