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Visitors will walk far to MLK, as they do to most memorials

On August 28th, an estimated 400,000 people will attend the dedication of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. They will experience what thousands of visitors find every day: it's hard to get to the memorials.

Photo by jpatrickmadden on Instagram.

The nearest Metro stop is Smithsonian, 0.8 miles away. In a special guide for those heading to the dedication, Metro wisely suggests not using this one, which will be mobbed. It's entirely possible that overcrowding will force the Smithsonian stop to close periodically.

Instead, Metro recommends walking from Farragut West and North, L'Enfant Plaza, Federal Triangle, McPherson Square, or Arlington Cemetery. (They discourage using Foggy Bottom due to ongoing escalator repair.) An extra ten minutes of walking may be faster and will certainly be less aggravating than coping with the crowds transferring to the Orange and Blue lines.

Dr. Gridlock tried the walk from Arlington Cemetery, and found it an inspirational one, with the walk over Memorial Bridge giving great views of the Lincoln Memorial. The trickiest parts are around Memorial Circle, where unsafe crosswalks and the Park Police's response make pedestrian crossings difficult.

WMATA also strongly recommends purchasing fare cards prior to the trip. Quite commonly at major events, people waiting to purchase cards for the return trip cause backups at Metro stations.

What about biking? Certainly the crowds around the Memorial itself make biking an inconsiderate choice in close proximity to the ceremony, but bike parking and/or a bike valet a short distance away would allow people to bike to the event and reduce Metro congestion. Unfortunately, there appears to be no bike parking at the memorial at all.

According to Shane Farthing of Washington Area Bicyclist Association, "WABA always looks forward to providing bike valets that allow bicyclists to more easily access major events. In this case, unfortunately, we were not contacted by the organizers, and generally we do not seek to provide valets without the support of the event organizers."

That's not terribly surprising, as the MLK, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation website makes no mention of biking whatsoever. It appears as if biking was not even considered as an transportation option. In contrast, the a shuttle bus for drivers is provided from the parking lots at RFK stadium.

No bikes will be allowed on the Metrorail system on the 28th (even for reverse direction trips far from the memorial), due to the expected large crowds. Cyclists can still use the bike racks located on the front of Metrobuses, however.

In the end, despite all of the advice, people will surely stream from the Smithsonian Metro in droves. If past events are any guide, the shared endeavor of making the hike together will simply heighten the experience, as people from around the country share a common sense of excitement to commemorate the man who marched on Washington on that very day 48 years ago.

But when the newness fades, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial becomes just one of many, we will have a new crop of visitors who discover that many of the memorials just aren't that easy to get to.

A standard walk around the Mall traverses 3.5 miles, from the Smithsonian Metro, taking in all the memorials, and ending at the Foggy Bottom Metro. National attention is focused on the obesity epidemic, and we've all seen visitors having a hard time on the Mall. Large numbers of our fellow Americans are disabled for any number of reasons, elderly visitors may be past their prime walking years, and small children just aren't ready to walk that far yet. There is not, nor should there be, a physical fitness requirement to exploring our common cultural heritage.

But what are the other options?

One could drive, of course. Many of us do. But parking in the area is, at best, chancy, and it's typically only an option for locals who are comfortable with the very confusing road layout. I don't recommend it to visitors, nor is more parking in the area realistic or desirable.

Riding a bike is an increasingly popular option. It does little to help disabled and elderly visitors, but a 3-mile bike ride is far less daunting than a 3-mile hike.

Bike infrastructure on the Mall lags behind the rest of the city. Bike racks are few and far between, and events such as the upcoming dedication show that bike planning is not yet as fully integrated as it could be. Like so many things on the Mall, Congress has a responsibility to properly allocate funds for improvement, but a cultural shift in the Park Service's mentality would go far.

The Park Service should immediately drop their intellectually weak objections to Capital Bikeshare and recognize that participating in the program is a low-cost way to increase access to the Mall for visitors and locals alike.

