The Washington Post

Travel tips for out of towners attending inauguration events

Map provided by Secret Service shows main walking routes and access points for Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue.

This is advice for the thousands of visitors who are utterly unfamiliar with the transportation system in the nation’s capital and plan to watch President Obama’s swearing-in ceremony from the Mall or attend the parade up Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday.

I’m focusing on Metro and walking tips, because that’s how most people will be getting around. Downtown traffic will be very difficult to navigate, even with a lot of local knowledge. So an out-of-towner approaching by car would do well to pick one of the outer stations on the Metrorail system and park there.

The transit authority has produced a very helpful guide to reaching the inauguration events. These guides should be available in most stations, though when I asked for it at Farragut North on Friday morning, none was available. In any case, the rider guide is available online as a pdf and can be downloaded by using this link.

The parking rules for the Metro-operated lots and garages are different from Inauguration Day 2009. This time, Metro is using its normal weekday parking procedures. Payments are made at the exits, which are not staffed. You can’t use cash. Instead, you must have a Metro SmarTrip card, the same one people use to pay for their train and bus rides, or a credit card.

You can buy the SmarTrip card inside the station. Make sure you have enough value on the card to cover the day’s riding. You can add a one-day pass to the SmarTrip card, but that won’t cover the cost of parking.

Riders who used the paper Farecards pay a surcharge of $1 each time they ride. The paper card goes into a slot at the front of the fare gate, then pops back up again. Be sure to hold onto it. You will need it again when you exit. Metro fares are based on time of entry and distance traveled. If you bought a SmarTrip card, tap it on the fare gate’s circular target that has an image of the SmarTrip card on it.

On Inauguration Day 2009, the parking lots and garages at the outer stations filled up quickly. Many of them were full well before dawn. Because the crowd this time will be smaller, I don’t expect they will fill up so early, but it’s difficult to predict exactly when that will occur. Many people who would normally be using parking to reach work will be off on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, further diminishing the numbers looking for Metro parking.

Charter bus parking

If your charter bus driver is doing the right thing, your bus will wind up in the big lots at RFK Stadium. Metro doesn’t want to have the charter buses jamming up the station areas while dropping off passengers. But you may face a walk of one to three miles from RFK to inaugural events.

The District’s Circulator buses won’t be operating on their normal routes and will instead be available to provide transportation from RFK for elderly, frail and disabled people. If there’s room, they probably can take other people, as well, but those in need have priority. The drop-off point on Seventh Street SW and Frontage Road near the Southeast-Southwest Freeway still is about a half mile from the middle of the Mall.

The Stadium-Armory Metro station on 19th Street SE is very close to RFK. But officials do not mention this as an option in their transportation briefings, because they believe that by the time Metro’s Orange and Blue Line trains reach that point, they already will be jammed. People who enter the Stadium-Armory station may have a long wait before they can squeeze aboard a train.

But it may turn out that the trains are less crowded than expected, or that the buses reach RFK before they get crowded. So keep that Metrorail option in mind before you board a bus or start walking.

Walking the last bit

In a way, this is the easy part of navigating, because when you get off the Metro train, you’re most likely just going to follow everyone else. But people with tickets to viewing areas near the Capitol and White House should follow the directions that came with their tickets.

For the ticket-less masses,  L’Enfant Plaza is the best exit for the Mall, which means this junction of the Blue, Orange, Yellow and Green lines will be extremely crowded before the swearing-in and after the speech. A convenient station on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue and north side of the Mall is Federal Triangle, on the Blue and Orange lines, but be wary of this: The station is so convenient that it’s easily overwhelmed with crowds, and if that happens, police will temporarily close it for safety.

Check our Web site for up-to-the-minute information on Monday’s travel conditions. Also, The Post has produced what I think is a very helpful guide for visitors as well as locals going to the inauguration events, including information about the open museums and where to find food and restrooms. You can download The Post inauguration guide by following this link.

People far back in the ticket-less viewing area should study the location of the Jumbotron screens.They extend as far back as the Washington Monument. If you get any farther back than that on the Mall, you will barely see the Capitol and probably won’t feel part of the event.

There will be a rush hour right after the speech ends, then another as the parade ends. If you see a crowd on the street waiting to get inside a Metro station, consider walking over to a Smithsonian museum or cafe to wait it out.

 More resources



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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