Concert Travel Offers Dress Rehearsal

Inaugural concertgoers found crowds but didn't encounter major problems. Tomorrow might be more difficult.
Inaugural concertgoers found crowds but didn't encounter major problems. Tomorrow might be more difficult. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 19, 2009

Traffic on the roads and transit system to and from the inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday was heavy and slow, but it moved about as smoothly as it usually does for major events, transportation officials said. They warned that larger crowds and tighter restrictions would likely make travel logistics for tomorrow much more daunting.

"If you thought it was crowded [yesterday], you can expect it to be two, three or possibly even four times as crowded on Tuesday," Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said. "We ask the locals to be patient, and for those of you using the system for the first time, you now understand how it works, so please help others who don't."

Widespread road and bridge restrictions, along with some Metrorail station closings tomorrow, will mean "it's going to be much more difficult finding the path that you need to get to wherever it is on the Mall or the parade route," she said.

Yesterday, for example, all 86 subway stations were open and Metro had the entire morning and early afternoon to get riders to the Lincoln Memorial, Farbstein said. Tomorrow, Metro has only the morning to get many more people to the other end of the Mall, with two key stations and a number of roads closed for security reasons.

Even with all stations and most roads open yesterday, the trip home from the concert was challenging. Thousands waited outside Metro stations as police controlled the flow onto the platforms, and downtown vehicular traffic was close to gridlocked.

Still, many concertgoers said that they were unfazed by the congestion and cold weather and that they would make the trek again on Inauguration Day.

"A part of history's going on," said Michael Nolan, 50, of Arlington County, who drove to Rosslyn and walked over the Roosevelt Bridge after he discovered it was closed to District-bound traffic. "If I don't, I won't be able to tell the stories later."

As of 7 p.m., Metro reported that riders had taken about 503,000 trips, the third-highest number for a Sunday. The highest Sunday ridership is 540,945. On an average weekday, ridership is between 700,000 and 750,000 trips.

The concert did provide a limited dress rehearsal for the transportation system and riders, especially those from out of town. Sparse crowds on trains in the late morning became standing-room only by noon, especially at the key downtown stations closest to the Lincoln Memorial: Smithsonian, Foggy Bottom and Metro Center. Vast crowds of people continued to pour out of the Foggy Bottom station after 3 p.m. and stream down Virginia Avenue, even though public access to the concert was closed by then.

"Today, we're kind of doing a dry run," said Jeff Jeudy of Brooklyn, N.Y. "We're getting used to the route. Tuesday, we're coming back to celebrate."

Out-of-towners said they had little trouble navigating the system. "No problems, everything went really smoothly," said Fatima Zeidan, 24, who traveled to Washington from Charleston, S.C.

Metro kept trains moving constantly, and Chris Watson, 32, of Suitland said even changing trains was easy. "Everybody's going the same direction, so that helps," he said.

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