No doubt you’ve heard about the legions of crowds expected to flock upon the streets of Washington, DC on January 20. Millions of people from around the world are expected to be in attendance at the inauguration of Barack Obama as America’s 44th president. Yet, because of the hype, many also speculate that the throngs of crowds that many people are expecting won’t show up after all. There will be more in attendance at this year’s inauguration than at any other in America’s history, but what sorts of crowds can travelers really expect?
It’s hard to say just how many people will show up because no other president in history has captured the hearts of the populace as has the future presidency of Barack Obama. But if we are to plan for the highest levels of attendance, we can safely assume a few things. First, when traveling by public transport, you’ll need to give yourself plenty of time.
The new airport security processes we’ve had in effect since September 11 will pose the same challenges as before. Only now, you must keep in mind that in addition to traveling amidst the crowds in the airport, your flight will undoubtedly be crowded, too. Try to line up early to board the plane first; if you have luggage that must go in the overhead compartment, you can stow it away before space fills up.
Expect the usual delays and also prepare materials to occupy yourself and your companions. Bring plenty of reading material, your laptop, or portable music player. Bring small, portable, non-electronic games if you are traveling with kids.
And, to get through airport security faster, consider wearing slide-on shoes like flip-flops or loafers. Sneakers and other lace-up shoes take longer to pull off and on.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has already announced that it will begin service January 20 at 4 a.m. If you plan to take the metro to the inauguration, you will want to arrive at the metro earlier than that. Think about it this way: Thousands of other people know that the metro is opening earlier, and they, just like you, would like to get to the inauguration to beat the crowds. Some people will try to camp out in front of the metro; unfortunately, camping out is prohibited. Instead, you will have to arrive at an appropriate time so you can take the metro without having to loiter or wait too long.
When you finally do get on the metro, expect to ride standing. Metro cars can hold an estimated 150 people at a time. If there are more than 800 people waiting for an 8-car train, you can expect most cars to be filled. One way to avoid the super crunch is by getting on the first and last cars. Most people like to board the metro in the middle cars. Boarding at the end may give you a better chance of having more space or even of getting a seat.
If you are fearless enough to bypass public transportation to walk to the inauguration from your hotel, it can be done. Popular spots in DC like Eastern Market, Georgetown, Tenleytown, and others are just 3 miles or less from the inauguration. If the weather is nice enough to walk and you are in good shape and good health, this may be a good option for you. Just remember to keep common rules of good safety in mind.
Never travel in an unknown city alone. Use a map, but don’t flash it around announcing to others that you don’t know where you’re going and that you’re a tourist. Memorize your route or write it down on a sheet of paper, referring to it discreetly. If you’re traveling at night, take caution. And when you can, travel in a large group. Buddy up with a partner or two and exchange contact information in the event that one of you gets lost.
Other forms of transportation like bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, etc. are not guaranteed to be permitted at the inauguration. Just in case, prepare to have to leave these items outside of a designated perimeter.
Traveling by car or truck is strictly prohibited, and several major streets throughout downtown Washington, DC will be blocked off.