There's no reason for the Park Service to be perceived as anti-bike. After all, they lead free bike tours of the Mall right now. This is an easy fix and is in keeping with much of the excellent programming the Park Service offers.

Better integrating taxi service, both traditional and pedicabs, would be another relatively low-cost way to improve access. Traditional taxi cabs are generally not at all difficult to hail, but designated taxi pick-up points, discreet signage and perhaps even a cell phone call-in guide on how to use a cab would better marry tired visitors with cab drivers looking to relieve them of their cash. Believe it or not, many of our exurban visitors find the cab system, or cabs in general, daunting.

And, of course, the Park Service has been needlessly antagonistic to pedicabs. In addition to the press reports, including the highly publicized tasing, I've personally witnessed between overwhelmed and aggressive police officers and confused and frustrated pedicab drivers.

Clear, understandable, and transparent regulations will give clarity to everyone, from visitors to drivers to Park Police officers. Most of the attention has focused on individual Park Police actions, but it seems that individual officers are operating with unclear directives from above, lack of consistent standards, and strained staffing issues.

Finally, the memorials lack anything approaching a true mass transit system, thanks to an exclusive Tourmobile contract which prohibited Circulator service for years. Fortunately, NPS director Jon Jarvis has made it clear that change is coming to transit on the Mall.

When you take your first stroll to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, whether for the dedication or just on any other day, take a minute to chat with a visitor from out of town. All Americans deserve better access to this new memorial, and we should encourage those visitors to call their elected representatives and demand it. We may just have a chance to dramatically improve everyone's ability to enjoy our nation's monuments.

Tim Krepp is an author and tour guide, living and specializing in Washington, DC, but working throughout the east coast. A resident of the more fashionable east side of Capitol Hill, Tim has lived in Washington, DC since graduating from George Washington University a few decades ago.  


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A world class city like DC should be ashamed of the terrible transit service and connections on the Mall.

Along with bikeshare and better cab service points as you mention, an every 10 minutes bus (hmm, like a Circulator) that makes a loop along the length of the mall connecting all the memorials should be an automatic given. It's hard to understand how or why we make it so difficult to traverse such an important area that should be our proudest site in the country, with top notch transit circulation and ease of access.

by Steve D on Aug 23, 2011 11:13 am • linkreport

@ Steve D: It's hard to understand how or why we make it so difficult

No it's not. It's called Congress, it's dysfunctional and it's on the east end of the Mall.

by Jasper on Aug 23, 2011 11:19 am • linkreport

This is the message I got from the Mayor's office about visiting the memorial today:
· Tickets are not required on DC RESIDENTS’ DAY.
· No parking in the area or stopping or drop- offs on Independence Avenue.
· Drop-off point for all vehicle, including taxicabs, is the north side of 23rd Street.
· Drop-off point for all vehicle, including taxicabs, carrying seniors and people with limited mobility is Daniel French Drive at Independence Avenue.
· Take public transportation.
· No bicycles.
· Wear comfortable, flat shoes and comfortable clothing.
· Be prepared to stand in line.
· Respect the Memorial:
o Keep the site clean, leave no trash or debris.
o Do not pick flowers or stones.
o No animals.
· Seniors and persons with limited mobility may consider visiting the site between 10am and 3pm on DC RESIDENTS’ DAY or visit on the soft opening Monday, August 22nd, when we expect the site to be less congested.

by andrew on Aug 23, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

A world class city like DC should be ashamed of the terrible transit service and connections on the Mall.

Wrong! Our National Mall and Monuments must be a pristine, beautiful garden, untouched and unscathed by people or activity! That we even allow people to sully the unspoilt beauty of the area should be considered a grand privilege-- the idea of incorporating such vulgar amenities like transit, or -- even worse -- commercial activity upon such a sanctified place would be considered an insult!

by JustMe on Aug 23, 2011 11:46 am • linkreport

That message from the mayor's office makes me want to ride my bike down there AND pick flowers and stones!

