Greater Greater Washington

Early inaugural post-mortem: Nice job, Metro!

As yesterday's inauguration smashed all records for cramming people into DC's core, many came away inspired, many frustrated at the disorganized crowd control in many areas. From the anecdotal evidence of my guests and friends and from early press reports, it seems that the inaugural event itself handled the crowds poorly, the bike valet ran smoothly, Union Station failed completely, and Metro, which easily broke its all-time ridership record, handled the day's crushes and crises admirably.


Photo by Michael Foley Photography on Flickr.

Most of all, communication made the difference. According to one friend, leaving the inauguration, crowds at the tops of escalators at one station became too dense. If more people ascended the escalator, they wouldn't be able to step off, creating a dangerous situation. Metro staff stopped riders from exiting, and most importantly, communicated clearly. A woman with a bullhorn stood at the bottom, explaining to people in a folksy way why they couldn't go and assuring them they'd be on their way shortly.

A woman fell on the tracks, but got under the platform safely to avoid an oncoming train. Metro had her off to a hospital to be checked out and trains running again within 45 minutes, partly thanks to Metro's training for just such an eventuality.

Sure, many parking lots filled up, but everyone expected that. Crowds built up at stations and many people had to wait a long time for Metro trains, but crowds filled up every facility (like the Smithsonian). At Union Station, those crowds crippled commuter rail. Friends who rode VRE to the inauguration couldn't make their 5 pm return train because the fire marshal had closed Union Station. Amtrak, MARC and VRE didn't effectively keep the swelling crowd informed about the situation for hours, until they finally conveyed news that the railroads would get everyone home and honor tickets for trains other than the ones riders had originally reserved. Closing the main room for a ball, as Union Station did, seems foolish for a day which needed every piece of transportation infrastructure.

Logistics for the inaugural event itself, in particular, left many disappointed. Those who simply decided to stand near the Washington Monument fared best, since they didn't have to pass through the excruciatingly slow metal detectors. The jumbotrons worked (except for an annoying ten-second video delay), and most of those without tickets who simply went down to the Mall to see what they could see and enjoy the ambiance had a pleasant, though cold, experience.

Many with tickets, on the other hand, never made it into their assigned sections (blue, purple, or silver). Silver and purple filled up entirely, turning people away, mismanaged crowd control, blocking the entrances and depriving many ticket holders of access to their sections. A power failure stopped the X-ray machines in the blue section, keeping many people out. Instead, people in the silver section, unsure if they could cross a low barrier near the Capitol reflecting pool, crossed over into the empty space in the blue and purple sections. People who'd worked hard to get precious tickets found concluded inaugural officials had given out too many because of the flow problems.

Inadequate communication by inaugural crowd control officials, too, created problems. Those volunteers deployed to give directions performed well, but were too few. At one area, visitors unable to get answers started asking a nearby paramedic team, placed in that spot to help anyone in need of medical attention. Not knowing the answers and swarmed with frustrated questioners, they decided to decamp to another location. Signs, which would have helped answer many questions, were scarce.

And some inaugural watchers reacted by becoming unruly. Crowds waiting to get into the overwhelmed blue, purple and silver sections started shoving as the swearing-in approached and people could still not see or hear. Just Up the Pike was trapped in the Waterside Safeway "where already disgruntled people had to wait over two hours to use a bathroom and others quickly resorted to stealing food." Others there pushed and shoved and some even "tried to pick a fight with me after I asked them to quiet down so I could hear Obama's speech," he wrote.

Many buses were diverted and became stuck in traffic, like the 3Y whose passengers staged a little mutiny to get off early. But Metro, DC and federal officials managed to get almost 2 million people to and from the Mall, then around DC for numerous balls, with few injuries and (as far as we know) no fatalities. The bike valet was packed. Millions witnessed this historic occasion. And our Metro system managed to cope with the record throng quite adeptly. Good work!

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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Too much on metro, not enough on buses; the bus system was confusing and difficult to understand (38S or 38B?). Metro didn't charge me for a bus ride when they could have made some revenue.

by charlie on Jan 21, 2009 8:55 am • linkreport

I used the bike valet and it worked great. It was thrilling to ride on car free streets downtown, and very light car traffic in other places.

I was especailly happy to see the National Gurd was not visibly armed - as if they didn't plan to use weapons on us! So often when I've gone down to the mall for some gathering of several thousand people for a variety of events the police have been out in full riot gear - as if they planned to use weapons on us.

by Bianchi on Jan 21, 2009 9:08 am • linkreport

The Metro is the backbone of our regional transportation system. Of course it's going to get the most coverage.

My experience was very smooth. The train on the way down wasn't even as full as it usually is during rush hour. The train on the way home was comparable to rush hour.

I realize that I live on the one line that doesn't have a terminus that is convenient to a highway.

I was also very impressed, from what I saw, with the respect that our guests paid to our city and Metro. There was very little littering or even standing on the left side of the escalator compared to previous events I've been two that attracted visitors.

by Cavan on Jan 21, 2009 9:18 am • linkreport

The total number of metrorail boarding aren’t in yet. When all is said and done the total boarding will likely exceed 1 million.

We will never know the exact number, as the fare gates at numerous stations were thrown open to allowed the crowds of people to enter and exit the system without processing fare media.

by Sand Box John on Jan 21, 2009 9:18 am • linkreport

@Cavan: "I realize that I live on the one line that doesn't have a terminus that is convenient to a highway."

Yellow?

(or the eastern leg of the Red line)

by Froggie on Jan 21, 2009 9:21 am • linkreport

I did the Washington Memorial approach after it worked pretty well for the concert. The Metro wasn't much worse than rush hour commuting when I got on before 9 and left after seeing the Presidential car in the parade a bit after 3.

I had gotten off at Metro Center but should have done Farragut North as it would have made it easier to skirt around the parade route in the morning. I was considering doing it from the Union Station side and going around the Capitol, but sounds like it was better that I didn't.

Threw my pictures up here.

by GregSanders on Jan 21, 2009 9:40 am • linkreport

In his book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," Thomas Friedman writes about the transformative effect that hybrid taxis in New York have as tourists in that city return home and ask why they don't have something similar in their own city. Perhaps something similar will happen with transit, as many of the tourists from outside the region return favorably impressed with our metro system, they will become more favorable to transit initiatives in their respective cities.

by Ben on Jan 21, 2009 9:42 am • linkreport

Froggie, I live in Wheaton. I also live in walking distance of the Metro so I didn't have to worry about parking. I thought that Hungtingdon was convenient to the Beltway?

by Cavan on Jan 21, 2009 9:46 am • linkreport

I thought that the crowds were largely in good spirits and only became frustrated when it was unclear as to how to exit. like many, i tried to leave the way i came, which turned out to be closed. so i went south to Independence and it was a huge crush at 14th street and the only thing that cleared it was an ambulance pushing through. i followed it out and made my way over to 18th street vie the Washington Monument. other than that log jam, everyone was amiable, and i can understand the frustration as there was NO direction from seeming authorities and a complete lack of signage. that was a disappointment.

WABA's bike valet was great. i have to give it up to them. i spent only a couple minutes there to drop off and pick up my bike. im glad i chose to cycle, traffic was minimal and north of K st the crowds thinned and i made it back to Bloomingdale in 15 minutes, with my worst complaint being wobbly legs after all that standing around.

by dano on Jan 21, 2009 9:56 am • linkreport

I had Silver tickets. I got in near the end. The section did NOT fill up. What happened was a lot of people with Silver tickets just turned out to be so impatient it hurt them, and everyone else.

The Silver section was split in half by Third Street. If you had Silver, the entrance gate was at Third and Independence SW. Once through the gate you were supposed to get off Third Street and either go to the grassy area between Third and the Capitol reflecting pool, or go to the first section of the Mall between 3rd and 4th. The tickets, which everyone had, were very clear on this point.

What actually happened was thousands of people just stopped right on Third Street as soon as they got through the gate and watched from there, creating a huge bottleneck immediately past the gate. Once those folks stopped, anyone coming in trying to get past them to the actual viewing area had to force their way through. As a result, the security people at the gate could only let people through very slowly, and in chunks. They'd let a hundred or so people through, then close the gate while those they let through forced their way back to the viewing area, through the people who had just decided to stop in the middle of the street. Then when there was room again, gate security would let another hundred or so through to repeat the process. Because the gate was moving slowly, rumor got spread around that it was closed for good, and a lot of people (believing rumor rather than any official announcement) turned around and left.

Thus some people ended up thinking the Silver gate was turning people away, and some other people ended up thinking it was so overcrowded that you had to watch from just inside the gate at Third Street.

But anybody who waited patiently and followed the simple instructions printed on their ticket did just fine.

by BeyondDC on Jan 21, 2009 10:03 am • linkreport

"Those volunteers deployed to give directions performed well, but were too few"

I saw plenty at the beginning. There was a huge gaggle of them at 14th and Independence cheering and clapping (cute but useless). Many all had this look like, “This is not what it thought is was going to be like, I want to leave”. After the speech they were gone, didn't see one. Just another wasted resource.

by RJ on Jan 21, 2009 10:04 am • linkreport

I had a purple ticket and ended up bailing so as not to miss the swearing-in and address. Transit seemed fine, but other parts of the inaugural effort were not up to snuff.

by Dan Miller on Jan 21, 2009 10:21 am • linkreport

There was very little litter on the Metro because they'd left it all on the grounds of the Mall.

by monkeyrotica on Jan 21, 2009 10:29 am • linkreport

I went to the concert on Sunday, and all was well. I stood near the Washington Monument, and walked 'against the stream' to Federal Center SW to get on a blue line to Franc-Spring. I was surprised that it was actually quiet there. I had to wait 9 minutes (three empty trains and two orange lines) to get my train and could actually sit.

