Metro expects huge crowds as gun control march and cherry blossom festival collide

Update noon Thursday: Metro plans to run near-rush-hour service from opening at 7 a.m. March 24 through approximately 6 p.m. Trains will be scheduled every 8 minutes on each line, with more frequent service at stations served by multiple lines. Metrobus will run on a Saturday schedule, with detours around any road closures.

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands are expected to flood D.C. for the “March for Our Lives” gun control rally later this month coinciding with an influx of visitors to the Cherry Blossom Festival.

As as result, Metro is urging potential riders to order SmarTrip cards online this week.

While Metro is still developing precise service plans for March 24, the day of the rally, the agency said Wednesday that the single most important piece of advice for new riders is to order a SmarTrip card online by Friday. The card should arrive in the mail before the weekend of the march.

Last year, even some riders who ordered inauguration SmarTrip cards before the agency’s deadline, did not receive them in time for the big day. For this event, Metro has added a few extra days of buffer.

Basic cards ordered online cost $10 — $2 for the card, plus $8 in fare value. Each rider needs his or her own card.

Metro plans to charge off-peak fares on March 24 which top out at $3.85 for a one-way trip. (The minimum off-peak fare is $2.)

Metro plans to charge $2 for parking March 24 at Metro lots other than Wiehle-Reston East, under new rules that charge for parking on Saturdays.

The fee is significantly higher at many garages for drivers who pay at the garage exit with a credit card or who pay with a SmarTrip card that was not just used for a rail trip. Riders can add value to their SmarTrip before going to their cars to avoid the extra fee.

Ridership record?

Metro projects that the March for Our Lives — organized following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting — plus the usual spike in cherry blossom ridership within the days surrounding peak bloom could lead to one of the highest ridership days in the past year.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival opening ceremony is scheduled the evening of March 24 at the Warner Theatre and other festival events are planned from March 15 through the weekend of the parade on April 14.

March for Our Lives organizers are now planning to hold their March 24 demonstration on Pennsylvania Avenue NW between Third and 12th Streets NW. They are hoping for up to 500,000 people in D.C., plus others at rallies elsewhere across the country.

The march is expected to add to the downtown traffic delays that typically accompany the big crowds of cherry blossom tourists along the National Mall.

The demonstration, and Cherry Blossom crowds, means Metro will bar bicycles and other large items from the rail system March 24.

If crowding warrants, some stations could also be temporarily designated entrance-only or exit-only.

Metro’s Saturday ridership record was set last year during the Women’s March on Washington, when the agency recorded 1,001,616 rail trips, the second-highest in history.

President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration holds the record for the highest single-day ridership ever at 1.1 million trips.

In 2016, Metrorail’s highest ridership day was a Thursday — March 24 — when rail riders took 767,041 trips.

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