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How to get around downtown D.C. easier at cherry blossom time


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By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Cherry Blossom Festival chills commuters and visitors by crowding the streets and sidewalks near the Tidal Basin and jamming Metrorail. This year's festival is scheduled to begin this coming Saturday and end April 11. Here's a survival guide:

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Events

Tourists might not be able to plan their visits based on the actual blooming time, but locals can. This spring, the predicted peak is April 3 to 8. Crowds around the Tidal Basin and Mall should peak about the same time. But there also will be extra crowding and congestion around several events:

April 3: A fireworks display scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. will draw a crowd to the Southwest Waterfront.

April 3: The Nationals play an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox in Nationals Park at 4:05 p.m.

April 5: The Nationals play their home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies at 1:05 p.m. Another weekday afternoon game is scheduled for April 8 at 4:35 p.m.

April 10: The Cherry Blossom Parade on Constitution Avenue NW begins at 10 a.m. and concludes about noon. The route is Seventh Street to 17th Street.

April 11: The Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run begins at 7:45 a.m. at 15th Street and Jefferson Drive SW, the Washington Monument grounds, which also is the finish. The route includes the Tidal Basin and Hains Point areas as well as Independence Avenue, the Memorial Bridge and Rock Creek Parkway past the Kennedy Center. Metrorail will open at 5 a.m.

Tips for travelers

-- Tourists should avoid traveling by car or transit during the peak commuting times of 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. The worst time for crowding on the trains would be 4 to 6 p.m.

-- Drivers can park on the street around East Potomac Park and take a free shuttle bus to the Tidal Basin from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., but everyone knows that, so it's going to be crowded. Our map highlights some alternative pay parking.

-- Smithsonian is the closest rail station to the Tidal Basin, so it's very crowded. Consider other nearby stops -- L'Enfant Plaza, Federal Triangle and Metro Center. The walk is longer, but the crowding might be less intense. L'Enfant Plaza, Gallery Place and Metro Center are transfer stations. Avoid the hassle of transferring and stick to one line, even if it means walking farther.

-- Allow extra travel time, whether driving or taking transit. The Roosevelt, Memorial and 14th Street bridges are likely to be slower than normal. Some Metro trains will suffer door problems, requiring that they be taken out of service. The odds for this increase when the trains are crowded, and when many of the riders don't know our train doors won't bounce back like elevator doors.

-- Watch for D.C. traffic control officers and U.S. Park Police at the intersections near the Tidal Basin. Message boards will show traffic information.

-- Metro doesn't plan any weekend track maintenance during the festival.

-- Metrorail's Green Line, stopping at Navy Yard Station, is the best way to reach Nationals Park. After the game, the east entrance on New Jersey Avenue is sometimes less crowded than the western one at M and Half streets. For drivers, the Nationals now have more parking options for individual games. But the Nats Express bus from RFK Stadium will not operate this season. On April 3 and 5, Metrorail will run some shuttle trains between Navy Yard and Gallery Place to provide extra service to transfer stations.

-- The District's Circulator, an easy-to-spot red, black and silver bus, has several routes helpful to visitors. The Smithsonian-National Gallery route has resumed service in a loop around the Mall from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. A north-south Convention Center-Southwest Waterfront route links tourist destinations and parking areas. It operates every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Union Station-Navy Yard route stops near Nationals Park. It normally operates from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays but extends service to cover Nats games. The Circulator fare is $1, and the buses are scheduled to arrive every 10 minutes.

-- Two free bike valet stations will operate on festival weekends, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. One will be on Independence Avenue between 14th and 15th streets SW, the other on the south side of the Jefferson Memorial.


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