It did get very full at L'Enfant, Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, and Farragut West, but that was to be expected.

I am happy metro held up, but somewhat embarrassed that the city had so many other issues. I guess that comes with such a crowd.

I did chuckle at the rumor that some celebs could not get to their ball of choice fast enough. Welcome in the world of the normal person!

by Jasper on Jan 21, 2009 10:32 am • linkreport

My boyfriend, my sister, and I waited 5 hours to get into the purple section--unsuccessfully, of course. In that time, we moved exactly 2 blocks and were herded into not one, but two dead ends, crushed against security fences. For 4 and a half of those hours, I saw not a single person of authority--not a PIC official, not a DC cop, not a National Guardsman, not a Secret Service officer, not a Capitol Police officer. Nor did I see evidence that any of these people had given any thought to how to get us through security and onto the Capitol Lawn. There was no line, no police tape, no barricades, nothing. I saw five people faint--3 received assistance from official medics, but two were too far into the crowd to be reached, so they were treated by very kind doctors who were also waiting in the massive crowd. Eventually, I and a couple thousand other people were pressed up against a security fence by the people surging behind us. (I later found out that those people behind us were about 10,000 people who had been stuck in the 395 tunnel for up to 6 hours.) Crowds do not generally make me nervous, and this was a very kind, very compliant crowd. But at some point, that many people simply get out of control without some direction from authority.

We did, eventually, run into some Capitol Police. Three of them, lounging on their squad car next to an ambulance--and inside a small triangle of police tape, so we couldn't actually go talk to them. Note, they were the *only* thing in that police tape--no clue what they thought they were protecting themselves from. A woman in the crowd called out to them, in all sincerity, "Please tell us what we should do." One of the cops looked at her and shrugged his shoulders. Another woman saw the exchange and called out again, "Please, tell us what to do. Where should we go?" Another cop said, "Well, you're never going to get in, so right now, you're just taking up space." After that came the crush against the security fence. Because there was nowhere else to go.

It's experiences like today that make me pretty sure that very few people want to do serious harm to random civilian Americans. Because if there were, they had dozens of opportunities today, due to total incompetence from local and federal security agencies. At this point, I trust any Obama voter with my safety more than I trust a Capitol police officer. And as a Hill staffer, that's just scary.

by MH on Jan 21, 2009 10:38 am • linkreport

I was on the mall east of the Washington Monument (by the one Jumbo-tron that had major problems! I saw the address and swear-in fine though).

Crowd control getting off the mall was horrible, and me and my cousin wound up walking all the way down the Mall and up to Dupont Circle before catching a train back to Silver Spring. On Virginia Avenue, they were forcing crowds up to 23rd before letting them go north, but we slipped through at 20th along with one of several massive rushes.

Kudos to the Maryland National Guard who was forced to handle the large crowds up there. Acting under what appeared to be poor instruction, they were professional and didn't loose their cool as they were getting mobbed by the event goers.

Metro was fantastic, but I am seriously concerned over the crowd control that took place on the Mall. This city should be much more apt at handling crowds, even as large as 2 million, even with high security. Metro can do it with little incident, why not the Inauguration planning committees?

by Dave Murphy on Jan 21, 2009 10:41 am • linkreport

MH: Many had similar stories to yours. Thanks for sharing it.

I would question lumping DC police and local security agencies into getting the blame for this. As far as I know, the MPD and other local agencies were not supposed to be handling security there. That's federal land and it's the Secret Service, Capitol Police, and Park Police who run it. Local officials may have helped out some under the direction of the feds, but if officers weren't stationed somewhere, a federal official made that decision.

MPD's main job was making sure that everything ran smoothly and safely outside the federal district, and based on reports so far, they succeeded.

by David Alpert on Jan 21, 2009 10:43 am • linkreport

David, I agree that local agencies had limited jurisdiction for much of the event--but I spent most of my morning on 1st street NW, between C Street and D Street--not in the federal district. I would actually love to know what agency was responsible for crowd control *outside* of the Mall and Capitol grounds. And I actually know that it was DC cops who were directing other people into the 395 tunnel from the north--possibly at the direction of Secret Service. Which has to be the worst large crowd security decision in the history of large crowds.

There's a lot of blame to go around, and I'm happy to blame the feds if that's where it belongs. But this experience guarantees I'll never attend another large event on the Mall.

by MH on Jan 21, 2009 10:50 am • linkreport

"Purple filled up completely" - I disagree totally. The aerial photo in the Washington Post tells all. Purple and Blue sections had vast emptiness. My visitors from Seattle left the house at 6AM with precious purple tickets but gave up at 11:30AM when it was perfectly clear that the crowd outside the gate at a standstill for hours already would miss the event.

Thousands upon thousands of silver tix holders were denied entry because the 8-foot-wide slot to funnel all hundred-thousand plus silver tix-holders was blocked by folks who took up permanent positions INSIDE the slot. No uniformed officer was anywhere in sight to fix the problem and officers at the twenty-five inspection tables had little to do. When I finally made it inside, adjacent folks were unaware it was a ticketed section and had blithely sailed in through security with no wait (tickets were not checked.) They were shocked to hear about the disappointed throng punished for following the rules. Again, the aerial photo tells the tale.

by Lou DC on Jan 21, 2009 10:57 am • linkreport

We decided to take a bus special from Landmark Mall to C and 14th. It was amazing to see the bus move so fast on a highway so empty. It felt like he was going 90 mph on 395 and we got there in short order, except for a bottleneck on the 14th st bridge.

The Mall must officially now be declared a disaster zone. The soil is dead, dry, and compacted. A good local economic stimulus idea would be to rip up the first six inches of soil and add an irrigation system and replant that space. Also spruce up the rest of the aging infrastructure. My eyes still sting from all the dust and dirt that was kicked up.

Getting home was crazy. The bus area was overrun with pedestrians and after the first wave left it was seemingly impossible for them to bring any more busses in. After waiting for 30 minutes we decided to just walk across the 14th street bridge / HOV lanes to Crystal or Pentagon City. It was rather apocolyptical seeing so many people on foot walking across the Potomac river considering that no Marathon was scheduled and in due time we made it to Crystal City and hopped on the Metro to Van Dorn. In the end I stood non stop without a single break for 8.5 hours and my feet are killing me this morning.

P.S. I think there had to be a delay in the audio portion of the speech because otherwise it would have sounded terrible. Kind of like a lightning bolt/clap of thunder thing, the sound waves would have crashed over one another. It had to seem like it was one sound wave with occasional amplifiers assisting its propagation down the mall from the Capitol.

by NikolasM on Jan 21, 2009 11:02 am • linkreport

Metrobus at Gallery Place were a complete mess, you had 70's going eastbound on H street when they were supposed to going westbound, P6 buses weren't running at night, In the morning they were going down H street near Union Station 80's were crowded as hell metro supervisors that were there didn't know where the buses were stopping at or which streets they were traveling on.

They just has a lack of communication when buses were involved. On the rail side everything was alright considering the amount of people.

Did WMATA release any info on how many people rode the rails and bus yet

by Kk on Jan 21, 2009 11:10 am • linkreport

>the 8-foot-wide slot to funnel all hundred-thousand plus silver tix-holders was blocked by folks who took up permanent positions INSIDE the slot.

The space to funnel people through was plenty wide enough, if the control had been there to keep it as a through-way. The blame lies with the people who took up those permanent positions just inside the slot, and with security for not moving them along.

by BeyondDC on Jan 21, 2009 11:12 am • linkreport

>Did WMATA release any info on how many people rode the rails and bus yet

Some info, but not complete figures yet.

We know that the all-time single-day ridership record for Metrorail was broken by 5:00pm, and based on the last ridership info we have (973,285 by 7pm) we can infer that the final number for rail only passed 1 million.

Buses... :shrug:

by BeyondDC on Jan 21, 2009 11:15 am • linkreport

Sunday night was a bust for Metro. Closing down the Metro at midnight was a supremely stupid idea. There were many people arriving in Washington on extra flights to National Airport and aboard Amtrak trains at Union Station. These travelers had been told that Metro would have extended hours and planned to take advantage of it. Instead, they were greeted by shut gates and, from what I understand, no available taxis.

I took the bus home from work downtown at 1am. There were many people crammed on board with their luggage. Most of them just got on the 96 bus at Union Station figuring that getting somewhere via bus was better than sitting at Union Station. I was giving directions as best I could but it's not like tourists know the city nor can they easily navigate the bus system. This particular lack of foresight on Metro's part is absolutely astonishing.

by Adam on Jan 21, 2009 11:26 am • linkreport

As others have commented, getting out seemed a lot worse than the way in.

Getting in, we'd expected to take the 38S from Clarendon to the Lincoln and then walk. It stopped at Rosslyn, claiming Memorial Bridge was closed to buses, even though that wasn't what the Metro shuttle map showed. Fine, the Secret Service likes to close things at the last minute (just to yank our chains, I think).

Getting out was way worse. I was just West of 7th, which was closed and couldn't be crossed, a fact that hadn't been communicated. After the Inaugural speech, everybody between 7th and 14th were expected to exit at either 12th or 14th - even though lots of people wanted to go to L'Enfant Plaza or Gallery Place. A crowd wound up rushing the fence blocking off the garden between the Hirshorn and Arts & Industries. Sadly, lots of plants paid the price. There was one Guardsman at the Independence side of the garden, trying to control getting people out.

