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How one little black Fiat stopped D.C.’s transportation woes — at least for a couple days

The pope riding in a black Fiat 500 as he arrived at Andrews Air Force base. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)
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Updated at 12:51 p.m.

As Pope Francis wrapped up his visit to Washington (he’s here for another three hours roughly), it seems his one, small black Fiat essentially eased the region’s daily notorious traffic and even alleviated Metro woes.

On Thursday, there were relatively few problems on Metro — except for slower trains on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines because of speed restrictions that had nothing to do with the pope. And there was no major incident on any main artery in the area.

Many transportation experts attributed the lack of incidents and crisis in transportation to federal government workers being allowed to telecommute during the papal visit.

In the days and weeks before the pope arrived, it had been billed as a potential traffic nightmare, and transportation experts had warned that it could take up to two hours to get around the area.

“The entire region was prepared for the worst,” said Taran Hutchinson, a spokesman for MATOC – the Metropolitan Area Transportation Operations Coordination. “You set yourself up for what might be the most stressful set of days in transportation.”

But it turned out to be relatively okay.

“We all just stayed home and teleworked,” Hutchinson said. The result? The region, he said, “did pretty well” in having no transportation crisis during the pope’s three days in the D.C. area.

Some attributed the lack of traffic problems to papal powers found in the Fiat Pope Francis was seen cruising in around town.

[Who needs a limo? Pope Franics opts for more modest Fiat]

On Twitter, he and his car got a Twitter handle — @PapalFiat. The car got plenty of attention and chuckles as it was surrounded by big, black SUVS in the pope’s security entourage. And the car become recognized around town – even at the hip spots.

Save for some minor hiccups with large crowds coming into the Brookland Metro station on the Red Line as people attended a Mass the pope conducted at Catholic University — it was a non-transportation event. Some Metro riders remarked on social media how they actually could get seats at rush hour on normally packed trains.

[An illustrated 215-year history of the popemobile]

But fingers crossed, he’s still in town for another few hours before heading to New York and Philadelphia where it could be another story for those locals.

And then Washington, will be back to its usual traffic — and Metro — headaches come Friday daybreak.

For transportation officials, it is on to the next big event.

Hutchinson said Thursday afternoon, “Now we gotta get ready for snow.”

Updated at 8:48 a.m.

Thursday morning’s commute in and around Washington seemed quiet, easy and light on Thursday morning. And perhaps the biggest surprise was that even Metro wasn’t too bad.

These are descriptions not often associated with a weekday-morning commute in the D.C. area, which consistently ranks as having some of the worst traffic in the country.

One of the region’s umbrella transportation groups for several area highway administrations, the Metropolitan Area Transportation Operations Coordination Program, put out a map that compares traffic in the D.C. area Wednesday to the past three Wednesdays. Bottom line: It wasn’t as bad.

On major roadways, commuters tweeted photos showing nearly traffic-free rides. It helped that thousands of federal workers have been telecommuting during Pope Francis’s visit.

And even on the troubled Metro system, there were reports of trains running pretty much on time and few crowds. Still, there are speed restrictions in place on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines after an issue earlier in the week at the Stadium-Armory stop that caused trains to run slower on parts of those lines.

Original post at 6:30 a.m.

Washington motorists are facing another day of road closures for the visit of Pope Francis.

Almost all of the roads around the U.S. Capitol are closed Thursday morning as he is expected to address Congress around 9:20 a.m. Most of them are expected to reopen around noon. The pope’s move from the Vatican Embassy residence in upper Northwest to the Capitol — a roughly five-mile ride — is likely to result in rolling road closures, transportation officials warn.

[How to get around during Pope Francis’s visit]

Metro trains were running relatively on schedule on Thursday morning. On the Silver Line, trains ran between Wiehle-Reston and Eastern Market stops only to “reduce congestion/delays at Stadium-Armory, according to the transit agency.

In the early morning hours on Metro, it was sparse.

Around 6 a.m. at the Cleveland Park stop on the Red Line, about 20 people were on a rail car, headed southbound. That’s far fewer than normal even at the early hour. Things were quieter than usual at Metro Center and Gallery Place stops — which are normally buzzing in the morning.

On the commuter rail line in Northern Virginia — the VRE — officials said some of its trains on its Manassas and Fredericksburg lines may experience delays Thursday morning because of “precautionary security sweeps along the tracks north of Crystal City.”

Around 8:20 a.m., VRE authorities said the Fredericksburg platform was closed because authorities were investigating a suspicious package.

In the District, the pope’s visit will impact traffic in the city throughout the day.

After speaking to Congress around 9:20 a.m., the pope is expected to visit St. Patrick in the City and there will be road closures in that area of G and 10th streets NW. Transportation and security authorities have warned that traffic gridlock and other road closures could pop up throughout the day unexpectedly related to the papal visit.

They’ve warned that commuters and visitors should be prepared for bus and Metro rail delays and drivers should plan on having a tough time finding a parking spot.

[Pope Francis in Ameria]

The pope leaves Washington around 4 p.m. for New York and then Philadelphia.

The road closures in the D.C. area made for an easy drive for some commuters.

On Wednesday, many locals in Washington were surprised that traffic on the roads wasn’t too bad on the pope’s busy day in the area. It helped that federal workers telecommuted for the day, making it a relatively easy commute as the pope spoke at the White House and held other events.

[Washington residents heed warnings and stay off the roads, easing commute]