washingtonpost.com
Inauguration: Security vs. Mobility

Lon Anderson
Director of Public and Government Affairs, AAA Mid-Atlantic
Thursday, January 15, 2009 2:00 PM

AAA Mid-Atlantic has questioned the issues raised in planning for inaugural events that concern regional mobility.

Lon Anderson, director of Public and Government Affairs, said in an e-mail interview with washingtonpost.com, "Northern Virginia AAA members in particular have expressed concerns about the closing of all the bridges, as have Northern Virginia congressman. While we certainly understand the need for tight security to ensure that the president and all participants and visitors are safe, we continue to ask, do security and mobility have to be mutually exclusive?"

Anderson was online Thursday, Jan. 15, at 2 p.m. ET to answer questions about travel to Washington and within the nation's capital in the extremely challenging inaugural environment.

A transcript follows.

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Lon Anderson: Hi everyone--Thanks for joining me. What an exciting time and exciting series of events for our nation and our nation's capital! That said, getting around will be extraordinarly challenging even for us locals. For our 1-3 million out-of-town guests, many with little local knowledge, it could be Herculean... Clearly what we have in the Inaugural plan is a security plan, not a transportation or mobility plan. While no one wants this to be a safe event for all participants and visitors more than AAA Mid-Atlantic, we are disappointed that moblity and security appear to have been deemed be mutally exclusive. So, while it's going to be challenging getting around, it's still going to be a wonderful thing to see and particpate in and my hat's off to those hearty souls planning to attend the events. If you are planning to attend, AAA Mid-Atlantic has just printed 50,000 sheet maps of downtown DC for your use and they are available though most local hotels and, of course, your local AAA offices. Let's get to your questions!

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Alexandria, Va.: While there is no doubt that various road/bridge closures would be needed for this large scale event, I still have to wonder why clearly excessive rules have to be applied. This is unfortunately becoming the norm in D.C. and perhaps all over the country. And I wonder what the real intent is.

I first starting wondering about this kind of thing when I saw the security perimeter that grew around the Capitol after 9/11. Anyone familiar with that neighborhood has realized that the large "security" perimeter has more to do with making parking available to Congress and its staff than any security threat.

Lon Anderson: Hey Alexandria--We wonder--and worry-- about the same things. The road closure lists for the Inauagural now run to several pages long--in small type! We have been urging more of a balance--not compromises that would endanger our President -elect or other participants, but it certainly does seem heavy handed. Remember the closing of Peensylvania Avenue in the middle of the night unannounced to City leaders or Metrobus drivers? That road carried 29,000 vehicles a day. Perhaps it ultimately needed to be closed for the safety of the President, but the way it was done, was certainly heavy handed. Continued expansion of security zones around the Capitol and other federal buildings does hamper mobility here, no doubt. Great comment and observations!

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Ashburn, Va.: I have to take my son to an important doctor's appointment in Cabin John, Md., just off of River Road at 2:30 p.m. on the 20th. I live in Ashburn and usually take the toll road to the Beltway to River Road to the Cabin John exit.

Will this be at all feasible given the time of the appointment? I hate to cancel because he needs the appointment and it takes a long time to schedule.

I would very much appreciate any help or information you can give me.

Lon Anderson: Ashburn--condtions are going to be anybody's guess. We really ahver never had an event like this. My advice is optimistic though. Allow plenty of time, and with luck you might be early because that is in the middle of the events in DC. Traffic might be workable at that point and the River Road exit will be open. Good luck with your son.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I heard from a traveler arriving from D.C. this morning that buses were being turned away at the VA/DC line. Is this true, or some facsimile thereof?

Lon Anderson: Hello Atlanta--it's partially true. What the traveler was probably referring to is that they are closing I-395 (the extension of I-95 that runs directly into DC) and other interstates into Washington at the Capital Beltway to most traffic, but not to buses. Washington will be taking on the appearance of a paralyzed security zone during the Inaugural events, and mobility will be very challenged. But you can still get here--it will take grit, luck, and a lot of pre-plannning. Please plan before setting out, whether you are coming from Atlanta or Silver Spring, MD. Good luck if you are coming and thanks for the question!

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi Lon.

Do you know if public transportation such as taxi's buses and subways will be operating normally? (albeit very busy!)

Lon Anderson: Great Question, L.A.: Our buses, subways and cabs will be running but not as normal. Large zones will be closed, inlcuding some subway stations, but buses, subway and cabs, in addition to walking and biking will be the ways to go. Our mass transit is expecting to shatter all ridership records during this event. Please consult the Metro website for specific bus and subway information. Great question!

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washingtonpost.com: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

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Chattanooga, Tenn.: What about driving into D.C. on Monday? Does any one have a clue what that will be like? Coming from the south we have an option of going toward I-95 or staying on 85 to 66. Will all bridges be open on Monday and is anybody guessing which routes will be most congested?