We tried to head to Federal Center, which was a nightmare on several levels. C Street between fourth and third was closed for parade staging, so the crowd tried to slide past on the south sidewalk, the only route open. That got very crowded very quickly, and moved slowly. 3rd and D, outside Federal Center, was entirely jammed, with people trying to go East and South, and a huge crowd trying (presumably) to get into the Metro. It took us half an hour to get through the intersection.

This all seems like an instance of a larger problem that plagues the city - the feds focus intensely on their domain and don't give a second thought about the city that hosts them.

by Distantantennas on Jan 21, 2009 11:29 am • linkreport

Did anyone go to the mall by walking down the 395 tunnel? It must have been surreal.

by Chris Loos on Jan 21, 2009 11:34 am • linkreport

The bike valet was awesome! I left my house at 10:30, got to the Washington Monument at 11:30. I must say the crowd near us was great. We then walked to the parade route using 395. That was the best idea to close that to cars. It was filled with people making their way North after the inauguration.

by Erik on Jan 21, 2009 11:36 am • linkreport

Chris:

It was surreal. They had MPD police stationed at the bottom of the tunnel. They were very helpful telling people which exits would get you where.

by Erik on Jan 21, 2009 11:39 am • linkreport

>Did anyone go to the mall by walking down the 395 tunnel? It must have been surreal.

I biked down it. It was amazing. And so crowded with peds that I had to walk the bike rather than ride it. It definitely moved far more people on foot than it would have been able to move via car.

I took some pics, but am not sure they turned out. I'll post what I have (from the tunnel and swearing in) on BDC tonight or tommorrow.

by BeyondDC on Jan 21, 2009 11:40 am • linkreport

Chris Loos:

I did walk via the 395 tunnel. It wasn't really surreal as much as it was post-apocalyptic.

by Adam on Jan 21, 2009 11:40 am • linkreport

We bussed from Mt Pleasant to L street, I believe and walked the rest of the way. No problems. Slow getting back, but there were 1+ million all leaving a confined space at the same time. I remember a lot of the advice from before hand, saying pedestrians would rule and have the most acceess. That seemed to be true yesterday.

The task of managing that many people at once is difficult and relies on their cooperation, which is sometimes lacking.

More $$$ form VA, MD, DC and the Feds could lead to late night Metro trains every night. Please petition your pols. Otherwise, this wish and more basics requests will never be met.

by Tim on Jan 21, 2009 11:58 am • linkreport

I walked to Brookland at about 7am, watched a packed train go by and then rode north to Fort Totten and barely got on a train (I would have rode further north but I also knew the special 80 started at Fort Totten). Was able to meet out-of-town friends-of-a-friend at 8am at 6th and I. We walked through the 395 tunnel (taking photos of the 'no pedestrians' and 'no stopping in tunnel) signs, wound our way on E, 7th, D, and 14th Streets to the Mall, mostly following the crowd. We found spots at the eastern base of the Washington Monument, with decent views of a jumbotron and long but tree-obscured views of the Capitol. Considering our relatively late start, we did well.

In retrospect, I am astonished that nobody (PIC, secret service, senate committee, park service, dc government, washington post) published anything like: "If you're coming from the (red|blue|orange|yellow|green) line or waking from (northwest|southeast|northeast) and want to get to (the unticketed mall|the parade route|ticketed sections), then go here. A widely distributed chart like this could have cleared up a lot. I happened to have studied the maps and instructions in detail, and we happened to make a lot of random decisions that turned out to be the right ones.

None of the published maps showed that there would be those huge impassible barriers running building to building along the parade route. Maybe you were supposed to guess this, but the visualization could have clarified much. The only direction we got was exiting 395 at E street, when people said "no tickets, go left." There should have been signs and traffic directors at all the Metro stops; the hotels should have been given instructions to relay to their guests for each destination.

It really seems like the person who designed the security screening didn't do any simple calculations about expected turnout and required throughput. At 3 in the afternoon, there was still space along the parade route, but the lines to get through security were huge and not moving fast.

Obama's address specifically said we want security without giving up our ideals, and that we will hold government accountable. Inasmuch as the free market is part of our ideals, markets don't function when, e.g., people get tickets and do everything they're told and still can't get in. For the designers and implementers of the security scheme to carry on without being held accountable would not be change we believe in.

by thm on Jan 21, 2009 12:35 pm • linkreport

Fundamental logistical problems with the exit plan for the swearing in ceremony. With the Pennsylvania avenue side of the Mall closed to everyone due to the parade, with the Eastern side closed due to the Capitol and all the barriers protecting the ticket-only areas, those of us on the Mall between 7th street and 14th street had only two exit options: 12th street or 14th street. Naturally, the option to exit was to head West, towards the Washington Memorial. But the security planning committee decided that it would be wise to completely block 14th street from pedestrian crossings, putting up a metal barrier that extended from Independence to Constitution.

Basically, the hundreds of thousands of people on the Mall had to exit either through 12th street or through a 10-foot-wide opening on the eastern side of 14th street street, and onto SW DC, from where there were few places to go -- Independence Avenue to points West, the 14th street bridge, or Metro. The national guard folks there had no information to give, and apparently no interest in procuring information either (one block from the intersection where they could actually see people moving, they couldn't tell those of us in the crowd that yes, we would in fact get out that way but that things were moving slowly). The DCPD officers on 14th street just expressed powerlessness, saying that it was all the decision and choice of the Secret Service. Three mounted DCPD officers waved to the crowd, as if on a regal march.

This would explain why L'Enfant Plaza and Federal Center SW Metro stations had to close due to the overcrowding -- there were hundreds of thousands of of people willing to walk to Virginia, but few ways of getting there.

by juanfe on Jan 21, 2009 1:04 pm • linkreport

I was angry at everyone at first, but I realize that Metro did an excellent job yesterday. I do, however, expect somebody to get fired (I don't know who) for their mismanagement of the crowds on the Mall. Our only source of information about how to get off were the Jumbotrons, and all they said was "all North exits closed." There were several points both on the Mall and Independence Avenue SW where I feared for my life because I couldn't move, I didn't know what was going on/where to go, and the police were either nonexistent or unresponsive to our concerns. I'm sure somebody's already asked this, but what would happen if we had to evacuate the city in an emergency?

I think more (and longer) express bus corridors were needed. I was surprised that the Rhode Island Avenue lines only went as far as Mount Rainier; it would've made sense to continue it to College Park, given the number of people coming from U-Md. and the fact that private cars could not park at Greenbelt, sending everyone who would've otherwise gone there (parts of Montgomery, Prince George's and even probably Howard counties) to College Park instead. If I knew that my friends and I could've picked up a bus somewhere north of the Mall, our trip home wouldn't have been four and a half hours long.

It was kind of ironic being stuck in a Safeway; I knew I wasn't going to starve, but if I ate anything, I'd be staring down the barrel of that apocalyptic bathroom line.

by dan reed on Jan 21, 2009 1:31 pm • linkreport

Our transportation planners prepared very well for vehicular (including Metrorail) traffic - indeed, overprepared, and issued warnings that scared away many people who could have been accomodated. They did a very bad job of preparing for pedestrian traffic. It shows what their skill set is.

by Ben Ross on Jan 21, 2009 1:55 pm • linkreport

I'm curious how Metro calculates ridership.

As Sand Box John mentioned above, they stopped collecting fares at some points. I was at L'Enfant plaza around 10:00 and they just opened the fare gates. (foolishly since the crowd was just stuck on the other side of the gates too).

On the way back, we had card trouble since we never officially exited the system and they just waved us through both at our entrance and exit points. This must have happened to thousands more people.

That said, I was very impressed with Metro crowd control and the trips were amazingly smooth.

by dd on Jan 21, 2009 1:57 pm • linkreport

Lol @ BDC who said on his blog that DC was not "over capacity".

Tell that to the people who came across the country to see their president and couldn't.

Idiot.

by MPC on Jan 21, 2009 1:58 pm • linkreport

MPC, aren't you a ray of sunshine today? Just because you might have a different (usually negative) view, doesn't mean that he's an "idiot."

by Cavan on Jan 21, 2009 2:18 pm • linkreport

It's justified because he has this inferiority complex with 'real' urbanist communities like NYC or whatever, so in his mind bigger is always better, whether its people or graft spending on public transit works.

Again, how can he insist that DC wasn't overcapacity when people couldn't see their president AFTER they got there early (his own recommendation on his blog), when little old ladies were pushed by the mob onto Metro tracks, barely avoiding being hit by a train, when little kids were separated by their parents because of the herd mentality of the masses and when the main streets (evacuation routes out of the city mind you) were so clogged that bus riders had to stage a mutiny.

Was it over capacity? Answer me this. If a dirty bomb went off, would the masses be able to be evacuated?

by MPC on Jan 21, 2009 2:29 pm • linkreport

Calling people idiots is not okay on Greater Greater Washington. If you disagree with someone, or if they are making the most moronic arguments ever, you're welcome to explain why they are incorrect. It is not okay to call that person an idiot.

Please refer to Paul Graham's excellet how to disagree essay. Calling someone an idiot reduces your argument to a DH0. Saying that someone hasn't lived in DC long enough to have opinions worth listening to is a DH1. As Graham says, anything DH2 and below is automatically unconvincing.

by David Alpert on Jan 21, 2009 2:34 pm • linkreport

Judging by the satellite pics available on CNN.com it is pretty evident that there was space for millions more. Planning and information sharing was once again the culprit. Exiting to the North Side was very difficult and better information should have been provided saying that exiting would require walking west to 23 st / Lincoln Memorial or something. Being there in person it felt full as heck, but those satellite pics sure proved otherwise. There were plenty of people looking from above who should have alerted authorities on the ground where the problem areas were, especially that silver ticket area issue where everyone stopped on the other side of the screening area though there were acres of open space.

by NikolasM on Jan 21, 2009 2:38 pm • linkreport

According to that logic, we should never do anything at all. Forget 4th of July. Forget Redskins/Nats/Wizards/Caps/United/Terps because if such a bomb were to go off no one could escape in time. Also, we should stop living in cities and towns because no one could escape in time should such a calamity happen.

