Presidential Inauguration

Washington DC, Barack Obama inauguration, Inauguration Day

Getting Around D.C. on Inauguration Day

January 12, 2009
by Emily Coakley
Washington, D.C., residents are used to tourists, but even they are bracing for the massive amounts of people expected to celebrate Barack Obama’s inauguration on January 20. The good news, though, is that officials in the nation’s capital are getting the word out early, and there is plenty of time to plan your Inauguration Day travel strategy with the following Washington, D.C. transportation resources.

“Pack Your Patience”

As the Associated Press points out, hundreds of thousands of people commute into Washington, D.C., on any given weekday. Transportation officials are concerned about adding the thousands, if not millions, of people who will be trying to get to the Inauguration during rush hour, and would like to prepare people for the worst. Traffic on the major bridges into D.C. will be limited, and some of the area’s public transportation options will be running differently that day.

Corinne Geller, spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, offered this advice: “Pack your patience.”

Public Transportation a Must on Inauguration Day

First, a word about driving in or around D.C. on Inauguration Day: don’t. Driving in Washington is difficult on a good day. With the expected road closures, security and thousands of extra people in the city, getting close to the historic event in your car would probably be impossible, and forget about finding a place to park.

If you’re driving to Washington and staying anywhere inside the Capital Beltway, also known as Interstate 495, try to park your car for the duration of the trip. Your hotel or hosts can help you use public transportation to get where you want to go.

Washington has an extensive subway and bus system, known collectively as the Metro, which serves the city and some of the inner suburbs. The Metro’s subway system is simple and easy to navigate. Unlike other large cities, there are only five different lines, which are color coded.

Dr. Gridlock, a Washington Post columnist who writes about all things traffic-related, recommends Metrorail as the “best bet for getting to the inaugural or just getting to work on that busy day.”  On Inauguration Day, the Smithsonian Station, which is on the Mall, will be closed, but there are other stations, such as Capitol South, L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Center SW, that are convenient to the Mall.

Not staying near a Metro station? Don’t worry. Many Metrobuses run routes to Metrorail stations. Use the WMATA’s Trip Planner to find the right bus.

Metro is selling commemorative one-day passes for Inauguration Day. If you’re taking the subway, it may not be the worst idea to buy a Metro card in advance online. Stations typically only have a few machines at each entrance, and lines form fast. To keep on top of Metro’s plans, sign up for Inauguration news alerts.

Using the subway also requires riders to observe certain etiquette rules, especially standing on the right when riding Metro's escalators. Please don't block the escalator by having two people on the same step. The locals rushing down the escalators to the trains will not be happy, and this advice comes from a former D.C. resident. The Post's Monica Hesse has a humorous column with a welcome note and other tips for visitors.
For those who plan to drive to an outlying Metro station and park, be aware that parking will be restricted at a few stations to allow charter buses, as the Washington Post explains.

If you’re staying in an outer suburb of Maryland, beyond Metro’s reach, the Maryland Transit Authority has trains and buses that serve suburbs north and west of the city. The MTA’s MARC trains and some buses will be running that day on special schedules.

South of the city there is the Virginia Railway Express (VRE), which is also running special trains that day.

Neither MARC trains nor VRE will accept normal tickets that day, and special tickets must be purchased instead. Check each site for information on buying tickets online, and be sure to read the “fine print” closely. For example, MARC tickets must be purchased for a specific train, and all children must have a ticket. Don’t wait too long to buy tickets.

However, the commuter buses in Maryland are a different story. Tickets can be bought on board (cash only). Buses are running from park & ride lots to Metro stations; from there, you can take the subway the rest of the way in.

Amtrak will be running extra trains on Inauguration Day, too. As with the other rail services, special tickets are required. D.C.’s Union Station isn’t too far from the Capitol and Mall.

Walking or Bicycling in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., is a reasonably small city, with large sidewalks and a pedestrian-friendly attitude. Depending on where you’re staying, wearing comfortable shoes, dressing warmly and allowing plenty of time to walk may be one of the best ways to avoid Inauguration Day transportation problems.

Some of the inner suburbs, such as Arlington and Alexandria in Virginia, and Maryland’s Bethesda and Silver Spring are pedestrian friendly, too, if you need to walk to the nearest public transportation.

If you’re a bicyclist and can bring or borrow one, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association is offering free bike valet parking on Inauguration Day. Scroll down the page for links to the association’s bike map.

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