I didn't know that the ugly tour-mobiles have such a binding contract. This is dreaming WAY too big, but a great solution would be a circular streetcar track that runs the length of the Mall from the Capitol to the Lincoln!

by MJ on Aug 23, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

@ Steve D. You can blame Tourmobile corporation and NPS for making it so difficult to implement a market-rate circulator around the Mall. DC Circulator had to cancel the Smithsonian-Mall route because of low ridership, for, among other reasons, that NPS did not promote it for tourists and banned it from interior drives that would have allowed it to access the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.

individual officers are operating with unclear directives from above, lack of consistent standards, and strained staffing issues.

This bears repeating ...

by Scoot on Aug 23, 2011 11:59 am • linkreport

A stop on the Yellow Line by the Jefferson Memorial would be awesome, with access to FDR and MLK (which would still require a walk to the opposite side of the Tidal basin). It would also provide good access to the SW waterfront, which, God willing, will someday be worth visiting.

by Michael on Aug 23, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

Re potential streetcar or rail transit, I think a frequent and well planned bus service would be wholly sufficient. (As far as transit goes — obviously, there's other modes as well.)

Demand ebbs and flows through times of day and times of year on the Mall, and the investment required for any rail transit wouldn't really be worth it, especially considering that it's not going to be used to spur more dense development along the route. What's there is going to remain, and high quality bus service would be flexible and not require tracks, construction, or places to store the rolling stock.

Seriously, with just a bus that traverses Constitution/Independence and Jefferson/Madison every 10 minutes most of the day from the Capitol to Lincoln (or Arlington Cem), you make this situation better tenfold overnight.

by Steve D on Aug 23, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

And speaking of Tourmobile, their current route doesn't seem to go past the Independence Ave entrance to the MLK, so even if you buy a $32 ticket, you have to go to FDR or Wash Mon or Lincoln Mem. Check out their horrible route map at (The Wash Mon's icon is a pyramid!)

by Michael on Aug 23, 2011 12:09 pm • linkreport

A bus loop or (loops) on 10-min headways would be perfect.

by spookiness on Aug 23, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

Your points on biking are well taken.

Relative to the metro, a way of leveraging existing infrastructure would be a fill-in station on the yellow/green line in East Potomac Park (near the Jefferson Memorial) -- this would serve the MLK Memorial pretty well too.

And dreaming big -- I like the idea of a street-car line that circles the mall, that would be great. And when the next metro line goes in, assuming it's remotely convenient, there needs to be a stop on the new line north of the Lincoln Memorial, just off the mall. That would get major, major business for people going to see that memorial, which is a huge draw and very poorly served by existing Metro stations.

by enplaned on Aug 23, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

MJ...not sure how it would work but a streetcar there would be absolutely DREAMMMY!

by HogWash on Aug 23, 2011 12:14 pm • linkreport

If the Inlet and Outlet Bridges on the Tidal Basin didn't have the waterways fenced off, and if there were a public dock on the Tidal Basin, people could paddle kayaks from Georgetown or wherever to arrive!

by Michael on Aug 23, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

I like walking to the Mall and walking through all the monuments. Sure, the FDR and Jefferson (and now MLK) are a bit off the beaten path, but I find it a nice walk, helps me reflect and meditate a bit as I head over.

I've taken many a DC visitor on the path and they've all enjoyed the walk as part of the experience.

How's that for glass half full thinking on this lovely August day in DC? : )

by LuvDusty on Aug 23, 2011 12:32 pm • linkreport

Maybe this is wrong of me, but I'm half hoping that Irene washes out the ceremony and its lack of transportation options...

by Froggie on Aug 23, 2011 12:59 pm • linkreport

So you're an entitled jerk if you choose to drive to work rather than walk 1 mile to/from your house everyday to metro to use transit. And in this scenario transit is likely getting you to your destination more slowly...