The one woman (is 68 y/o a "little old lady"?) falling into the train tracks was because she was standing too close to the edge of the platform and slipped. The bus riders asked to be let off because of bus congestion on one route, not because of "overcapacity."

The National Mall is often referred to as "the People's Front Lawn." It has been a place where people from around the country assemble for large events, both celebrations and protests alike. That's out of our hands. Perhaps we should just close the place off and not let a piece of land that is maintained with (not enough) federal money be used for its intended use?

I suppose that according to your logic, I was a fool to taking the Metro downtown yesterday and standing in the WWII Memorial with the millions of other Americans experiencing that historic event. If risking your dirty bomb attack is the price of getting out of the house and living a little, I think it's worth it. Remember, those who trade freedom for security end up with neither.

by Cavan on Jan 21, 2009 2:39 pm • linkreport

Also, did you not see that U-2 or U-2-esque spy plane circling overhead all day? I bet it was loaded with Radiation sensors in case of such an attempt.

by NikolasM on Jan 21, 2009 2:45 pm • linkreport

"I suppose that according to your logic, I was a fool to taking the Metro downtown yesterday and standing in the WWII Memorial with the millions of other Americans experiencing that historic event."

It all depends on your utility for the event. I can't speak for what you derive utility from so I won't pass judgment.

Nor was I really arguing whether or not you should go. Telling people what public events they are and are not allowed to go to reeks of a dictatorship.

That said, why did they overallocate resources (space in the ticketing area)? They obviously overallocated because the demand of people holding tickets could not meet the supply (the space and security apparatus letting them in).

Charge a nominal fee to bring it to a more sustainable level? Urbanists can justify it with publicly-funded roads; why not publicly-funded events?

by MPC on Jan 21, 2009 2:59 pm • linkreport

Knowing Metro would probably be a clusterf*ck in the morning, I planned to take the 38S. Unfortunately, three or four of them passed me without stopping. They were pretty full, but they weren't full -- I rode plenty of buses in college with more people on them. (The bus drivers do know that people can stand on buses, right?) Waving the bus down, one driver kind of shrugged at me in a "what can I do?" sort of way.

We tried to flag down a cab instead. The first cabbie told us it'd be $20 per person (ah, the American spirit). Another cabbie told us he couldn't get us closer than L'Enfant.

So instead we walked through Arlington Cemetery, which turned out not to be too bad (although 7.4 miles walked roundtrip + 4 hours standing in the cold = rough). There was plenty of room for buses on the route we walked, which let off behind Lincoln -- I'm not sure if any buses went that way, but they should have.

I'm guessing that both trains and buses were running at capacity yesterday morning. But while it's presumably not easy to add trains on short notice, you could add buses on short notice, the same way the city added security on short notice -- by leasing from other jurisdictions. You'd have some complications -- different-looking buses, incompatibility with the payment system, drivers less familiar with DC roads -- but it's an option.

It did seem like last-minute changes kept everyone on their toes, and weren't always well-communicated. Ex.: I get both Arlington and DC Alert, and only received one message all day. I also tried to sign up for the PIC texts, but never got any. The jumbotrons on the Mall could have displayed a map, rather than just text -- especially for out-of-towners, saying "the exits at [street] are closed" doesn't convey much information, whereas a pictorial map might have. I also second the comment that more posted signs would have helpful, and more volunteers with directions. (There were so many "red caps" at the beginning of the event -- and far fewer at the end. They were also quite clustered, to predictable effect.)

But so much went right, as well. Metro shattered its ridership record. Hundreds of thousands of people make it to the Inauguration without serious issue. Nobody (as far as we know) died; there were few if any serious injuries. The volunteers were overwhelmingly cheery.

Also, I had a nice chuckle at the people who before the Inauguration had complained about closing the bridges from Virginia. I looked at the numbers of people and tried to imagine each of them in a car -- even 5 people to a car. It would have been madness. And doubtless many thousands of people would have tried to drive if it had been an option. It would have been a more epic fail than any of the transit problems.

by Gavin Baker on Jan 21, 2009 3:02 pm • linkreport

I attended my first inaugural 28 years ago. Before that, I had been on the Mall and Capitol grounds during the Poor People's March on Washington in 1968 and the American Farm Movement protest in the late 70's. Afterward I'd been here for innumerable events from major rallies and marches to the annual 4th of July celebrations. Throughout the last year, President Obama's events across the country gave ample notice of what could be expected come inauguration day. I was confident that crowds would be adequately and professionally handled by those most experienced for these events in the ample space bounded by the monuments and Capitol.

What I saw yesterday was astonishing and disappointing -- poor planning and poor execution of crowd management 101. High turnout simply cannot explain basic failures on at least the south side of the Mall and little or no engagement with the crowd from exiting Metro to the Mall itself. Why would you not separate ticket holders and non-ticket holders blocks away from the entrances? There was a great mix of all, and the resulting confusion a full two blocks away. Virtually no one engaged the public or gave clear, positive directions. Talking to a DC policeman afterward, inquiring about the irony of yesterday's absence of bullhorns (in ample supply 40-50-60 years ago) his response was: we have lots of them, we just didn't use them. He and other law enforcement personnel were highly critical of the Secret Service, but all blame can't rest there, whatever their tone-deafness and arrogance might be.

Whether from authorities in positions of power to commenters here, a little humility and awareness of the limits of your own knowledge are in order. Blanket statements from everyone got in to those with common sense or following directions got in are obviously and painfully wrong. From what I saw, it wasn't an absence of security but the selective and reactive way they deployed themselves that failed to serve the event and the public. Nowhere to be seen in addressing the actual problems, they yet managed to materialize to assemble and create new barricades around people trapped by the circumstances. Maybe the National Guard were restrained, weapons-wise, but battlefield weaponry was prominently displayed by none other than the Capitol Police (can post a picture).

The most dangerous situation I observed was outside a Metro station afterward. Once again, no crowd engagement, no bullhorn, no direction or guidance -- just freezing people waiting two hours with little movement and little explanation. When I got close enough, I could see a handful of law enforcement/transportation people screaming at the people in front. Someone nearby spotted their ID tags and hollered incredulously, "Utah?!" "These people are from Utah??" "Do they have Metros in Utah??"

There was certainly the requisite amount of clueless/stupid behavior from the public itself yesterday, though that's pretty much a constant for all such events. But the event planners and executors are supposed to be the grownups. This is the big leagues and they're the pros. Change four designated entry points to one the day before? What do you expect with abrupt changes that conflict with information printed on the tickets?

The result was that along with plenty of others, I couldn't see it (no jumbotrons in that location), couldn't hear it, and froze my ass off. Escaping the scene afterward was physically punishing and it's miraculous if there were no casualties.

So, a terrible experience? Nope. From the time I arrived it's been an unbelieveable coming together on the bus, on the street, in the sardine can. A great bond among the people was pervasive, happy, hopeful. I came from New Mexico with only a simple message from my compadres: "tell the President we love him." And so I have, and our people and the world around us are hopeful again.

by geoff webb on Jan 21, 2009 3:03 pm • linkreport

I think we can agree that the federal inaugural committees were not quite up to par with respect to organization and communication. When I got off at Judiciary Square (wanted to get off before the transer stations because we supposed they'd be nuts), we started walking west, knowing in advance that there was a entrance checkpoint on 4th St. We passed the 7th, and 10th st. checkpoints, too. We figured it would be a good idea to walk on I St. around the White House to the Foggy Bottom side of the Mall. It worked. We had no tickets so we were just looking to get on the mall near a screen and some speakers. There was no checkpoint on the Foggy Bottom side of the Mall.

However, we had the advantage of being locals who already knew the layout of the transit system and the city. We actually ended up leading the way for a really nice middle-aged woman from way up Georgia Ave. up on the Howard Co/Carrol Co. border who didn't know the layout like we did. If she didn't know to go around, and she works in Logan circle and is sort of local, I can't imagine how someone from a different city would figure that out with the kind of communication the inaugural organizers showed.

by Cavan on Jan 21, 2009 3:09 pm • linkreport

change we can believe in.

by MPC on Jan 21, 2009 3:15 pm • linkreport

A little off topic David, but just wanted to say that the 'How to Disagree' essay you linked to is very insightful. The author pretty much explains the reason for the existence of flame wars in the first few paragraphs.

by Chris Loos on Jan 21, 2009 3:27 pm • linkreport

4:10 Glenmont

Parked at Glenmont Metro. $4 cash, top floor was completely empty, entire structure was maybe 25% full. Gathered up a bunch of gear in coat-pockets that should have been piled inside a backpack.

4:30 Glenmont

Bought 1-day pass, went inside. More than enough volunteers. Very crowded promenade w/ people who'd never been on Metro before, but moving very fast. Platform mildly crowded. We filled most of the seats when the train got there.

4:50 Red Line

The next few stations weren't busy at all compared to Glenmont - I guess that's what being the end of the line buys you.

5:20 Metro Center

We exit to a pedestrian-only street, and hook up with the *packed* McDonalds. We wonder why they havn't diverted cashiers made irrelevant by the slower kitchen staff to crowd control. Street gets even busier as we eat on the bench outside.

