WASHINGTON — Massive crowds are expected in downtown D.C. on Saturday, March 24, as cherry blossom season mixes with an anti-gun violence march sparked by the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
The crowds and road closures are expected to create significant traffic delays and lead to crowded trains and buses.
Metro and MARC have added extra train service, and Amtrak is considering it.
D.C. Homeland Security Director Christopher Rodriguez urges visitors to agree to a plan in advance on where they will meet up with other members of their group if they get separated. Given the large crowds, cell phone service could be limited downtown Saturday.
The rally is scheduled to start at noon, but road closures are expected to run most of the day.
Here are the options for getting around:
Cherry blossom tourist traffic this time of year typically causes major delays along Independence Avenue Southwest, Rock Creek Parkway, Maine Avenue Southwest and other roads around the Tidal Basin.
In addition to those slowdowns, road closures for the March For Our Lives are expected to block Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest between the Capitol and the White House.
The closures will also block 3rd St., 7th St., and 12th St. across the National Mall.
The 3rd St. tunnel will remain open, the 9th St. tunnel will be closed, and the 12th St. tunnel is expected to remain open as long as crowd conditions permit, with all traffic directed onto westbound Constitution Ave. Constitution Ave. NW will be closed between 14th St. and Pennsylvania Ave.
The boundaries of the road closures from 3 a.m. to 6 p.m. are expected to be 14th St. NW, 3rd St. NW, Independence Ave. SW and E St. NW. 14th St. and Independence Ave. While it could change based on the crowds, Independence Ave. and 14th St. NW are scheduled to remain open. There will be a significant number of parking restrictions as well.
Combined, the delays could ripple across much of downtown D.C. and onto some bridges leading into the city from Arlington. Anyone who does not have to drive near the National Mall March 24 will be best off avoiding the area entirely.
Additional delays were expected around the Warner Theatre that evening for the National Cherry Blossom Festival opening ceremony, but organizers pushed the event back one day to avoid a conflict with the march.
Peak bloom for most of the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin is expected between March 27 and March 31.
Due to the expected crowds, the I-95 Express Lanes and I-395 HOV lanes in Virginia are on an unusual schedule this weekend that could create some delays for many people not heading into D.C. this weekend.
The lanes will point northbound from about 2 a.m. Saturday to around 10 a.m. when they will closed to flip around, Express Lanes operator Transurban said.
From about noon Saturday through Sunday night, the lanes are scheduled to point southbound.
Around midnight Sunday, the lanes will go back into normal operations to reverse northbound for Monday morning’s commute.
The unusual schedule could create some extra delays on I-95 southbound Saturday and on I-95 northbound Sunday compared to a typical weekend. Normally, the lanes run southbound on Saturdays until about 2 p.m. then northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday through Monday morning.
Metro reported over 207,000 riders as of 1 p.m. today and said Archives Station will remain closed on the Green and Yellow Line due to March for Our Lives. Metro recommends riders use Gallery Place or L’Enfant Plaza instead.
The best advice is to avoid transferring between lines if at all possible and taking one train as close as you can get to your destination, even if it means walking a few extra blocks downtown.
Metro recommends using Metro Center, Gallery Place, L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Center SW or Union Station. Federal Triangle Metro Station will be closed, D.C. Police said. At Judiciary Square, only the entrance closest to the National Building museum is open, since a months-long escalator construction project continues at the 4th Street entrance.
Metro plans near rush-hour service from opening at 7 a.m. March 24 through about 6 p.m., or when the crowds start to die down. Trains will be scheduled every eight minutes on each line, with trains coming more frequently where lines overlap. Metro will still charge off-peak fares, which range from $2 for the shortest trips to $3.85 one-way for the longest trips.
There is no track work scheduled during the day Saturday or Sunday. Single-tracking is scheduled to slow riders on the Red, Orange, Silver and Green Lines only after 10 p.m. each day. On Sunday, the rail system operates from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
New riders have already missed the deadline to order a SmarTrip card in the mail, but can buy the cards at fare vending machines in stations, local transit stores, or a number of area CVS and Giant stores at any time.
Riders who have SmarTrip cards already should add value ahead of March 24, either online or at machines in stations, to avoid waiting in lines at those machines that day. Any value added online can take up to three days to appear on the card.
Metro now charges $2 for parking on Saturdays at all stations but Wiehle-Reston East, so riders who park at stations must factor in that cost when adding money to cards.
