Personal planning. Don’t just barge into Wednesday and Thursday thinking you can wing it. Plan your travels as though the World Bank meetings in Foggy Bottom, the Nuclear Security Summit at Mount Vernon Square, the National Christmas Tree lighting on the Ellipse and the Concert for Valor on the Mall were happening within hours of one another.
Have a Plan B, and maybe a C. The pursuit of Pope Francis by the faithful and the simply curious will not match any single scenario — such as an Inauguration Day — that we already have in our local travel playbook.
Impact. For the spectators, the papal events and motorcades will be a moveable feast. For commuters and those going about their daily business, they will be an obstacle course where somebody keeps moving the obstacles.
Don’t get the idea that if your trip is outside the closed areas on our maps you’ve got easy travels ahead. The effects on traffic and transit of each papal stopping point will ripple far beyond the boundaries of each red zone.
Parking garages at the end-of-the-line Metro stations will be extra crowded early. Travel times on some major commuter roadways into the District will be especially slow. Officials are anticipating traffic delays of up to two hours on major thoroughfares heading into the city. Schedules will be disrupted for Maryland commuter buses and the Fairfax Connector, as well as Metrobus and the D.C. Circulator.
Getting to events. The best bet for seeing Francis without an event ticket is the popemobile parade around the Ellipse. The best bet for getting to the event is Metrorail, which opens at 5 a.m. and closes at midnight weekdays. The end-of-the-line stations have big lots and garages, but you will be competing for space with commuters. Getting a cab, a bus or a lift from a friend to the station would help.
Six Metro stations on the Blue, Orange, Silver and Red lines — Farragut North, Farragut West, McPherson Square, Metro Center, Federal Triangle and Smithsonian — are within easy walking distance of the Ellipse, where security gates will open at 4 a.m. and close at 10 a.m.
Francis won’t be the only one drawing big crowds Wednesday and Thursday. The Nationals play the Orioles at 7:05 p.m. at Nationals Park on Wednesday. There is an Ed Sheeran concert at 7:30 that night at Verizon Center.
The baseball and music fans will want to avoid the east side of the Red Line, with an expected 25,000 heading to and from the papal Mass at the National Shrine in Brookland. Metro suggests that those who need to get to Brookland, one of the system’s smallest stations, might consider using two adjacent stations: Rhode Island Avenue and Fort Totten. Rhode Island Avenue is about a one-mile (20-minute) walk to Brookland; Fort Totten is about two miles (35 minutes) away, according to Metro. For baseball fans and concertgoers, a better bet is the Green Line, which stops at Gallery Place below Verizon Center and at Navy Yard, by Nationals Park. And, if possible, avoid transferring from one line to another, because those transfer stations — Metro Center, Gallery Place and L’Enfant Plaza — will be extra crowded.
Transit users are urged to buy SmarTrip cards in advance and to make sure the cards are loaded with enough money to complete their trips to avoid long lines and delays at fare machines.
Getting around events. The Ellipse parade is likely to be the single biggest factor in extra traffic and transit congestion during the pope’s visit. It probably will put thousands of extra, inexperienced riders on Metrorail during the Wednesday morning rush.
Meanwhile, the closings along major commuter routes that include Constitution Avenue and 14th Street NW could lock up much of the downtown street grid. While the Potomac River bridges are all scheduled to be open, drivers will probably encounter extra delays on routes that already are crowded at peak periods. Of particular concern: the Roosevelt, Arlington Memorial and 14th Street bridges.