5:40 - 13th & F

None of the cops, regardless of bureau, have any idea what's going on. We see an orderly security checkpoint w/ fencing on all sides, with bleechers behind them. 100 yards up the street there is a sluice of jersey barriers with 10,000 or so people blobbed up behind it (in the street, not sidewalks). You can walk from one to the other, but after 20 or so conversations, it appears that police treat the street as one monolithic line, and will warn you away if you cross the barriers that they failed to put up between sidewalk and street. We decide to wander east, where our map says there are un-ticketted security checkpoints every street or two.

5:50 F Street

These fail to exist. Steel barriers are every other street, but with no rhyme or reason. There are overlapping Metrobuses stopped in the middle of F street to try and cut it off, but they fail & we walk on. An ambulance whizzes past. It's really starting to look like something out of Cloverfield.

6:10 F street

We are up to 6th street, which is open. None of the police have any idea what's going on. At 7th & F we cut south an un-barriered block, then west another, then south again. We see a crowd to the east, and decide to join it.

6:30 7th and E

We are now part of the 7th and E mob. The only cops we can see are 3 floors up in the Liberty Place building. What starts as one guy with a camera balloons into an observation gallery. They are standing there, taking pictures, laughing, and eating. Up against the window. Drinking coffee. We see various food items devoured in front of us.

6:40

Coffee, danish, sandwitches

6:50

Chinese, soda, water

7:00

The crowd, despite a good-naturedness that's pretty obvious, starts to get seriously angry at them

7:10

We have moved about 15 feet. We still can't see anything but crowd. The random people who climb up on lampposts are the only authorities in the area.

7:20

Someone passes out, a paramedic is called, the Lampposters repeat the call.

7:30

A musician has taken a lamppost, and is throwing out free CDs & is trying to comfort the crowd. I talk with the people around me, who are from Chicago (a nice couple) & Boston. The Bostonians are 3 fratboys who brag about their time at "The Atlantic" party last night, & are still hung over. One of them smokes into the crowd amidst much complaint, and says "Screw you, it's not illegal - I can handle impolite" while ashing on the people around him. My girlfriend begs me to switch places with her (something I'm physically unable to do), because the one who still smells like alcohol and vomit is making her nauseaus.

7:40

An ambulence arrives, can't make it more than 10 feet into the crowd, and hangs back while the paramedics try to make it in on foot. I observe that they've have an easier time crowdsurfing than pushing. Noone knows where they should go.

7:50

People are now regularly calling 911 to complain about the crowd situation, and demanding that the cops in the building, who appear to be mocking us, come down and help. This would continue for the rest of the morning.

8:00

The sun becomes obvious for the first time. It brings light but not heat.

8:10

We are close enough to the corner that some of my neighbors can climb the lampposts (which turn out to have uselessly solitary barricades attached). They assure us that the gates are pretty close after you turn the corner.

8:20

Someone else passes out, I never see an ambulance.

8:25

A woman explains that she's trying to get to her office on the other side of Pennsylvania. We try to tell her that they "Pedestrian Crossings" of Pennsylvania that the Secret Service map releated on January 7th showed, have not been acknowledged by a single law enforcement officer we have met, in 20 or so conversations.

8:30

I can see the gates! They are a black chain-link barrier that's opened in the middle. Still no cops or crowd control. A trailer-pulled generator hangs in the middle of the crowd 15 feet past the gate, 25 feet from me. The guy next to me informs me that he's a generator technician who's working for the Presidential inaugural committee, that he was redirected to a press tent here instead of where he expected to go on the Mall, and he's going to be pretty pissed off at his boss when he gets through.

8:40

The crowd has slowed down and compacted. It is now virtually impossible to move under your own power, only to exert pressure on the people in front of you and accept it from the people behind you. There are 5-year-olds and 90-year-olds here, but they appear to be surviving.

8:50

Everybody is complaining about the pushing, including people who are clearly very bitter/angry at the city, and are getting angry at the crowd. The fact is, if you don't push, you get pushed backwards.

9:00

The generator goes silent.

9:05

We have been seeing the occasional party trying to leave the entire time. They push and shove against the crowd and are very difficult to accommodate (pissing off many individuals) but the predominant opinion is that they're making space for the rest of us. The last such party that I see for the event leaves. After this, it is too crowded to attempt such a maneuver.

9:10

A guy with dreads complains that we are pushing him into a hip-high metal barrier, and that there is no way through in his direction.

9:15

The generator becomes noisy again. We are now 40 feet or so from the gate, about 15 from the generator, and moving extremely slowly. I ask genny-repair-dude how big it is, and he gives an eyeball estimate of 70KW right before the crowd moves him out of earshot.

9:20

A rumor spreads that there is a water-main break somewhere ahead, and that is the reason they are letting people through the gates two at a time, that all the other checkpoints are 'sailing through'.

9:25

People start complaining that by tracking "orange hat guy" or "green hat guy" who were right in front of the gates just a few minutes ago & still are, they aren't letting anyone through. I mentally bookmark "Red Hat Guy".

9:30

We find ourselves pushed against the hip-height metal barriers (invisible to everyone who can't feel them), and hope that there is an exit. People around us complain that they are being injured by crowd pressure against an immovable object.

9:35

There is now noone near the gate wearing a red hat.

9:40

We reach the end of what turn out to be two solitary barriers - blocking nothing, only impeding lateral movement and generating pain.

9:50

A cop stands up on the black fence and yells at us to move back, stop pushing, make room, they need to fix the generator. He continues to repeat these things for the next 20 minutes while the crowd angrily shouts back at him that they can't.

10:05

A column (a dozen men holding hands and moving sideways) of Calvert County Sheriff's Department officers pushes ahead through the crowd. Because they can only move about two feet per minute, we have ample time to talk with several of them from an intimate distance of 3 or 4 inches from their faces, while becoming aware of what their chest felt like. They explain that they have no idea what's going on, but they've been told to establish a perimeter around the generator, which is not working. We debate with them how to do this - they want to put up fences where there are currently people. Both groups complain that whoever put a generator on the 'crowd' side of a crowd barricade should be shot. Eventually they reveal that they are trying to exert pressure to halt the crowd before the generator, then drain the people behind them into the gate.

10:10

A man with a 5-year-old son who's having breathing difficulties pleads with the national guardsmen at the gate (15 feet away) to let him through. I try to surround the boy and offer him some space where the crowd will let me by pushing on his neighbors (which he doesn't have the body weight for). His pleas are ignored.

10:15

The cops have pushed into the space between me and my girlfriend, cutting her off. At the same time, the ones fo the rear of the generator have brought in a repairman, who has gotten it working again. Still trying to establish a perimeter, the line flushes the people behind it into the gate (including my girlfriend).

10:20

The man & child, now 10 feet from the gate, are let through after much begging. The kids looks barely conscious.

10:30

I'm through the gate! I get into the rather orderly line the Secret Service have set up, while glancing around at the dozens of law enforcement people set up around it, sitting around talking. I rejoin my girlfriend, and the fast-moving line gets through security. 4 door-style metal detectors(with no X-ray machine) are no match for this crowd, particularly given that everyone has to basically empty the pockets they've filled in order to be searched. The cursory inspection that they give my stuff couldn't catch any kind of covert weapon, only a store-bought pistol or rifle. I know I took metal through that detector, but they appear to have set the sensitivity rather low.

10:40

I sit on the other side to try and recover, while pondering whether to tell the *hundreds* of law enforcement officers sitting around talking to each other in the nearly empty parade-secure-zone whether there's a dangerous crowd situation at the perimeter. There is noone stopped right after screening, and there is ample space to move around despite the armored cars and troops.

11:00

We've picked a spot to sit down on the terrace of Indiana Plaza, after negotiating with a bunch of National Guardsmen about sight lines & whether they would have them.

11:30

We listen to Obama's speech on the radio while trying to ignore the distorted loudspeaker echoes.

12:30

The Guardsmen have written off their sight lines as a loss as people pile up behind us.

1:30

People start to get impatient, and a few fights or near-fights have broken out. I have to stand up, because two hours of sitting have not warmed up the polished limestone terrace, which is still 20 degrees, and I can't feel certain important parts of my body.

2:30

The parade, which everybody considers overly delayed to begin with, does not start. We wait with bated breath & increasing frustration.

3:00

The family behind me has called their parents twice to figure out what's going on. Apparently Ted Kennedy may have died while having lunch with Obama. We politely consider this, then wonder how much longer that means we'll have to be out. The wind, particularly in the wind-funneled area I've picked, is pretty bad. The softwood trees behind/over us are getting an increasing number of people on the branches, and we wonder whether they will hold. The ivy below them is a complete loss.

3:15

The announcing is completely out of irrelevant historical material, and the anger at him & the organizers is palpable. People are passing their breaking points with regard to the cold. We are still sitting on a terrace next to a temporary building that we think is a National Guard command center. Two people just got the idea to jump on top of it.

3:20

So did 20 other people. We ponder whether we should move out of the way before it falls, but there are too many people to get a clear view if we move.

3:25

The women next to us, who have been sitting the whole time in a way that didn't block the dozens of people behind them, stand up and make a few dozen cameras useless, as well as ten or so children's views. Much outrage follows, but it stops short of a fight.

3:29

The parade starts! Or is that Bus/Ambulence Convoy #17?

3:40

A guardsman hops up from the other side and shoos the people off his post.

3:50

Still nothing on the paraderoutes but some flagbearers and motorcycle brigades.

3:55

We see an armed forces marching band, and several marches. Nobody cares.