Lon Anderson: Chattanooga: Great to hear from you and good questions! Starting mid-afternoon on Monday, the major closures of streets will begin and they will remain closed until Tuesday evening. Driving Cars into the city are not advised during this period. Bridges from Virginia into DC will all be closed to car traffic (buses and cabs excepted). The Capital Beltway is expected to be very heavy, given large numbers of Virginiasn who will driving around to come to DC through Maryland. They are even urging local drivers to avoid the Beltway. Bridge closings take effect at 2 a.m. on Jan. 20, Inauguration day, so they will still be open on Monday. All routes will likely be congested--they are calling this the largest event in our nation's history! Good Luck. Check out the websites for the latest information.

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washingtonpost.com: Inauguration Transportation Map

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Washington, D.C. : Is it true that once you get inside one of the secure areas (such as the National Mall to watch the jumbotrons) on Tuesday, that you won't be able to leave until after everything is over?

Thanks so much!

Lon Anderson: Hello Washington--I don't think that's the case--You can leave, but the problem is getting on Metro which could take hours, given the 1-3 million who may also be riding with you. And, of course, some of the Metro stations near events will be closed--consult Metro's website. Please, come prepared and do your homework before hand. You need a plan A, B, C and as Police Chief Lanier said earlier today, maybe all the way to plan G. Good luck and thanks for the question!

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washingtonpost.com: D.C. Chief Gives Advice on Crowds (Inauguration Watch, Jan. 15)

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Baltimore, Md.: I am set to have a house full of guests on Monday night -- but they have not planned all that well for their transportation into D.C. They do have a place to park in Silver Spring, however. My question is this: will they be able to get on the Metro at Silver Spring, or will the cars be packed to capacity at any location past the final stop?

Lon Anderson: Hey Baltimore--The Silver Spring Metro is a great choice because some of the trains originate there. Parking there will be tough, though. Metro is opening its lots at 3 a.m. and expects many to be full by 6 a.m. Haivng some one drop you off might be the wiser course. Please look at the websites and have your guests get educated beforehand. This is really going to be challenging! Good luck.

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Maryland: Have to pick someone up at BWI 5 p.m. Tuesday. Will the area to the north of D.C. be sane? I'll come down Rt 70 then do Rt 29-Rt 100 across and pick up the BW parkway.

Lon Anderson: Hey Maryland--makes you wish the ICC was finished, doesn't it? But since you can't take that route yet, your route is good but part of it will likely be clogged with traffic leaving. The swearing in ceremony ends earlier, but the parade doesn't start until 2:30, so traffic from both will likely be heading north up the BW Parkway, 270, etc from mid aternoon on. Remember, possibly the largest event in our nation's history! Plan your trip accordingly.

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Bowie, Md.: We are planning to take Metro to the swearing in ceremony. Are there any restrictions on bringing collaspable chairs on the Metro or onto the Mall? Thanks.

Lon Anderson: Bowie--Glad you asked. There are restrictions: you cannot bring folding chairs to the events. Please check the websites for more specifics. For the parade, FYI, Police are only allowing 300,000 folks in, are opening the gates at 7 am and expect to be closing them by 9:30 or 10 am. You get to stand there until the parade starts at 2:30 pm, and probably finishes by 4:30. And no chairs allowed. Hope you have a strong back. Remember, this is a security plan, not a people or mobility plan.

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Baltimore, Md.: I am taking the MARC train from Baltimore to Union Station. I plan to walk toward the Capitol to see the swearing in ceremony. I do not plan to watch the parade after the ceremony. What recommendations do you have for getting back to Union Station in time to catch our 4:41 p.m. train home.

Lon Anderson: Baltimore--You should have it easy. The Capitol is an easy walk (normally) from Union Station. The ceremony starts at 11:30 and should be over by early afternoon, giving you plenty of time to navigate back to the train station. You should have time to spare, and to grab lunch. Good luck and congrats for coming to witness this special event in our history!

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Alexandria, Va.: I am going to an event on Sunday night that lasts till 1:00 a.m. Any chance Metro is going to extend their hours on Sunday? If not, any suggestions on how I can get back to Virginia? Is it going to be hard for me to get a taxi that late on a Sunday to drive me back to Virginia? Thanks for your help!

Lon Anderson: Hello Alexandria--You are out of luck with Metro. I heard their CEO say this morning that service will end at midnight on Sunday because they ahve to ahve a few hours for maintenance before its biggest crowds in history. A cab is your best bet home. Sorry.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for doing the chat. I find your responses very helpful. I am struck by some of the questions from visitors from out-of-town. We locals are saturated with all of the information and advice to have Plans A-G ready. I am concerned that many of the folks coming from out of town are clueless. At least, the folks on your chat are one step ahead of everyone else.

