Monday, December 29, 2008

THE OBAMATHON GUIDE.™ Part 2: Crush Hour

To staunch West Coasters like myself, "in and out" has always meant either tasty burgers or innuendo. But in Washington DC on January 20, getting in and out of the inauguration zone will be an epic battle, and in some cases, a matter of life and death. No, seriously! If a Wal-Mart rush can kill someone, imagine what might happen during what promises to be the most crowded inauguration ever. So, with the utmost care, dignity, respect for the human condition, and other feelings not normally felt outside of a beauty pageant, Obamathon presents Part 2 of his guide to the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama: Crush Hour - getting in and out of the inauguration... alive!

Getting to the DC Area
As you may know, airlines have added flights for the inauguration. However, getting a flight into Washington's Reagan or Dulles airports will cost an arm and a leg, and that's only if you get a good deal. A quick search Travelocity reveals that you may be able to squeeze a cheaper fare, but only if you're willing to endure a six hour layover in Atlanta. If you do end up flying to DC, you can take the 5A express bus from Dulles, or the Metro Blue and Yellow Lines from Reagan to get within the District on the cheap. Flying into BWI may be a cheaper way to go, and the airport is directly served by Maryland's MARC trains. If you can't get a good deal at either of these airports, better try Philadelphia, Richmond, or Newport News, VA; they'll be less crowded but you'll need to find ground transportation to DC from there.

For those of you based on the eastern seaboard, you may want to consider riding straight to DC on Amtrak. Increased train service has been announced for inauguration day, and with tickets for sale at regular fares, traveling into DC on Jan 20 could save you a small fortune in hotel fees. If you live north of DC you can take either the Northeast Regional (aka the little engine that could), or the Acela, which is slightly faster and twice as expensive. If you live in Richmond or Newport News, you're stuck with the regional. Amtrak does offer direct train service to DC from some cities in Illinois, Indiana, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Florida, and while this will take you into the center of town, Amtrak's long distance trains are notoriously slow.

For those of you driving in beforehand, check with your hotel or place of lodging to make sure parking isn't an issue. You may want to check to see if they plan to charge extra for parking on inauguration day. Another option is to leave your car near a suburban Metro or MARC station, however since neither of these offer overnight parking in their official parking lots, you'll need to find street parking in an area that doesn't have street sweeping.

And for those with no other option, there are buses. Lavish bus tours are being offered from various Eastern and Midwestern cities, but for those of you without the extra dough, there are also lowbrow intercity buses. Buses are a bit more reliable than trains, but they are subject to freeway traffic and usually stop further from the center of town than trains. Plus, it's virtually impossible to leave the bus without someone at the terminal asking for money.

Getting to the Mall

The fun begins! First off, central DC is difficult to park in on a normal day, so you can pretty much scratch that out. If you're riding in on a charter bus or on a train, you will be dropped off within walking distance of the mall, though you may have to push and shove a bit on the way. For those staying outside the city, both MARC and the Virginia Rail Express are offering trains from as far away as Frederick, Fredericksburg, Perryville, and Manassas (love that name), but you will need to book tickets in advance. For the lucky ducks who have found a place to stay within walking distance of the mall, good for you, but with all other means of transportation completely jammed, "walking distance" may become a bit longer than it normally is. Here's a list of walking distances to the mall from various DC hoods, or you can run a pedometer search of your route.

Bikes, a perennial favorite with Obamathon Man, appear to be a good way to get into the inauguration, especially with the newly announced bike valet. However, for out-of-towners, obtaining a bike may be difficult. SmartBike DC is an innovative bike rental program in the DC area which offers dozens of bikes for rent at several locations throughout DC, but you need to pay the $40 annual subscription fee to have access to them. Other bike rental services don't generally rent bikes in the winter, but you can contact them yourself if you're feeling lucky. Here's a list.

For most of us, including Obamathon Man, the Metro will be the way to go. As you may know, trains will be operating on a rush-hour schedule (at rush-hour prices) from 4AM to 9PM on the 20th, and continue regular service until 2 the next morning. Station parking will cost $4 (cash only), check to see if there is parking available at your station. Metro's capacity is 120,000 people per hour, about 6% of the projected crowd for the inauguration, so needless to say, trains will be packed. Near the mall, two stations will be closed: Archives/Navy Memorial and Smithsonian. The DC Metro charges different fares depending on where you board and where you exit, with longer trips costing up to $4.00 one way. Check here for pricing by clicking on the station you're departing from. An alternative to this is to buy a day pass, which for inauguration day has been raised to $10. You can also buy passes in advance to avoid lines at the ticket machines.

If you hate crowds, it may be best for you to get off at a more distant station, such as Farragut North, Farragut West, or Eastern Market, however this will give you a longer walk and you might have more difficulty finding a good spot to view the proceedings. If you're driving in, park at the most distant stations, like Shady Grove, Vienna/Fairfax, or Franconia/Springfield, so you can secure a spot on the train. If you need to board at a closer station, don't stand too close to the tracks while waiting for trains - it probably won't save you time, and it could result in falling on the tracks (especially with large crowds), which could result in getting hit by a train, which definitely will result in pain and inability to attend the inauguration.

Once on board, keep all your possessions close by and always hold on to handrails. Know which station you're getting off at so you can know which side of the train you'll need to exit on, and start moving toward the exit well in advance. On the way home, consider boarding the train at a station in the opposite direction of your destination (for example, if you're riding to New Carlton, get on at Foggy Bottom instead of Farragut West). Trains will be less crowded and it will be easier to board. If you plan on carrying anything with you, leave as early as possible. For more tips on surviving crowded subways, check out this helpful link.

Getting to and from the center of things will certainly be challenging, but with a little advance preparation it wont be too difficult - though it may be a bit uncomfortable. But hey, no one ever said being a part of history would be comfortable. See you there.

Introduction (history, crowd density)
Part 1: Is It Safe? (safety, prohibited items, law enforcement, crime)
Part 2: Crush Hour
Part 3: When Nature Calls (restrooms, sanitation)
Part 4: Phone Frenzy (Cell phones, texting, finding lost friends)
Part 5: Food for Thought (Food, sack lunches, vendors, restaurants)


  1. Obamathon Man: Thanks for the excellent rundown on the Big Day. How are you planning to get to the show?

  2. Thanks, buddy. Since I can't get my hands on a bike in the DC area, I'll probably be riding the metro in on a $10 pass. Too bad, it would be cool to try the bike valets. Good luck to you on the 20th.

  3. Call me skeptical, but you've pointed out that Metro is only capable of moving 6% of the expected crowds.
    I'd have to agree that it's one of the BEST ways to get into the city, but do you have a backup plan?
    I hear VRE has some tickets available...