4:05

A limo convoy passes, and everyone cheers as if they can see the President, which they can't. News breaks that right after he passed us (behind the Guard station) he got out and started walking, and ten thousand people run across 7th st to get a closer look. 90% of the crowd goes there, or towards the Metro station, including us (towards Gallery/Chinatown, which is milling w/ people & has opened the fare gates). A hole in the fencing had been opened up for people leaving, and hip-height barriers were sheparding them out very quickly.

4:30-7:00

Getting home (after a detour to Pollo Rico) is exhausting but not overly crowded.

------

There were a solid 50,000+ people at the 7th and E mob, in less than an acre of roadway. I've never seen a worse crowd control catastrophe personally, and I heard stories afterwards that several people had found themselves with strangers fainting into their arms/sides who might had died if dropped. Inside the Secret Service perimeter were dozens of different police departments with little or no direction or information. I'm happy that so few of them were touting guns/riot gear, possibly out of necessity... If he were wearing one it would have been much easier for me to grab a Calvert County Sheriff Deputy's gun than for him to do so.

Metro scored high marks & functioned smoothly while I was riding, though IMO they should have converted to pass-only operation for the day to facilitate visual-only entrance stalls, as they did with cash-only parking.

The officers in the Liberty Place building who could see what was happening & didn't try to fix it - shame on you. The overall crowd control was horrible from the beginning... but at least riot gear wasn't involved that I saw. I would have been a very nasty riot - though I didn't see what happened when they closed the gates.

The many kind people in the crowd who refrained from going nuts in an impossible situation - thank you.

by Squalish on Jan 21, 2009 4:35 pm • linkreport

To my eyes, a ticket didn't matter at all. We all went through the same screening, which was the bottleneck. I suspect tickets weren't checked until you physically walked onto the bleachers, if at all. By the time the event rolled around, unauthorized people were climbing onto the half-empty bleachers from behind to get a better look.

Twelve hours in the cold screws you up - I slept for almost 18 hours after finding it difficult to drive home. And now, finally, I'm going to sit down and watch a video of the swearing in ceremony, the one we should have had projected onto the buildings around us if this had been handled competently.

by Squalish on Jan 21, 2009 4:46 pm • linkreport

David, It is interesting that you posted this link on how to disagree, since if you objectively reviewed your own posts, you would discover that many are DH0, although some rise to DH1. The DH0 defenses rely heavily on euphemisms for NIMBY, expressions like car-centric or suburban sensitivity, oversimplification and mockery of legitimate concerns and asserting that anyone who disagrees with your basic assumptions cannot accept change. As to the relevancy of experience in understanding the dynamics of our city, perhaps, with time, you might learn to appreciate it.

by Andy on Jan 21, 2009 6:21 pm • linkreport

I didn't have any problems going to the inauguration because I went to Lincoln Memorial at 4 a.m. My viewing area by the memorial was great.

I did have problems heading home. I was at the northwest corner of 14th and Independence, trying to head east on Independence (and this was a good hour after Obama's speech) and it was a complete bottleneck. The crowd's good nature and happiness probably is what prevented trampling.

Then, at Third and Independence SW, I ran into a desperate family of five (three young children) from Los Angeles, suitcases in tow, trying to get to Union Station. I offered to lead them there since my home's nearby.

When we finally got to Union Station -- with 10 minutes to spare before their Amtrak train to BWI was due to arrive -- the entire station was shut down. A mob of thousands were trying to get to their trains to no avail. I went to find this family a cab and when I came back, the crowd was even larger and the family hadn't moved a foot.

Left them at Phoenix Park Hotel and the concierge seemed to have gotten something for them. I hope they made their flight OK.

New rule: No inaugural balls at Union Station when 1 million+ people are expected in town. Or at least, schedule it so you don't need to shut the main room down until the crowds have thinned.

by lou on Jan 21, 2009 7:08 pm • linkreport

I heard and read dozens and dozens of stories of how people got to the festivities. The people who had the easiest time were those who drove private cars to just outside the security periphery. They cruised in, arrived comfortable, and cruised home.

I would not give Metro an A+. After the swearing in I noticed L'Enfant Plaza was jam-packed at both 7th St. entrances (I have cool aerial pics from an office building just above) and Federal Center SW and Waterfront stations had the same exact scene. Getting people into the station was a huge bottleneck. I walked to Navy Yard where it was much easiert to get inside. Once I got in and rode past those stations, I saw the platforms between empty and light rush hour. So they really did a poor job moving people through the escalators and turnstiles.

By the way, the 5A express bus ran from Dulles Airport to Rosslyn but did not charge any fare (usually $3.15 with stops in Tyson and terminus at L'Enfant Plaza). Shameful loss of revenue.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jan 21, 2009 7:47 pm • linkreport

Figures that Metro blows a chance to take in its highest revenue total ever.

Why not install special rates so that revenue is maximized and there are not enough crowds so much that little old ladies aren't pushed onto the tracks?

But market forces are not the way of the Obama administration. I just hope they run our national healthcare as well as they ran the inauguration. Maybe Feinstein can chair it.

by MPC on Jan 21, 2009 8:31 pm • linkreport

I think there are lots of different reasons for what didn't work, not least of which is having 18 different species of law enforcement to coordinate. Or not. But this being such a transient town doesn't help. Each time, new people have to reinvent the wheel, and in this crucial case, that hurt. I read on Richard Layman's blog that he thinks the Mall isn't meant and wasn't meant to handle so many people. I sort of tend to agree. Not that communications about empty spaces could not have been handled better. Seems the authorities and planners just petered out.

And the local papers did a pretty bad job in general. "Local" - being generous there.

But amazingly, NO ONE WAS ARRESTED!

by Jazzy on Jan 21, 2009 8:33 pm • linkreport

Uhoh. I just read this headline:

Mass Transit Bumped From Stimulus For Tax Cuts

by Jazzy on Jan 21, 2009 8:37 pm • linkreport

at least leave a link

by Squalish on Jan 21, 2009 8:51 pm • linkreport

I said this post Nov. 5.

People expected a transit renaissance would be disappointed. The fact is the bark of this lobby doesn't cut it.

I'm sure people will rationalize why they don't get the money. "It's just a stimulus, not a transit plan; transit isn't shovel ready"

The fact is, money in Washington is zero-sum. And once you start losing traction, it's hard as hell to get it back.

And ya'll know that's the case too.

by MPC on Jan 21, 2009 8:55 pm • linkreport

I thought better of it, when I realized it was old news.

by Jazzy on Jan 21, 2009 8:56 pm • linkreport

As guests in DC from the State of Washington, we (my wife and I) were both pleased, and extremely disappointed. We boarded the VRE at Rippon at about 6:45, and disembarked with our blue tickets in hand at about 8:15 at L'Enfant. We immedately came north on 6th SW to Independence, and turned east. Between 4th and 3rd, the crowd was wall to wall, and we spent 20 minutes just trying to push our way through one block to Washington Ave. Upon finally getting to the blue gate at C St SW and Washington, we entered the line just before the gates opened. We were hearded like cattle through the shoot and into the check points.

We were one of the lucky ones who got in before the generators died, and made our way through the blue section to be front and center. There was a HUGE amount of room around us for the entire inauguration.

Leaving is where it got tricky. After waiting in line for 30 minutes because of constant police blockages to allow VIPs to head west on Independence, we got back to the original gates. We decided to head up C back towards L'Enfant, but it was blocked at 3rd. So we tried going south on 3rd to D, but got caught in a huge crowd coming from all directions trying to get to the Federal Center SW station. After 20 minutes of being pushed and shoved, rumors started to filter through the crowd that the station was closed. We decided to head the only direction that didn't have thousands of people pressing in, east on D.

At this point, we were locked in, and the only thing fencing and law enforcement would allow us to do was to go north through the I-395 tunnel.

So, we walked north, through the tunnel to Massachusetts Ave. At this point, it is 2:30pm, and my wife, who is 3 months pregnant, was about to drop. I decided to get us to Union Station, where we could get our VRE home, and simply sit and relax there until our 4:50 departure.

After stopping briefly at the pub at F NW and N Capitol, we took out the map that was provided by VRE, which to us made it look like our entrance to the train was located about 1/2 way down 1st St NE at the Metro entrance. After waiting in line there for 15 minutes, we got in the door, only to find that the escalator up to the trains was shut off. We then got in line to exit the station, and went back up to the corner of 1st St NE and Columbus Circle.

At this point, we found a HUGE crowd, which was growing by the minute, and people streaming out of the station and pushing through the crowd. We stood there for at least 1/2 hour before the DHS Police, who sat idly by up until that point looking grim with large guns, finally decided to get a bull horn to tell us what was going on (this has been previously discussed in this thread).

Once we finally got into the station, and back to the VRE, we were only 40 minutes away from our scheduled departure, and so got in line again, finally getting out a little before 5.

From reading other posts, we were lucky. We got to see the inauguration, we were only in 6 crushing lines, and we only walked about 2 1/2 miles.

I might recommend to the inauguration committee, and to the Secret Service, that hiring people who have actually put on major events before (like the Olympics, World's Fairs, etc) might help to address many of the crowd control issues that we saw.) In the end, I didn't spend a dime in DC, because I was either in lines (actually huge bullpens), or walking to find my way, with no signage and literally not one official whose role was to actually be helpful.

Better luck for DC, and for all of us, next time.

by OpieWA on Jan 21, 2009 10:23 pm • linkreport

MPC: Wait, wasn't there some economist that was berating me and other commenters for suggesting that WMATA raise parking fees and charging rush hour fares?

Which is it? "Another Economist" says you can't charge high fares because of other factors that Econ 101 doesn't take into account, and "MPC" says we should have charged more.

