We in the Washington region are used to horrible traffic. We’re used to traffic stalled by motorcades for important people. And we’re used to crowded Metro trains and platforms during big events. But if you are planning to commute to downtown Washington — or if you are visiting — while Pope Francis is in town, be ready for all that and more.
The first thing to note is that the pope’s visit is happening in the middle of a regular work week. That means that most public schools and businesses will be open. The federal government will be open for business — although employees are being urged to telecommute. The D.C. government will be open and operating.
But if you have business to conduct at any city or federal agency, don’t plan on breezing in and out. The pope’s visit to the United States is being handled as a National Special Security Event, which means extremely tight security wherever Francis goes and significant road closures that will affect traffic and transit for the duration of his stay.
Throughout the visit, the pope’s motorcade will create rolling road closures. His public appearances will draw thousands of spectators to areas where vehicular traffic will be prohibited. Since driving is being discouraged, the Metro system will face additional strain during its normal rush hour periods.
Wednesday’s events — the morning popemobile parade in downtown Washington and the late-afternoon papal Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington — are likely to create the most disruptions. The road closures for the procession will affect the normally gridlocked downtown traffic and incoming traffic from Northern Virginia. In addition, crowds from the Mass using the Metro system will overlap with those attending the Nationals-Orioles baseball game at Nationals Park and an Ed Sheeran concert at Verizon Center. Those travelers are encouraged to avoid the east side of the Red Line, and if possible avoid Metrorail transfers and use the Green Line.
In addition to traffic gridlock and road closures, be prepared for parking restrictions, blocked access to pedestrian walkways, bus and Metro delays, and crowded trains and platforms. Bikers should plan to spend more time looking for parking downtown. Keep in mind that the unpredictable and popular Francis could surprise us with other stops, deviating from his schedule — which give us even more reason to prepare.
Drivers. Be prepared to drive around large perimeters and take alternative routes. The road closures in downtown Washington, particularly Wednesday morning, could create traffic backups of nearly two hours for drivers entering from the George Washington Parkway and Interstates 66 and 395. Incoming traffic from the 14th Street Bridge, the Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge will be affected. Many of the road closures will be rolling and will occur in the indicated periods of time. You should expect other delays as the pope’s motorcade travels to his scheduled events.
Metrorail. Metro will be operating regular rush hour service during the morning and evening commutes, and it will add trains during the midday and late-evening hours to accommodate larger crowds. Metro will open at 5 a.m. and close at midnight, and regular weekday fares and parking fees will apply. Expect Metro parking garages and lots to fill up early. All track work will be suspended to allow for smoother commutes, but trains and station platforms could get crowded near the papal events, and some stations’ entrances may be temporarily closed due to security restrictions. Metro is giving away a commemorative Francis SmarTrip card sleeve with a purchase at any of its five sales offices.
Metrobus. About 70 bus routes will be affected starting Tuesday when road closures begin. Some buses will be detoured around closures, and many routes will be shortened and redirected to Metrorail stations. Many major routes that go through downtown areas including H Street NW, near the White House, will be affected Wednesday morning due to closures for the popemobile parade. Some of the affected high-ridership routes are: the 16th Street, 14th Street, Georgia Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, and H Street/Benning Road bus lines.
Some buses around Michigan Avenue NE will skip the Brookland-CUA Metro station, avoiding the crowds attending the papal Mass. Metro will add additional trips on the H Line buses between the Columbia Heights Metro station and Washington Hospital Center.
Road closures at the Vatican Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue NW will prohibit buses in the corridor starting Tuesday morning and for the duration of the visit. The No. 37 will be canceled, and the N Line buses will be detoured to Metro stations.
MetroAccess. The paratransit service will operate on a regular schedule with detours, delays and service adjustments. MetroAccess customers should allow extra time due to increased traffic.
D.C. Circulator. The Mall route will be suspended Wednesday and Thursday. D.C. Circulator buses will be deployed to provide shuttle service from the Fort Totten and Rhode Island Metro stations to the Basilica event. Other routes may experience delays and detours.
MARC and Maryland Transit Administration commuter buses. The Maryland commuter rail system will provide additional passenger cars on its existing service to accommodate an anticipated increase in riders. But the MTA is modifying the commuter bus service, canceling several Washington-bound routes and redirecting all others to Metro stations.
VRE. The Northern Virginia commuter rail will operate normal service with the maximum number of cars to accommodate passengers attending the pope’s events.
Biking. The roads that are closed due to papal events or security reasons will also be closed to bike traffic. If you use Capital Bikeshare, you may have trouble finding an available bike or an open spot to park because the road closures will make it difficult for staff to rebalance the bike network. About 20 Bikeshare stations inside the papal events perimeters will be unavailable. Bikeshare, however, will set up bike corrals near three of the public events: the parade, the Mass at the Basilica, and the address to Congress. If you use your own bike, finding parking downtown could be more difficult given that there is the possibility that more people could choose to ride, and there would be fewer spots to lock up bikes outside the secured perimeters.
Parking. Parking downtown and near the papal events will be extremely scarce. Drivers should expect many parking restrictions where the pope is appearing. Some restrictions near the Vatican Embassy, where the pope will be staying, will go into effect Monday and remain in place until he leaves Thursday.
Security screenings. All visitors will go through security screenings before entering papal events. All the events, except for the popemobile parade, are ticketed.
Prohibited items. Aerosols, ammunition, animals other than service/guide dogs, large backpacks, balloons, bicycles, coolers, drones, explosives, firearms, glass, thermal, or metal containers, laser pointers, mace/pepper spray, packages, selfie sticks, structures, supports for signs and placards, toy guns, weapons of any kind, any other hazardous items.
Be prepared. If you take Metro, have a SmarTrip card loaded with enough fare to travel during the pope’s visit. Use Metro’s Trip Planner (www.wmata.com/rider_tools/tripplanner) to plan and price your route. For more information about the papal visit , go to these sites: www.wmata.com/PapalVisit; www.popefrancisvisit.com; pope.dc.gov.
Popemobile Parade, 11 a.m. Wednesday. The motorcade will travel from the White House along 15th Street, Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW. The public’s best chance to see the pope will be from sidewalks along the route.
Security checkpoints. Gates to the viewing areas will open at 4 a.m. and close at 10 a.m. The entry points are: east of the Ellipse on Constitution Avenue, west of the Ellipse on Constitution Avenue, east of the Washington Monument near Jefferson Drive and 15th Streets NW, and west of the Washington Monument near 17th Street NW.
Metro. The closest stations to the parade route are Federal Triangle, Smithsonian, Metro Center, McPherson Square, Farragut West and Farragut North.
Food. No outside food will be allowed, but concessions will be available for purchase.