Pope Francis arrives in town Tuesday afternoon. Here’s what it means for your commute: two days of transit disruptions, extensive road closures, traffic backups of up to two hours, crowds and delays.
AAA Mid-Atlantic says it could be “apope-calyptic,” and commuters traveling within the boundaries of the papal visit — which pretty much covers downtown, and parts of upper NW and NE in the District– might be better off leaving their cars home, taking transit, or even walking.
“Travelers coming to papal events, as well as those who live and work in the surrounding areas, must plan, prepare and be patient during the papal visit,” said John B. Townsend II, of AAA Mid-Atlantic. “This is not the time to ‘just wing it.’ It is a time to plan ahead and prepare accordingly, similar to planning ahead of a snow storm.”
If you haven’t planned your mid-week commute, we’ve got you covered.
IF YOU INSIST ON DRIVING
Many roads will be closed, starting early Tuesday before the pontiff arrives at Joint Base Andrews from Cuba, until Thursday, when he departs for New York. You must add extra time to make it to your destination, and you should anticipate congestion and detours. Street parking will be even more scarce than normal, due to the many parking restrictions that will be in place. Garage parking will be in high demand from visitors.
The papal effect on your commute will likely start Tuesday afternoon, with the pope’s arrival at Joint Base Andrews. The Secret Service is not saying how the pope will be transported from Andrews to his temporary home at the Vatican Embassy, but if he’s driven into the city, this could potentially impact evening rush hour traffic on the Suitland Parkway, Interstate 295, Rock Creek Parkway and Massachusetts Avenue. The worst traffic problems are expected Wednesday and Thursday and likely to be downtown and near the Vatican Embassy. (see the full list of road closures and parking restrictions here.)
Downtown closures: Roads around the White House and the National Mall will shut down starting Tuesday night in preparation for the pope’s first appearance at a welcoming ceremony with President Obama, followed by a popemobile parade. Vehicular traffic will be banned from a large perimeter along a stretch of Constitution Avenue, creating traffic congestion downtown and on the freeways into Northern Virginia. D.C. traffic engineers say drivers on Interstate 66, the George Washington Parkway and Interstate 395 could see backups of up to two hours.
The pope’s Thursday morning visit to the U.S. Capitol will close both Constitution and Independence avenues near the Capitol building. Expect delays in and around Capitol Hill and near Union Station.
If you must drive, these maps could help you find some alternate routes:
Near the Vatican Embassy: The northbound lanes of Massachusetts Avenue NW, near the Naval Observatory, will be closed to traffic for the duration of Pope Francis’s visit. These closures will go into effect Tuesday. The southbound lanes will remain open, but there will be rolling closures during the pope’s visit, and remember this is the same general area where the vice president’s motorcade regularly brings traffic to a standstill. This map offers details of the closures and alternate routes:
Papal Mass at the National Shrine: Michigan Avenue and other roads will closed for the late-afternoon outdoor Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington. If you take Michigan Avenue to commute to the District’s core, from communities in upper Northeast or the Maryland suburbs, you might want to adjust your route. See this map for ideas how to get around that perimeter:
Transportation officials say the best way to travel Wednesday and Thursday will be via Metrorail. Other transit services, including Metrobus and commuter buses will be adjusted to avoid downtown and the areas where the Pope will visit. So…
IF YOU TAKE TRANSIT
Metrorail will operate regular rush hour service during the morning and evening commutes, and trains will be added 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. If you park at a Metro parking garage, they are likely to fill up early with visitors taking Metro from outlying stations. Trains and platforms at stations near papal events could get crowded. The same is true of the transfer stations. If you can avoid transferring, do so. Also, some stations’ entrances may be temporarily closed due to security restrictions. (Let’s hope Metro has a better day than Monday!)
Metrobus can also be handy in some areas, but remember that the road closures will impact about 70 bus routes will during the duration of the pope’s visit– and some of those disruptions will start Tuesday. Your best bet is to check Metro advisories to see how your route is changing. Some buses will be detoured around closures, and many routes will be shortened and redirected to Metrorail stations. But, if your travels take you outside of the downtown core, consider a bus ride. Consult the maps above to see where the major road closures are and plan accordingly. See our full coverage of bus disruptions here.
The D.C. Circulator will deploy buses to Northeast Washington where it will provide shuttle service from the Fort Totten and Rhode Island Metro stations to the Basilica event Wednesday, from noon to 9 p.m.. The Mall route will be suspended Wednesday and Thursday and the 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. The MTA is modifying its commuter bus service, canceling several Washington-bound routes and redirecting all others to Metro stations. Details are here and here.
VRE, Northern Virginia’s commuter rail, will operate normal service with the maximum number of cars to accommodate passengers attending the pope’s events.
Transit will be the best way to get to downtown and to the papal events. But you should expect crowds and delays in the system. Wednesday afternoon will be especially busy. Besides the people going to the Mass, many will also be going to the Nationals-Orioles baseball game at Nat Park and an Ed Sheeran concert at Verizon Center. If you are going to the non-papal events try to avoid the east side of the Red Line, and if possible avoid Metrorail transfers and use the Green Line. You also have the option to walk or go on two wheels, so….
IF YOU BIKE OR WALK
Biking is going to be a better choice than driving. But bicyclists should plan their trips, anticipating some impacts. The roads that are closed due to papal events or security reasons are also likely to be closed to bike traffic. Be prepared to detour. But the bike lanes leading to downtown (15th Street, M and L Streets) are expected to remain open. Keep in mind that 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. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association offers some good tips here.
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 will set up bike corrals near three of the public events: the parade, the Mass at the Basilica, and the address to Congress.
Walking. Washington is a walkable city. Consider walking to your destination. Keep in mind that there also will be some restricted areas for pedestrian traffic around the Vatican Embassy, the White House, the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, St. John Paul II Seminary, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, and the U.S. Capitol.
More about the Pope and your commute:
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