See this thread: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=1442

Ward 1 Guy: That's like saying you'll deal with a food shortage by hunting and gathering. It works if you're one of only a few people doing it, but if everybody drove to the mall to see the event, the parking for all those cars would have taken up more than 2 square miles*, as shown on this rough map:


View Larger Map

If only a few hundred people do it, that's fine; they got lucky. But the only reason those people were able to get close to the mall without a major backup and were able to find a space near the mall was that hundreds of thousands of people took transit, walked or biked to the site. If everyone decided to deal with a food shortage by hunting and gathering, you'd end up with no food very quickly.

*Assumptions: 300,000 cars carrying 4 people each, parked side-to-side and bumper-to-bumper in 20 foot by 10 foot stalls, with no aisles or access ways = about 2.15 square miles. The depicted figure is approximate and assumes all roads, houses, buildings, etc, are leveled to make room for cars.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 21, 2009 10:36 pm • linkreport

@ Michael Perkins

I could care less about the comparative efficiencies regarding free vs. non-free rides.

All I know is that:

A- Metro not only operates at a marginal loss, but an increasing marginal loss. (diseconomy of scale)

B- Not only that, but they failed to collect what little they could from the passengers they allowed (at a loss).

Someone has to foot the bill. We've already seen transit get the short shaft from the stimulus bill so it won't be from the feds. Next level down, local government (oh wait, us).

Whoever told you charging higher prices is bad is an idiot. Metro is an excludable, rivalrous good. It's *not* a public good by any definition. People often confuse publicly-funded goods with public goods. Public schools aren't even public goods.

So for one, his premise falls flat on his face before it even starts. Metrorail serves a purpose; to carry passengers. It has a definite capacity (even if it's above what engineers thought it would be). Thus, you can raise prices until you reach the equilibrium of operating at full capacity and charging the highest price possible.

Again, it *isn't* a public good, so if Another Economist is lurking, I'd like to ask him why he qualifies the subway system as one.

by MPC on Jan 21, 2009 10:54 pm • linkreport

The quote implying a diseconomy of scale is obviously not authoritative, or is talking about selective sections of an integration of the supply/demand curve, rather than an average.

In this case, the demand for Metro was highly inelastic to price changes relative to normal operations, and the political backlash if they were seen to be gauging was great.

An official federal emergency was declared. The Metro stations opened the gates at specific stations as an act of evacuation, in order to lessen the probability of loss of life & limb. I expect that they will be reimbursed.

-----

They adapted by streamlining - $10 all-day passes and $4 cash parking. IMO if they expected to open the gates they should have converted to pass-only operation, but not charged exorbitantly. That would have allowed them to open the faregates to those downtown in relatively good conscience as corporate employees looking out for the bottom line. I can tell you that it was only at the heavily loaded stations that this happened, and they were predominantly pass-holders anyway, as that's what volunteers were suggesting people order.

If they had raised prices in order to bring demand down to levels commensurate with normal service levels (say, 3x normal fares), they would have faced outrage, a great number of additional vehicles on the roads, and potential retribution from each of the many different sections of government that still make a contribution to their budget.

by Squalish on Jan 21, 2009 11:10 pm • linkreport

Squalish

You just presented a beautiful argument on why government has to stay out of enterprise.

If Metro was private and only responded to the market, it would operate perfectly efficiently. But rather, since there are political ties, will it ever operate as efficiently as possible?

For the same reason why it's inevitable that Congressman X will insist that bank bailout money go to a dying business in his district.

So, basically, yes, you're right. Politically-influenced private goods will never allocate efficiently.

by MPC on Jan 21, 2009 11:15 pm • linkreport

Besides, I wasn't talking about getting Quantity demanded to regular service levels, just a level so that it could operate somewhat smoothly.

by MPC on Jan 21, 2009 11:17 pm • linkreport

MPC, what you're missing is that WMATA is not trying to get Metro to operate perfectly efficiently, they're trying to get Metro to work efficiently as a piece of a the entire transportation system.

by Alex B. on Jan 21, 2009 11:30 pm • linkreport

Alex B.

I don't follow your logic. What measure of efficiency do you suggest?

by MPC on Jan 21, 2009 11:32 pm • linkreport

MPC,

This is what I'm talking about:

http://www.rff.org/rff/documents/rff-dp-07-38.pdf

The point is how do you frame economic efficiency? What's most efficient for Metro, or what's more efficient for the entirety of the DC transportation system - cars, buses, trains, pedestrians, etc.

This paper, for example, determines that the optimal fare during rush hours would be a 95% subsidy for DC.

Is there a diseconomy of scale? Yes, for WMATA. But that also offers increasing benefits for the entire transportation system. Metro is the highest capacity mode, thus it is worth subsidizing since it can handle the biggest crowds. What's most economically efficient for Metro is not the most economically efficient thing for the system as a whole. Which is why transportation ends up being provided and regulated by governments, and not solely by the private sector.

by Alex B. on Jan 21, 2009 11:50 pm • linkreport

MPC: Speaking of the conflict between different viewpoints on the financial system... I'm not that big of a fan of budgets that combine income from user fees and temporary, non-committal political allocations. But for many cases, it's difficult to avoid. I believe that on average, there is significant benefit for a transit agency in particular to maintaining a cost recovery ratio of > 1 when speaking strictly of operational expenses. Even so, that doesn't speak for specific incidents like this one.

In this case, Metro operated very efficiently in moving passengers. They only opened the gates (which in a private environment would be seen as 'failure', but in a public environment would be seen as 'success') in situations where the crowds outside threatened to create a disturbance.

What is your definition of "somewhat smoothly"? A price-based definition ignores the very real part of the regional transportation infrastructure that they can and should play, particularly in emergencies like this where they may be receiving federal compensation.

Attacking them because they decided to forgo a tiny amount of marginal profit ignores many of the externalities of operation yesterday.

Hell, you might have been able to sell the CEO of a strictly corporate WMATA on making this a "Free Ride Day" on marketing & liability purposes alone.

by Squalish on Jan 21, 2009 11:53 pm • linkreport

Listen, you can make anything operate efficiently enough if you give it enough subsidies, that's not the point.

First, let me restate, Metro is not a public good. It is a taxpayer financed service, so let's go from there.

Seeing as its not a public good, how can you justify the financing of the service by the taxpayers?

And don't say external benefits.

At that point, doesn't the government funding and operating Metro turn from a government provided public goods for the 'greater good' into a corporation which is constantly bailed out by taxpayer?

The question is this: If put up, with the infrastructure, for privatization, would there be profitable routes and service that the private sector would be willing to pick up?

by MPC on Jan 22, 2009 12:09 am • linkreport

In economics, a 'public good' denotes an ideal product which anyone is free to consume regardless of whether they have paid, and which can be consumed simultaneously by as many people as desired, each without depriving another person of their share. Metro does not strictly fit the definition of either. It is not a 'public good'. Neither is the Smithsonian, even though it is largely subsidized. Neither are the Secret Service Screeners who screwed up the inauguration. Whether a provider is public, private, or a mixture does not make the product that they provide a 'public good'. Those architects employed to make a corporate headquarters create a 'public good' - a small fraction of the city's skyline - for entirely profit-driven reasons. Those who are selected to make the 9/11 monument do the same while being completely subsidized by the taxpayer.

I don't think the phrase connotes a meaningful distinction in either abstract theories of socioeconomic justice or in specific practices of budgeting transit. It's just a conflation of other connotations of the words 'private' and 'public' that we've come to use, for whatever purpose the speaker desires.

In regards to the specific suggestion -

Privatize operation but provide the infrastructure, and you will be picking on every single capital expenditure as an unjust transfer of wealth from the taxpayer to entrenched elite who happened to buy the Orange Line at the right moment. In addition, without competing companies to keep prices low, there is no incentive to keep the operators (who are making money off of public expenditures) subservient to the public interest. I'm not even going to delve into the socioeconomic case for supporting the lower classes as a way to keep the overall economy & polity healthy.

by Squalish on Jan 22, 2009 12:45 am • linkreport

I don't really know what your point was with the first paragraph, but if your second paragraph was a beatdown on people who don't know the difference between public financing and public goods, then thanks, I agree.

And no, I meant privatize the whole enchilada. Or charge rent.

by MPC on Jan 22, 2009 12:57 am • linkreport

OpieWA-

Welcome to our world. The federal government screws up and the city suffers.

by Adam on Jan 22, 2009 1:08 am • linkreport

And don't say external benefits.

I may be jumping into this argument in the middle and missing something, but this seems like a fairly outrageous request. Like asking someone, "Why do you go to work? - And don't say 'money.'"

You only have to read about 3 paragraphs into the paper Alex B. linked to to see why subsidies might be justified. It's pretty basic economics. (Again, I could be missing something here, but it really does seem pretty clear cut.)

by jack lecou on Jan 22, 2009 1:13 am • linkreport

Many of the positive effects shouted from the rooftops by free marketeers simply don't exist when one deals with a good that defies direct market competition with other privately operated goods. IMO, privatization (the reenforcement of market competition) should be favored only when a dysfunctional public monopoly has been created through institutional habit rather than disposition of the goods offered - in a similar manner to antitrust law for private monopolies. A subway system is very close to an ideal private monopoly; For example, when the London Tube system was joined together from many individual companies, it benefited the public significantly, both in ease of understanding, expansion, financing, & interconnection of different routes. Even more than this, it's a way to direct growth along areas that public utilities reactive to growth are prepared to accommodate. Capital expansion of the system directly reduces the necessary public subsidy of cars by a disproportionate amount.

If an overarching bureaucracy that looks sinister to conservatives wasn't an efficient way to run such a system day-to-day, we would never have created one; Noone is ordering you which way you have to drive on the freeway to get to your destination most efficiently, because noone needs to.

