Same scene, different season: The dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, postponed because of Hurricane Irene, is now scheduled for next Sunday. This time, the planned ceremony will be smaller and the weather cooler than the original date of Aug. 28. Still, the memorial’s location offers some challenges for those planning to attend the event.
This guide will remind visitors of the best routes to reach the dedication and offer some help on reaching the memorial at other times as well.
Because a smaller ceremony is envisioned and because we’ve left the summer travel season behind, planners no longer anticipate a national crowd of about a quarter-million people. Still, the event could draw tens of thousands of spectators.
The dedication is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. No tickets are required. The public will watch from West Potomac Park, the grassy area on the west side of the memorial off Independence Avenue SW. Organizers encourage people to bring folding chairs and picnic blankets. There will be music and speakers on a stage in the park. The concluding element of the dedication will occur in the forecourt of the Memorial. It will be visible on the Jumbotrons in the park.
For the original event, we were concerned about people standing for hours in the heat. The average high temperature for D.C. in October is 68 degrees, although the morning hours at the site near the Potomac River are likely to be cooler than the afternoon.
Many people already have had a chance to see the memorial, open since late August. Early Wednesday afternoon, several hundred visitors, including some large school groups, were viewing the King statue and reading the quotes etched in stone. The west boundary is still a fenced-off work zone, but it doesn’t impede access.
The best view of King’s statue is from the northwest side of the path that surrounds the Tidal Basin. The path is about the width of four people standing shoulder to shoulder. Nearby, cherry trees overhang the path and the water. On the north side of the memorial site, pedestrians can use a large crosswalk, covered by a traffic signal, on Independence Avenue SW.
While this western side of the Mall puts a visitor in range of the King, Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Korean and Vietnam war memorials, travelers can easily lose their bearings. The “You Are Here” maps now mark the site, but many of the brown pylons do not yet have a plaque and arrow specifically aimed toward the King Memorial.
Don’t count on finding a parking space near the memorial. That’s especially true for dedication day, when motorists should expect street closures in the area. But it applies to other days, as well. Free street parking for all the memorials in the area is available along Ohio Drive SW. However, that parking is very limited, and many motorists — assuming they’re lucky enough to find a space on a regular day — could wind up walking almost as far as they would from the closest Metro station.
The road entrance to the memorial is on West Basin Drive, off Ohio Drive. It has a few three-hour parking spaces, including some for disabled people. There’s a stopping area for tour buses as well. (The Tourmobile has a stop nearby on Ohio Drive.)
The traffic exit point from West Basin Drive is at the new traffic signal on Independence Avenue, where departing vehicles can turn either left or right. West Basin Drive can be very congested on an average day. Taking a private car through will require a lot of patience.
On Wednesday, I found a space in one of the small lots off Ohio Drive near the Jefferson Memorial. The walk back to the King Memorial took 15 minutes, passing by the George Mason Memorial and walking through the Roosevelt Memorial.
One thing that hasn’t changed since August: Metro is still a good bet for reaching the dedication. If you’re up for a walk, it’s a good choice for reaching the memorials in this area on any day.
Metrorail: The transit authority had scheduled some major track work for Oct. 16, but postponed it because of the dedication. Instead, Metro plans to begin its Sunday rail service at 5 a.m., two hours early. Also, the transit authority plans to operate more eight-car trains to provide extra capacity for those attending the ceremony. Parking at Metro lots and garages is free on weekends.
Metrobus: On dedication day, the buses will operate on their normal Sunday schedules. Detours because of street closings are possible in the area around the Mall. Allow for some extra travel time.
Fares: Metro is still selling the paper pass to commemorate the dedication of the memorial. It features an image of the King statue. The pass is valid for one day of unlimited Metrorail travel on weekdays after 9:30 a.m. or all day Saturdays, Sundays or federal holidays. It expires at 4 a.m. on the day following first day of use.
The memorial area is a beautiful spot for cycling, but there are only a few bike stands near the King site. On dedication day, bicycles will not be permitted in the Metrorail system.
Capital Bikeshare: A day’s membership in the bike rental program costs $5. There is a Bikeshare station at 19th Street and Constitution Avenue NW on the north side of the Mall. Other stations are at Virginia Avenue and 21st Street NW and at 19th and E streets NW. An event like the dedication probably will tie up many of the bikes, so it’s best to have an alternative plan. For details, check CapitalBikeshare.com.
Many attendees on dedication day will be walking from Metrorail stations. The closest stations are Smithsonian and Foggy Bottom on the Blue and Orange lines and Arlington Cemetery on the Blue Line. None of these is a short walk but it should be manageable for a person in reasonable health.
Smithsonian is eight-tenths of a mile from the memorial grounds, Foggy Bottom 1.4 miles and Arlington Cemetery 1.2 miles. Foggy Bottom and Smithsonian are the most likely to be crowded. Alternatives are L’Enfant Plaza (Blue, Orange, Yellow, Green) at 1.3 miles, Farragut North (Red Line) at 1.5 miles, Farragut West (Orange and Blue) at 1.5 miles and McPherson Square (Orange and Blue) at 1.6 miles.
My choice would be the Arlington Cemetery station. It’s a nice, flat walk, and an inspirational one, because you cross the Potomac River via Arlington Memorial Bridge, looking up at the Lincoln Memorial, before bending right toward Independence Avenue.
The trip between the station escalators and West Potomac Park took me 21 minutes at a leisurely pace. Be especially careful crossing the roads around Memorial Circle.