But the fact that people have to walk 0.8 miles from metro to a monument one day a year is some sort of terrible cross to bear...

by Jason on Aug 23, 2011 1:02 pm • linkreport

@Froggie Maybe this is wrong of me, but I'm half hoping that Irene washes out the ceremony and its lack of transportation options

Well that depends on the importance you place onto the event itself. For some, it would be a huuuuge disappointment. To those indifferent, it would likely be a wash.

by HogWash on Aug 23, 2011 1:36 pm • linkreport

The MLK memorial is good in concept but not in design. Indeed, if there were a Metro stop near it, they should call is Mayakovskaya, sinnce the MLK statue harkens back to pre-WWII Stalinist era public art.

by Bob on Aug 23, 2011 3:10 pm • linkreport

I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would visit to see that disaster of a sculpture.

by Phil on Aug 23, 2011 11:35 pm • linkreport

@Michael: some very good suggestions. WOw, an infill station on the yellow line for West Potomac Park. That's intriguing, although the problem is that the current line runs straight south and *east* of the 14th St. Bridge onto its own train bridge, so you can't just build a platform and stop the train, unless you want another (and unneeded) waterfront station.

@Jason: The frequency of car commutes to work are high on a per-person basis, but the total number of trips (and the elasticity of mode-choice behavior) for visitors is probably higher for the Mall and monuments.

by Ward 1 Guy on Aug 24, 2011 8:49 am • linkreport

I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would visit to see that disaster of a sculpture.

I can't say I love most post modern/contemporary sculptures of people. The Arthur Ashe sculpture on Monument Ave in Richmond is hideous as well. Not a follower of trends in contemporary sculpture, but I don't like the non-classical lines and I think they clash with the other sculptures of Lincoln, Jefferson and George Mason along the route...just to name a few.

That being said, nobody can argue the importance of MLK and that his memorial, at least in my view, is well deserved and a long time coming--I do wish the sculpture was a bit less "contemporary" and more classic though.

But maybe 50 years from now, nobody will even think about it.

by LuvDusty on Aug 24, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport

When folks get off the Metro at the Smithsonian Independence Avenue exit, their natural thought is to stay on the south side of Independence Avenue to walk to the memorial. After 15th street they find themselves on a dirt path and then soon they are trying to cross a spur of Independence without a crosswalk. Very dangerous!!

Their return trip is equally challenging, especially if you arrive via another route and don't know the perils awaiting you. When exiting the MLK memorial it would seem that walking on the south side of Independence would get you to the Metro stop at 12th and Independence. Again they are crossing without lights and crosswalks.

Is this really the best we can do?

by tour guide on Aug 26, 2011 6:57 am • linkreport

The design of the MLK memorial and sculpture is not at all bad and the setting beautiful. What is disgusting is that the King Family and the Foundation turned an indifferent eye to the fact it was made through 'Chinese slave labor'...hardly the freedom Dr. King spoke about with such eloquence. The hypocrisy is beyond incredible.

by Pelham1861 on Aug 26, 2011 11:40 am • linkreport

I drew my potential Yellow Line Jefferson Metro station here:

'Twould be awesome to convert the NPS building by Ohio Dr into a restaurant! In fact, give that tract of land to some new entity that can develop and manage it to make it useful to tourists.

by Michael on Aug 26, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

I drew my potential Yellow Line Jefferson Metro station here:

Great idea!
How do we get it done?

by ceefer66 on Aug 26, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

NPS put together a transportation plan for the mall about 8 years ago. At it I suggested a yellow line station right where you've proposed it. The answer was somewhere between "Are you kidding me?" and "Absolutely not."

It's still a good idea.

by David C on Aug 26, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

A yellow line metro stop that served West Potomac Park and the monuments would be great. In my mind, it's called "Tidal Basin/Monuments"


by failures art on Aug 28, 2011 3:45 am • linkreport

I've rehabbed a recent knee ,CAN walk a mile, & want to visit the MLK Memorial while I'm here from FL--- but I'm intimidated by your description of the difficulty accessing it. I think i'll risk a go at it anyhow.

by Ejay on Sep 11, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

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