Where's the benefit to the region of putting WMATA's entire system, or the electric grid's entire system, or the DC road network's entire system, up to a bidding process?

by Squalish on Jan 22, 2009 1:29 am • linkreport

Correction *A subway system is very close to an ideal monopoly [whether private or public]

Addition: What jack said.

by Squalish on Jan 22, 2009 1:31 am • linkreport

"Noone is ordering you which way you have to drive on the freeway to get to your destination most efficiently, because noone needs to."

But the fact of the matter is that I still pay for it regardless of my opinion of it.

I could justify the payment for roads via taxation because of a very real free-rider effect.

That said, currently both roads (license plate readers) and rails (tickets) are quite capable of charging for those who choose to consume.

by MPC on Jan 22, 2009 1:56 am • linkreport

"free-rider effect?" Care to elaborate(with explanation of why it doesn't apply to subways)? As well as, perhaps, addressing whether or not you accept my points & why? I'm out for the night.

by Squalish on Jan 22, 2009 2:12 am • linkreport

More on topic, my Metro experience on Tuesday was completely smooth. Amazing, considering. And that was arriving at Gallery Place on the green line shortly after the accident, though some friends on the red traveling at the same time had to walk from NY Ave. (Glad to hear she's alright - the initial reports were that someone had actually been hit by a train.)

I have no other complaints either, really, but I was surprised by the incredibly poor crowd control. Most...interesting part of the day was trying to leave the mall from about 15th and Independence. An experience I shared with about 200,000 other people. A solid mass unsteadily shuffling along literally shoulder-to-shoulder and chest-to-back, and streams moving in both directions at once, with NO direction from the plentiful national guard and police units about which directions might actually be clear up ahead, or where to go.

In fact, I saw exactly two megaphones used all day: one by an MPD(?) officer at the north end of the 395 tunnel directing people up to the Metro stations. The other by a man hawking discounted t-shirts in Chinatown.

More communication was needed, and I'm just amazed it wasn't provided.

I'm further amazed hearing the stories about the ticketed sections, and seeing the swathes of empty space on the mall itself from the aerial photos.

How hard would have been to divide the mall into a grid of cordoned off viewing sections and pathways? And real time coordination between watchers overhead and officials on the ground to direct traffic to fill up empty grid sections efficiently, close them off when full, and then direct the crowd on the way out?

I also think part of the problem was that the security balance, such as it was, was tilted way too far in the direction of presidential security. Everyone was in a pretty good mood, but those crowds would not have been safe if something stupid had happened. How difficult or unsafe would it have really been to open a few of the north-south streets (lined temporarily on both sides with fences and officers, say) to help empty the mall from the north?

by jack lecou on Jan 22, 2009 2:27 am • linkreport

MPC-

You're right that neither roads nor rails are really public goods, and they never really have been. But I really don't see who you're arguing with about that.

You seem to think that the "free rider effect" is the only kind of market failure, but it's not. There are many kinds, many very subtle, and "public goods", in the economic sense, are hardly the only goods that can or should be publicly provided or subsidized.

In addition to the external benefits (which are reason enough for a subsidy), subway systems, as Squalish has pointed out, are a (weak-ish) natural monopoly. This is another classic justification for heavy public sector involvement.

by jack lecou on Jan 22, 2009 2:38 am • linkreport

Come to think of it though, there is a sort of free-rider effect with subways. (After all, saying something has external benefits is really the same thing.)

So the real estate developers that receive higher rents from proximity to transit stations are free riders.

Drivers who experience reduced congestion on roadways are free riders.

Etc.

by jack lecou on Jan 22, 2009 2:44 am • linkreport

Wow, this is one of the longer comment threads I've seen on this blog. I might as well add my two cents.

This was my second inauguration, I went to Clinton's first in 93. Back then, my buddies and I actually jumped the fence into the ticketed area by the Capitol to see the swearing in, and still got over to Penn Ave to see the parade, although there were a few tense moments of being pressed against a security fence, it was very smooth, even though it was the largest crowd that I had seen or been in at that point.

I'll try not to repeat what has been said already, especially by Squalish, whose experience seemed most like ours of any accounts that I've read on any blog. We rode in on MARC, and were probably the last train there. BTW, I saw a NJT train of at least 12 cars outside of Union Station. I was wondering why there wasn't more NJT or SEPTA equipment there, although it was probably good that there wasn't, as it turns out.

Outside the station, I asked a large gathering of cops whether the parade route had been closed yet, they said no, but that it would probably close soon. At that point, after I literally bumped into Matt Lauer, we decided to go to the Mall, and try to get near a jumbotron. This soon proved to be hopeless. So we walked along D and E, going west, trying to get through the thousands of people waiting in each securtiy checkpoint line, until we got to about 12th or 13th.

The map from the WashPost metro section, which I thought would be my savior, did not match the reality at all. (Although it did help later). As others have pointed out, there was no crossing of the parade route, and, well, we were about to give up hope. This was at about 11 o'clock, btw.

So we started to walk back towards Union Station, thinking at least maybe we could get into a restaurant or cafe and watch on tv, when we came upon 11th St. The street itself was blocked off, for emergency vehicle access, as we would soon learn, but the sidewalks were open almost to Penn Ave, apparently to provide access to the businesses on the street. So we walked right up to the barriers, and were only 20 or 30 yards from the parade route, right in front of the announcers booth with Lidnsay Czarniak and some military guy doing a very lame commentary, in between some very good, and some very bad musical numbers. This was right by the Old Post Office, just to give a landmark location.

So by 11:15 or so, we had a clear view of the parade route, and were right by the speakers, so at least we could perfectly hear the swearing in, even if we couldn't see it. At this point there were only a dozen or so spectators at our location, and twice that many cops. Most of which were just smoking or drinking coffee. Of course, in our sweet location, there was some kind of food place right behind us where we could pop in to get some soup, or chili, or hot drinks.

Now, as I said, 11th was kept open for offical and emergency traffic, so we got to see alot of cops and ambulances. Soon after we got there, we saw an ambulance from LaVale, MD, which made me comment that it had come a long way. Not ten minutes later, we saw an ambulance from Ventura County, CA. There were also alot of LA County Sheriffs Deputies where we were, and they were all carrying their gas masks. Also Minnesota State Troopers wear maroon uniforms. I have to admit, it was fun checking the shoulder patches of all the different cops, even though they were no help at all.

After claiming our spot, I walked out several times to check whether we could get in to the parade route through security . It was plain that the security lines were taking far too long. So we stayed where we were, and after five hours, and the ambulances toying with us by moving around and blocking and unblocking our view, we all did get to see Barack, Michelle, Joe and Jill walk by.

Then, the return to Union Station. It was a mess, the security zone around the Building Museum was much too large, but once we got there, and the cops got out their bullhorns, it really wasn't that bad. My buddy commented that several portable highway type message signs would have really come in handy at that point. I know that several people have made this observation already, but having an inaugural ball at Union Station is a terrible idea.

Anyway, overall, it was great!

by kinverson on Jan 22, 2009 9:24 am • linkreport

I believe Metro handled the whole situation well overall, but it shows why we need more metro stations downtown, particularly an infill station on the Yellow line by the Jefferson memorial. In particular, the Inaugural Committee's decision to separate the north side of the mall (the parade route) from the south side forced most of the spectators on the mall to one of two stations: L'Enfant Plaza or Federal Center SW. Many locals who knew better got off at Foggy Bottom or Farragut and walked toward the Lincoln Memorial. I, on the other hand, decided to brave crowds by the Washington Monument, and went to L'Enfant with everbody else.

On the way to the mall in the morning (I left my house at 9 am), they announced on the Yellow line that L'Enfant was closed and everybody going to the mall had to get off at Gallery Place (since Archives was also closed, the next stop would be Pentagon). This would have been fine if there hadn't been check points along the parade route. But I had a backpack, since I hadn't expected to pass through any checkpoints. Most of the other people on the train, mostly tourists, looked very confused, but got off at Gallery. I stayed on the train (hoping to transfer to the Blue line at Pentagon), and as soon as the doors were closed, we heard an announcement that L'Enfant was re-opened.

At any rate, the fact that the ONLY yellow line station south of the mall could be closed left a lot of people panicked, not sure how they would get to where they wanted to be.

On the way back home, we ended up in the middle of an enormous crowd outside the north entrance to L'Enfant station. The National Guard members stationed at the entrance had only one escalator open, and were only allowing people from in front of the station opening on to it. A huge crowd had gathered on the other side of the escalators but weren't being let on. After 30 minutes of standing perfectly still watching people get on the escalators, we decided to bail and head toward Federal Center SW. At that station we found ourselves in a nice orderly line, sharply contrasting the chaos at L'Enfant. But the line took 2 hours and people were getting restless. Once we finally got into the tunnel, we found the trains and platforms had plenty of space and were not overcrowded.

In summary, I felt that the Inaugural Committee had spent a lot of effort figuring out how to get people to the mall over 7 hours, but put little thought into getting them all away from the mall at the same time. Metro, for its part, did a much better job handling crowds in the system later in the day, but did it by only allowing a trickle back into the tunnels. Of course, they didn't tell anybody this is what they were doing; most of the people waiting impatiently in the huge crowds had no idea these crowds were deliberate.

I have also concluded that despite Washington being the capitol city of the US, and despite the Mall's propensity to draw huge crowds for various events, the city's transit system is really not designed very well to deal with such massive crowds. If it were, there would be many more stops near the mall.

by Andrew Marcus on Jan 23, 2009 5:13 pm • linkreport

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