These are some questions that local travelers submitted about the Sept. 22-24 visit by Pope Francis to the capital. I hope the questions and my answers will stimulate further questions, as well as individual planning for what’s likely to be a difficult week for both commuters and visitors. (There are links to more travel tips at the bottom of this posting.)
Metro vs. the pope
How bad will Metro be during the pope’s visit? Will those of us who actually have to go to work and cannot telecommute run into problems? I’ve never had problems with Metro during inauguration but this is slightly different in my opinion. For what it’s worth, I commute from Huntington to Gallery Place and walk to my office at Metro Center. I’m already planning on going to work early and leaving town late during the Pope’s stay.
DG: Yes, Metro riders will encounter problems, and they need to be prepared. It’s good to think of this as an inauguration-scale event, but there will be significant differences, because of the location and timing of multiple events. Telecommuting is the best option, but many will need to come into the District for their jobs. They should try to do what the questioner is planning, and vary their schedules.
The crucial events for commuter/visitor congestion are these: the papal parade scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Ellipse, the noontime Wednesday prayer with U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Rhode Island Avenue NW near Connecticut Avenue, the Mass at the National Shrine off Michigan Avenue in Brookland scheduled to begin at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, the visit to the U.S. Capitol scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, the visit to St. Patrick’s Church at 619 10th St. NW scheduled for 11:15 a.m. Thursday.
When you see these locations marked on D.C. maps, think of the markers as though they were the fan-like hurricane symbols that the weather services use to indicate the location of an impending storm. The symbols look so tiny, so unthreatening, on the weather map. Yet a satellite image would show bands of rain and high winds extending out perhaps hundreds of miles beyond the little map marker.
The effects on traffic and transit of each papal stopping point will ripple far beyond the boundaries of each site. They will affect parking at the end-of-the-line Metro stations and travel times on many major commuter routes into the District that are well beyond the borders of the street closings. They will affect schedules on Maryland commuter buses and the Fairfax Connector, as well as Metrobus and the D.C. Circulator.
Parking at subway stations; operating hours
Any idea what the parking will be like at the subway stations? And will traffic reporters indicate what subway stations are full or near full? The Maryland commuter buses are dropping people off at the Landover station (not even going to attempt to go into D.C.), and I’m considering instead driving to the New Carrollton station. Also, is the Metrorail system going to open early when the Mall opens at 4 a.m.?
DG: Metrorail’s opening and closing hours — 5 a.m. and midnight for weekdays — will not change, and the usual weekday fares will be in effect, as will the normal charges for parking at Metro lots and garages.
Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly says it is likely that many Metro parking facilities will fill earlier in the day than usual, “so if you’re planning to park at a station, we recommend that folks have a backup plan in the event that a particular lot or garage is already full.”
Metro plans to send out alerts via e-mail, text and its @metrorailinfo Twitter account when it learns that particular parking areas are full. We’ll certainly be relaying that information and more via the Dr. Gridlock blog and @drgridlock.
End-of-the-line stations are most likely to reach capacity, she said. But she noted that on the Red Line, Wheaton tends to fill up faster than Glenmont. Silver Spring parking areas, operated by Montgomery County rather than Metro, also may fill up early, though there are many garages throughout the downtown area.
Travel during Pope’s visit
I am flying out of Dulles for work Sept. 23, at 12:30 p.m., and just realized that the pope will be in the District that day. I need to get to the airport from Montgomery County. I had planned to take Metro, but now I’m a little worried about how crazy things will be. Of course, I’ll be dragging a suitcase with me which can be a nuisance with large crowds, not to mention the extra security checks. Do you think just giving myself extra time (say, an hour) to get to the airport should be fine, or should I consider asking a friend who lives near Dulles if I can sleep on her couch on Tuesday night?
DG: A key thing for everyone to remember is that people will be trying to do all their usual things when the pope is in town, and that’s going to make the local travel scene much more complicated than it would be in inauguration days, when activity is more limited.
I assume our Dulles International Airport traveler is planning to take a combination of Red Line, Silver Line and bus to reach the terminal. If so, I think that should work fine, but I like the idea of leaving an extra hour for the trip. On the morning of Sept. 23, downtown Washington and the Metro system will be very crowded with visitors heading to the papal parade at the Ellipse, and those folks will start arriving very early. Train service is likely to be delayed. The trains and the transfer stations will be very crowded.
I’m starting to think about commute options during the pope’s visit. Telework isn’t an option, and I have to be to work before Metro starts running. I’m thinking about taking an Uber to work (about 3 a.m.) and then Metro home (about noon). But most of my drive will be on 295/395 so I’m wondering if that will be necessary. Can you provide time and locations of road closures?
DG: Follow this link to see the street closings during the pope’s visit. The questioner did not specify a work site. A drive into the District with a 3 a.m. start time at work is unlikely to be problematic. An outbound trip at noon on a D.C. freeway should be okay. My greater concern would be for the start of the outbound trip if it’s in the vicinity of a papal event.
We plan to have Post maps showing street closings in Sunday’s Metro section, also available online.
Mass. Ave. NW during pope’s visit
Is it true that Massachusetts Avenue NW will be closed during the pope’s visit? I live in the 4000 block of Massachusetts Avenue and commute to and from work via the bus (N4, N3). What are my alternatives? I don’t own a car.
DG: The pope will be staying at the Vatican Embassy, 3339 Massachusetts Ave. NW, across from the National Observatory. From Tuesday morning through Thursday afternoon, traffic in that vicinity will be heavily restricted. If you are a commuter, avoid the area.
From my Post colleague Luz Lazo: “If you ride any of the buses that travel via Massachusetts Avenue in upper Northwest (37, N2, N3, N4, and N6), you have to rethink your commute. Road closures along a stretch near the Vatican Embassy will prohibit buses in the corridor for the duration of the papal visit.” The N-Line routes (N2, N3, N4, and N6) will be cut short to operate only between the Washington Cathedral and the Tenleytown and/or Friendship Heights Metro stations in upper Northwest. Metro said bus riders should transfer to Metrorail to get to downtown. Metro officials say there may be some periods when the N6 could be detoured to Dupont Circle.
Someone who lives as far north as the 4000 block of Massachusetts Avenue should be able to catch an N bus to transfer onto Metrorail at one of those Red Line stations on those disruption days. But I’d allow extra time for the trip, to compensate for schedule delays. Here’s a link to the N bus route map.
Pope visit and commuter rail
Do you expect the pope’s visit to impact VRE and MARC for commuters? Will rail traffic in and out of Union Station be slowed due to volume or security?
DG: Both MARC and VRE plan to run their regular weekday schedules during the pope’s visit. Trains may be more crowded than normal. I don’t expect any special difficulty for travelers at Union Station, other than the extra visitors for papal events. See also the Amtrak plan.
More about Pope Francis’s visit :
Traffic backups of nearly 2 hours possible