On Thursday, Metro told WTOP it would waive non-rider parking fees Saturday that usually charge significantly more to drivers who pay with a credit card or a SmarTrip card that has not just been used to ride the rail system.
Amtrak is in discussions about whether to add extra trains to and from Union Station before and on March 24, but no final decision has been made yet.
While Amtrak mainly expects to carry people on longer intercity trips, riders are guaranteed seats on trains they have tickets for, so some more local travelers may choose Amtrak as well.
In Virginia, a limited number of weekend Amtrak trains serve stations such as Manassas, and more trains that run to and from stations such as Fredericksburg, and Quantico.
VRE does not run on weekends, and will not be running March 24, the agency said. Amtrak serves a number of VRE stations in Virginia.
In Maryland, the Northeast Corridor runs between Baltimore Penn Station, BWI Marshall Airport Rail Station and Union Station, and is supplemented by MARC train service.
Prices for Amtrak vary based on the exact train, time of day and how far in advance tickets are purchased, but cost significantly more than MARC tickets.
MARC is adding two round trips between Washington’s Union Station and Baltimore’s Penn Station on March 24 to the usual weekend Penn Line service, and is warning that riders need to arrive at stations no later than 20 minutes before their train departs that day.
MARC also urges riders to buy tickets in advance ($6 each way from Odenton or Bowie State, $7 each way from BWI Marshall Airport Rail Station, $8 each way from Baltimore). Tickets ordered online typically take four to five days to arrive in the mail, but they can be purchased anytime at Amtrak ticket machines in a number of stations.
However, having a ticket does not guarantee a spot on the train.
“All available Penn Line resources will be deployed; however, our capacity — especially on the weekends — is limited. It is likely that trains will be very crowded and you will have to stand. Boarding will be stopped on trains when they reach a safe capacity,” the Maryland Transit Administration said in a statement.
Some riders could have to wait for a later train.
Due to the crowds, MARC will not allow bikes — even folding bikes — to be brought on trains March 24. MARC also will not use group discounts March 24.
MARC’s Camden and Brunswick Lines do not run on weekends.
Parking is free at MARC stations at West Baltimore, Halethorpe, Odenton and Bowie State University.
Paid parking garages operate at Baltimore Penn Station and BWI Marshall Airport Rail Station.
The additional weekend trains will depart Baltimore Penn Station at 6:30 a.m. and 9:40 a.m., and will not stop at Bowie State or New Carrollton. All other southbound trains will make regular stops, with the exception of the train that usually departs Martin State Airport at 2:45 p.m. Riders there will get on a bus to Penn Station where the train is scheduled to depart as usual at 3:10 p.m.
Northbound from Union Station, the additional trains will depart at 3:25 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Those trains will not stop at New Carrollton, but will stop at Bowie State and all other stations through to Baltimore Penn Station.
The last northbound MARC trains depart Washington at 9:30 p.m. and 10:35 p.m., arriving in Baltimore about an hour later.
Capital Bikeshare promises to have docks and bikes available in the middle of the day Saturday at Jefferson Drive and 14th St NW near the Washington Monument and at 7th & F Streets NW near the National Portrait Gallery.
The corral service from 10 a.m to 6 p.m. near the Washington Monument and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. near the Portrait Gallery is meant to ensure that riders know they can take a trip to a busy area without concern of “dockblocking,” the situation when there are no docks available in a given area.
Capital Bikeshare will also operate the Jefferson Drive and 14th St NW corral service for Cherry Blossom visitors Sunday and all of next week.
The special corral service to align with projected peak bloom of the cherry blossoms is scheduled run through April 1.
Many visitors are expected to arrive by bus in the District for the march or for regular spring-break tourist visits.
The District Department of Transportation plans to run shuttle buses between the rally and the RFK Stadium parking lots where charter buses are scheduled to drop off riders.
Beyond tour buses, companies such as BoltBus, Megabus and Greyhound operate in and out of Union Station. Other bus companies, especially connecting to New York or Philadelphia, run from other parts of the city.
BoltBus had not seen any unusual demand for tickets about a week before the events, General Manager David Hall said in an email.
Many BoltBus tickets are booked only in the days before a trip, he said.
For bus riders dropped at Union Station or in the Chinatown area who are able, walking to or from the National Mall or Tidal Basin will likely be the simplest way to reach their destinations.
Regular Metrobus routes will be detoured around the road closures, but could also provide an alternative to the rail system for trips within the District or to areas just across the border such as Silver Spring or Arlington.