[This post has been updated.]
Getting around central Washington on inauguration Friday will be difficult, but those challenges are pretty well known. What’s confusing people is the local travel plan for pre-inauguration events Thursday and the Women’s March on Saturday.
I say this after answering dozens of questions over the weekend from regular commuters and visitors. Today I’d like to collect all those one-at-a-time answers into some mass communicating, and discuss the travel concerns that come up most frequently.
Can I commute Thursday?
There was legitimate confusion about how to interpret the official list of parking restrictions and street closings published Jan. 6. Given that officials begin preparing for inaugurations many months in advance, this plan was not very well explained when first made public.
Law enforcement and Homeland Security officials have offered some clarifications. There are no street closings planned for Wednesday as part of the inaugural events. Parking restrictions for the inner security zone, the Red Zone, are set to begin at noon Wednesday. A special set of parking restrictions will be imposed at 10 p.m. Wednesday around the Lincoln Memorial for a pre-inauguration event Thursday.
Now, about Thursday. The street closings that will block off the red zone perimeter to vehicles will not take effect all at once, but drivers still should think twice about commuting into central Washington. I think regular commuter traffic will be down throughout the week and especially Thursday, as some offices close and some employees choose — wisely — to telecommute. My concern is more for the confusion among drivers as they begin to encounter street closings at different times in different parts of the downtown and Mall areas. The situation that prevails when you drive to work may be different when you leave. Inside the Red Zone, you might get into your parking garage in the morning and then find there’s a concrete barrier across the entrance when you try to leave.
The street closings that will create the Red Zone perimeter are set to begin at 3 a.m. near the Capitol building and expand outward through the day. This is the official description of Thursday’s red zone roll out: At 3 a.m., temporary street closures will begin for the inner vehicle restricted zone (Red Zone) and continue throughout the day. Pennsylvania Avenue NW will not be available for east-west traffic for the majority of the day, but traffic will be allowed to cross Pennsylvania Avenue for as long as possible, provided work related to the inaugural events is not being conducted in the area.
That’s complicated enough, but there’s plenty more for specific area and specific events. At 5 a.m. Thursday, street closings are to begin around the Lincoln Memorial and remain in effect till 7 p.m. At 10 a.m., Constitution Avenue between 23rd and 17th Streets will close to all traffic and will remain closed until about 7 p.m. At 2 p.m., street closings will begin around Union Station and remain in effect until about 11 p.m. At 5 p.m., the remaining street closings around the Capitol building begin. No later than 3 a.m. Friday, the Red Zone is blocked to vehicles. The Red Zone restrictions remain in effect till 6 p.m. Friday.
What’s the Green Zone?
The Green Zone is an outer perimeter surrounding the Red Zone. Officials describe the Red Zone as the “hard” barrier, completely blocking unauthorized vehicles. The Green Zone, they say, is a “soft barrier” meant to provide a buffer. Drivers who live or work inside the Green Zone area will be allowed in, but they may need to show identification to police or National Guard members to get through the Green Zone barrier. This doesn’t need to be an ID provided by the person’s workplace. For example, a driver’s license would qualify. Police said limo and van services won’t have access to the Green Zone on Friday.
Parking restrictions for the Green Zone are set to take effect at 7 a.m. Thursday. The limitations on traffic within the Green Zone take effect at 7 a.m. Friday. Bike riding will be banned inside the Red Zone when the other vehicle restrictions are in effect. Bike riding is not banned in the Green Zone buffer area.
Friday’s drivers may encounter traffic congestion in the blocks approaching the Green Zone. But traffic should thin out considerably beyond that perimeter. Inauguration Day is a holiday for many D.C. and federal workers, and D.C. area schools will be closed.
Can I get to Union Station?
Union Station’s train and Metrorail services are scheduled to be open throughout the week. Getting to and from the station via surface transportation is likely to be difficult. Street closings for a pre-inauguration event are scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Thursday and continue until about 11 p.m. The street closings include Massachusetts Avenue NE and the Columbus Circle plaza in front of the station. The parking garage will be accessible from H Street NE (the Hopscotch Bridge), but there may be some temporary closings on H Street between noon and 11 p.m. Pedestrians may need to enter and exit the station on the west side, the First Street NE side.
The D.C. Circulator bus system will not operate either of its two routes serving Union Station on Inauguration Day.
Union Station is an essential travel hub for long-distance and local travelers during inauguration week, but it’s going to be a very busy place, with people going to and from the inauguration events and the Women’s March on Saturday. Give yourself plenty of extra time from Thursday through the weekend, even if you’re connected with the station via Metrorail.
Can I get to Reagan National Airport?
There are no road closings scheduled near the airport on any day this week. But travelers still should anticipate congestion on the roads around the airport and in the terminal. Same advice for the airport as for Union Station: Give yourself plenty of extra time this week.
Can I get to the Women’s March?
[On Wednesday, Metro announced it would provide extra service on Saturday to accommodate the rally and march. See new details about the Saturday service. The original posting continues below.]
I saved this one for last only because the event is the last chronologically. Many people wrote in to express concern and confusion about what’s likely to be a big event with some unknown elements. There’s still time for more transportation planning to fall into place, but at this point, I’m worried that travelers will encounter some of the same problems they experienced before and after the Stephen Colbert/Jon Stewart rally on the Mall in 2010. That overwhelmed the Metrorail system.
For Saturday’s rally and march, Metro says it plans regular Saturday service, which would be inadequate for a crowd of 100,000 people or more on the south side of the Capitol. The nearest Metrorail stations, L’Enfant Plaza and Federal Center SW, would be jammed in the morning. The street scene wouldn’t be much better. You can see on the map above the designated location for the rally stage at Independence Avenue and Third Street SW. That’s a pretty tight space for a rally, with music and speakers, that’s scheduled to go from about 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Hundreds of charter buses are scheduled to park at RFK Stadium. So those visitors would approach the rally point from Stadium-Armory station via the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. (All Metrorail stations are scheduled to be open for the weekend and no track work is planned.)
I’ve heard from some people who are planning to walk from stations on the north side of the Mall, and I like that idea because of the crowding I anticipate at the south side stations. (The Red Zone barriers should be gone.) Even better: I heard from a group planning to walk in from Arlington County.
The march is supposed to begin after the rally wraps up. According to law enforcement officials, the marchers will go west on Independence Avenue, make a right on 14th Street NW, cross the Mall and then make a left on Constitution Avenue NW to the dispersal point near the Washington Monument and the Ellipse.
I don’t think the afternoon dispersal area will be as difficult a scene as the morning’s rally point. But participants still should expect crowding at the nearby Metrorail stations, which include Federal Triangle, Smithsonian, Metro Center and Farragut West. Be sure to have a map that shows Metrorail stations. That’s partly because the dispersal area will be far from the rally point. But also, people may find they don’t want to wait to enter the first Metro station they come to.
If you consider walking from the dispersal area back east to the charter buses at RFK Stadium, know that the walk is about three and a half miles. It’s pretty flat, except for the part where you would walk up Capitol Hill. You might plan a route that involves a walk part way and then a Metrorail ride from a station farther from the march’s end.
We’ll have a lot more on the blog about all these travel issues. Watch for updates and evolving plans.