Lon Anderson: Thanks, DC! This event will be very tough for even the most veteran locals to get around. We need to have extreme mercy for the unsuspecting visitors and be ready to help them. That's our concern --with so many from out of town who have not done their homework... Knowledge is important for getting to/from and enjoying these events. Please urge all to spend some time on the web, especially since some of the closures and rules are changing daily. Great comments!

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Speaking of mobility...: ...what accomodations are being made for people who use wheelchairs, or elderly (or not so old) folks who may not have the stamina to stand for hours on end in the cold weather?

Lon Anderson: Hello Speaking of Mobility--this event is going to try the hardiest of souls. The event Committee is advising elderly and those with small children to consider not coming. Many hours of standing will be required. It will be many hours in temperatures predicted to be in the 30's. This is not for the faint of heart, and has not been planned to be easy on anyone. And it won't be. Sorry!

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For Alexandria: You may have a hard time hailing a cab at 1 a.m. on Sunday night. Be sure to program the phone numbers for 2 or 3 different cab companies into your cell phone (Red Top is one that serves Alexandria). A 20-30 minute wait is better than no car showing up at all.

Lon Anderson: For Alexandria--Great advice and thanks!

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Ashburn, Va.: I have to pick someone up at National Airport at 7 p.m. Monday evening. Should it be okay to travel from Ashburn to Arlington at that time? I usually take Dulles Toll Road to 123 in Mclean and then pick up the GW Parkway south to the airport, but I don't know what to expect!

Lon Anderson: Hey--Ashburn. You should be OK, but we don't really know what to expect. This event is unchartered territory. Allow much extra time, traffic is likely to be bad, but who knows how bad. They are not clsing the bridges until 2 am. Tough but doable, I'd say. Good luck!

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Baltimore, Md.: A friend of mine flew in for business and will be in McLean through the weekend and next week. I'm from Baltimore. How difficult will be for us to meet up Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday either in McLean or Baltimore. We'd both be driving. Thanks!

Lon Anderson: Baltimore--It's doable, but traffic is going to be heavy through out the period. On Sunday, there will be closures as well--the huge concert at the Lincoln Memorial will cause much dislocation. Check the websites, and work out a couple of plans, have charged cell phones, a full tank of gas, and off you go!

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Perryville, Md.: We just received tickets to the swearing-in ceremony yesterday and did not buy MARC tickets before they sold out because we didnt know we were going until the last minute. What is the best route for us to take from Northern Cecil County in Maryland on Tuesday morning?

Lon Anderson: Hello Perryville. I'd take I-95 to the New Carrolton Metro Station where you can park and take Metro. But the parking will open about 3 am and is expected to be full by 6 or earlier at most Metro parking lots. Be advised!!! Glad you didn't want to sleep Monday night! Congrats on the tickets and good luck!!!

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WaPo next-door neighbor: Lucky me, I have to come into work Tuesday. As the location says, I work next door to you Lon!

As a practical question, how are YOU getting to the office Tuesday?

Personally, I live out at Grosvenor and my plan is to Metro in as usual, only just a little earlier in the day. I'm either just waiting for a turn-around train, or going to Shady Grove and back-tracking if it's too crowded.

Lon Anderson: Hey WaPo neighbor: I can't go to my office--it's in the shut-down security zone across from the White House. We have to abandon offices by 3 pm Monday. Were I going, I'd be walking to the Silver Spring Metro early. But what a great day to telecommute if you must work. Although I do have a morning TV interview already scheduled, I'll be watching the events from a neighbor's, who is hosting a small party. I'm looking forward to watching this history being made!

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Dallas, Tex.: This may be a dumb question, but will the walking routes be open to pedestrian traffic both ways, or are they going to be herding everyone one way? I am staying in SW D.C., and my security check point is Judiciary Square, so I figure walking is the only way to get there. On the walking map, it looks easy enough, but not if they are wanting everyone going the same way (i.e. the direction of the little feet). Thanks!

Lon Anderson: Hey Dallas--yes, walking still works and it's good both ways. But, with closures and security points, your route will probably not be direct. Allow extra time and wear comfortable shoes, because it won't be a walk in the par, so to speak! And remember, we are cold up here!

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Lon Anderson: Well everyone, we've been on almost twice the alloted hour and I still have questions, and the faster I type the more that come in. It has been great visiting with you. Please check our AAA website for more information or come by and pick up one of our sheet maps at our offices or a local hotel. If I or my staff can answer any quetions, you can also call us at 202-481-6820 or email me at landerson@aaamidatlantic.com or jtownsend@aaamidatlantic.com. Let's all hope for a safe and great event, and remember that you are being an eyewitness to history, and who would want to miss that? Enjoy!!

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