On Thursday and Friday, the security zone for the Nuclear Security Summit is going to punch a hole in the middle of the D.C. travel network. And if the experience is similar to the previous D.C. summit in April 2010, commuting will be difficult for many but not a nightmare.
Much of the “if” in that sentence is about how you commuters will behave.
Lately, commuters have done well in handling disruptive events such as the papal visit in September, the winter storms and the one-day Metrorail shutdown. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that we in the media issue warnings about how awful travel could be and a lot of people get the message. They change their commuting behavior in a variety of ways, but the behavior modification that consistently has the most impact is that they stay away from their offices, either telecommuting or taking the days off.
That was our observation on the Monday and Tuesday of the summit in 2010. This is what I wrote during a morning spent looking for trouble: “Getting around downtown Washington on Monday morning was almost blissful. There were a few trouble spots, but travel conditions were a lot better than normal for most drivers, walkers and transit riders. It’s unlikely this afternoon’s rush period will be much worse, since it appears many people didn’t come in.”
It was that experience I had in mind when I read this question submitted for my online chat Monday: “For federal employees who ride the Metro to offices not in the area of the Nuclear Security Summit, is there any practical transportation reason to telework this Thursday and Friday?”
You look at the map at the top of this posting and you see the street closings and you know that the main impact on Metrorail is that trains won’t stop at Mount Vernon Square. So you think, “Well, that’s not me.” And on one level, you’re right. There won’t be a physical barrier to your individual travel pattern.
But the reason so few commutes went bad during the 2010 summit was that so many commuters decided to stay away from the employment centers in the District. Because the overall volume was reduced, the effects of the street closings and parking restrictions didn’t ripple out to stall traffic on the main commuter routes and bridges. Because overall travel was down, commuters who chose to switch from driving to Metrorail for the summit days found no crowding problems on the station platforms.
So even if you’re not in the immediate area of a disruption, a decision to work from home or take a long weekend will benefit the many who have no choice but to come in on Thursday and Friday. Otherwise, we won’t repeat the 2010 experience. That’s why the federal Office of Personnel Management is encouraging employees to telework or use other options that will keep them out of peak commute times.
And by the way, the District was not a ghost town on those April 2010 days, and it won’t be this week either. The tourists are here for the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Nationals play the first of two preseason games at Nationals Park on Friday night and the circus is at Verizon Center.
One of the traffic effects you can’t see on a street-closings map is the unpredictable impact of motorcades shuttling the big shots to and from the summit at the Washington Convention Center and other meeting places. In fact, during the 2010 summit, that was the most noteworthy cause of downtown traffic delays.
Other transit tips
I noticed some confusion about the closing of Metro’s Mount Vernon Square station. While the station will be closed, the trains that normally go through still will be going through. They just won’t stop there. If you use Mount Vernon Square on regular days, you will want to adjust your plans so you use either Gallery Place or Shaw during the summit.
But the biggest impact is on the Metrobus side. From 7 p.m. Wednesday through noon Saturday, these routes will encounter delays and detours: 42, 63, 64, 70, 74, 79, 80, D4, D6, G8, P17, P19, S2, S4, X2. You can see, for example that riders who board buses at Silver Spring for trips along 16th Street NW or Georgia Avenue NW are going to be affected by street closings and traffic well to the south in the blocks around Mount Vernon Square. See more bus details on this Metro page.