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Gridlock

Here's how to navigate the opening of the African American history museum

By Robert Thomson

September 22, 2016 at 7:00 AM

The Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, near the Washington Monument, opens to the public on Saturday.(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The most important travel tip for the grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture: Don't just show up.

The dedication ceremony is at 10 a.m. Saturday, but there's no general public admission to the museum grounds at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. And to get into the museum, visitors need to have a timed pass, obtained in advance. The museum at 1400 Constitution Ave. NW will be crowded with those lucky visitors on both weekend days.

And if you aren't planning on visiting the museum this weekend, that first travel tip still holds true. Don't just show up on the streets around this much-anticipated event. You'll just be annoyed by the heavy traffic, barricades and crowds of pedestrians.

Related: [Take a virtual tour of the museum]

Weather
The early forecast from the Capital Weather Gang looks very good for opening weekend, Friday through Sunday, but continue to monitor the gang for updates.

Festival
As visitors are getting their first look at the museum, thousands of people will gather on the Washington Monument grounds just to the west for "Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration." On Friday and Sunday, the musical, dance and cultural programs will begin at noon and end at 5 p.m. On Saturday, the program is on from 1 to 5 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, the festival has scheduled evening concerts for 6 to 9 p.m.

The festival entrances will be at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue NW and at 17th Street SW near Independence Avenue. Festival-goers will pass through a security screening at those sites.

Street closings
I got a question from a smart traveler who lives at 16th and U streets NW who was aware of the museum festivities for Saturday morning and wondered about how to reach Reagan National Airport. For her or anyone to the north of downtown Washington, the 14th Street Bridge doesn't look like a good option for reaching the George Washington Parkway, unless they want to drive east to a point where they can pick up I-395. I think my letter writer had the right idea in planning to swing west and head for the Arlington Memorial Bridge. The Key Bridge would work for those starting from farther west.

The street closings are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Friday and continue until about 10 p.m. Sunday. The effects of the closings on traffic are likely to ripple out for many blocks.

Police could modify these closings as needed. The most prudent choice is not to drive car in this area near the National Mall for the weekend.

Parking
There won't be car or bus parking near the museum. Several online services show off-street parking availability and offer reservation services: Parking Panda, SpotHero and ParkWhiz.

Metro
The nearest Metro stations are Smithsonian and Federal Triangle on the Orange, Blue and Silver lines. The nearest Red Line station is Metro Center, and most riders would want to walk to the museum from there rather than transfer trains.

The Red Line will be on its regular weekend schedule. Blue, Orange and Silver Line trains will operate every 20 minutes. Metro's SafeTrack maintenance project affects Orange Line service between Vienna and East Falls Church on Saturday and Sunday. In that zone, free shuttle buses will replace trains. The bus trip between each station is likely to add 12 to 15 minutes of travel time.

D.C. Circulator Mall Route
The grand opening will affect service on the D.C. Circulator's Mall Route. The stop closest to the museum and the festival will be at 12th Street SW and Independence Avenue SW, across from the Smithsonian Metro exit. Normal service is scheduled to resume Monday. See more about the weekend Circulator service, with maps.


Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.

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