Navigating a Way to FDR Shrine
By Stephen C. Fehr
Parking: Metro: Sightseeing Tours: Drop Off: Walking:
The roads, sidewalks, trails, parking, subway and bus stops that serve the FDR Memorial are critical because officials believe many of the initial visitors will be elderly Roosevelt admirers who voted for the four-term president or who are disabled as he was.
"I think you'll find a lot of white hair over there," said Charlie Cummings, 62, who manages the local Gray Line Sightseeing tour bus operations. Cummings added, "We have a hunch there'll be a little problem getting in and out of there."
To help gauge how accessible the site is, two disabled FDR admirers from Northern Virginia accompanied a reporter this week from the Foggy Bottom Metro Station -- the recommended stop for the memorial -- to the West Potomac Park site.
Along the 50-minute, 1-mile walk, they encountered uneven, pockmarked sidewalks and beat-up or missing curb cuts that made it nearly impossible for the two women -- one a wheelchair user, the other a blind person -- to navigate. There were no signs pointing the way to the memorial. One of the missing curb cuts was at Constitution Avenue and 23rd Street, a major intersection leading to the Vietnam, Korean, Lincoln and FDR memorials. A park service spokesman said yesterday the curb would be fixed by Friday.
"At a minimum, we need signage so we know whether we can navigate the trip in a chair," said Martha Glennan, 62, of McLean, who was born during FDR's first term and, as he did, uses a wheelchair after being stricken with polio.
Park Service officials said that Friday won't be a preview of persistent problems with access to the FDR Memorial. They said every new memorial or museum in Washington goes through a shakedown. Over time, they said, tourists and local residents who now don't know the West Potomac Park area will become familiar with it.
"It seems to sort its way out," said John G. Parsons, a senior Park Service official for the Washington region. Because of its soothing gardenlike setting, with 300 trees, 3,000 shrubs, pools and waterfalls, the FDR Memorial will be "a place where people are going to come back to over and over," Parsons said.
As for parking, he said, "I'm sure it's frustrating to many visitors, but I feel there's going to be adequate parking." Counting the 65-space lot at the Jefferson Memorial, there are about 475 parking spaces within a 15-minute walk of the FDR Memorial, compared with 585 spaces in that area before it was built.
The first few years of a new memorial always draw the heaviest crowds, Park Service officials said, in part because of the interest among Washington area residents who want to check it out. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the most popular, attracted about 3 million visitors a year in its first two years, then tapered off to 1.5 million to 2 million a year, many of them war veterans and family members.
Predicting attendance for the FDR Memorial is imprecise. The Jefferson Memorial gets about 300,000 visitors a year, the least among the memorials because it is somewhat remote. The Lincoln Memorial, about 2,800 feet from the FDR Memorial, draws about 1.2 million visitors annually.
A 14-year-old traffic study predicted that the FDR Memorial could bring up to 14,000 people on days when the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials have about the same number. Eight of every 10 people would arrive by bus or car, the study said.
The memorial will bring a new traffic pattern to the West Potomac Park area, a separate entrance for the Tourmobile, 20 parking spaces for the disabled and three new free lots for cars off Ohio Drive SW under the 14th Street bridges.
The closest street parking is the 160 unmetered spaces along Ohio Drive, the main roadway serving the memorial that has been widened to four lanes and turned into a two-way street. Those spaces -- which already fill up even though the memorial isn't open yet -- are reachable from Independence Avenue or the Inlet Bridge over the Tidal Basin.
About 247 free spaces will be available in the three lots under the 14th Street bridges, about a 10-minute walk from the memorial along a sidewalk on the Potomac River side of Ohio Drive. The parking replaces most of the spaces that were eliminated when part of West Basin Drive was removed to build the memorial. Buses will park in a lane on Ohio Drive near those lots, which also have 14 spaces for the disabled. Six handicapped spaces were put in at the memorial entrance.
Although the Park Service and other transportation officials aren't advertising it, some parking also will be available evenings, weekends and holidays in the 640-space lot at the Park Service headquarters, 1100 Ohio Dr.
During the warm weather months, visitors heading to the FDR will compete at times with local residents using the popular ball fields adjacent to the memorial. Park Service officials said they accounted for the ball field parking in their plans.
Except for Friday's dedication, Park Service officials said they don't expect the memorial to interfere with commuting patterns in downtown Washington. The FDR site is relatively isolated from commuters going to and from work downtown, and the Tidal Basin, Reflecting Pool and river protect the site from cut-through traffic seeking short cuts.
On its busiest days, traffic could be snarled along Independence, which is a link to Northern Virginia at the Memorial Bridge. Traffic on Ohio is projected to increase 30 percent, to 5,600 vehicles a day, with some delays caused by the turnover of parking spaces along there.
Ohio will carry the Tourmobile on its route between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, with a separate plaza for loading and unloading passengers and a ticket kiosk. Tourmobile is the only bus sanctioned by the Park Service to stop at the plaza. Other bus companies such as Gray Line and Old Towne Trolley are evaluating ways to serve the site. Space has been set aside for a water taxi stop.
Pedestrians and bike riders will have a range of choices: the Cherry Walk along the Tidal Basin, the Potomac River trails and new trails along the remaining section of West Basin Drive.
Metro has three stations in the vicinity of the FDR Memorial: Smithsonian, Independence and 12th Street SW, and Foggy Bottom, 23rd and I, both on the Blue and Orange lines; and Arlington Cemetery at Memorial Drive, on the Blue line. Metrobus has two routes -- the No. 52 and No. 13 -- that stop at 14th and Independence.
The Foggy Bottom station is slightly farther from the FDR Memorial than the Smithsonian station, but it is less crowded, and the walk to the site is paved the whole way, though bumpy.
Arlington National Cemetery could be a better bet by subway or car, if you park in the pay lot there and walk across the Memorial Bridge to Independence and Ohio.
Sharing a taxicab is always an option. Another tip: Go at off-peak times, such as weekdays before noon and evenings. The memorial is open from 8 a.m. to midnight every day except Christmas.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company