Metro offers advice to March For Our Lives, cherry blossom riders

WASHINGTON — Metro is putting all hands on deck for the massive crowds expected due to the March For Our Lives, the National Cherry Blossom Festival and spring break tourist season, and the transit agency is offering some specific advice for the hundreds of thousands of people expected to ride Saturday.

“We’re expecting … possibly one of the busiest days we’ve had in the system,” General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Thursday. “We are doing everything that we can to prepare.”

Police and District agencies are ready for the estimated 500,000 people just at the anti-gun violence March For Our Lives, triggered by the Parkland, Fla. school shooting, D.C. Council member and Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said.

“No screw-ups — we’re ready to go,” Evans said.

Wiedefeld offered three tips to anyone planning to use Metro Saturday — given significant street closures and expected traffic jams, it’s one of the best alternatives for getting around:

Buy a SmarTrip card in advance, and be sure any SmarTrip card you plan to use has a full round-trip fare and any parking fees added before Saturday — you’ll avoid long lines at fare machines. (The deadline to get them online in time has passed, but cards can be bought at Metro stations and many CVS or Giant stores.)

Wiedefeld suggested people with out-of-town guests buy cards on Friday for those visitors. Metro will have additional staff on hand Saturday, including people who will sell some cards by hand at particularly busy suburban stations to riders paying by credit card.

Plan ahead, especially to avoid transfers between lines. Walking a few extra blocks from another station downtown to the march or the cherry blossoms could save a lot of stress and time and relieve unnecessary pressure on the rail system. The Federal Triangle station will be closed, but other stops are scheduled to be open — though if very large crowds develop, some stations could be designated as entrance-only or exit-only for a period of time.

Coming to Union Station on a bus, MARC or Amtrak? Just walk. Trying to get on a Red Line train in the morning just to go a few stops could be difficult, so walking the few blocks from Union Station to the National Mall without using Metro is likely the best bet.

Rush-hour service

Metro plans rush-hour service all day Saturday from opening at 7 a.m. until crowds clear in the evening. There is no track work scheduled until 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Parking lots could fill up quickly at end-of-line stations, Wiedefeld warned, so carpooling or taking the bus to Metro could prove more efficient. Metro now charges $2 for parking on Saturdays (except at Wiehle-Reston East, where parking is free).

Metro is, however, lifting its non-rider parking fees Saturday, which charge people who don’t pay for parking with the SmarTrip card they just used to ride.

Parking lots at some stations a bit closer to downtown also may work as alternatives.

Wiedefeld hopes the additional street closures for this march, as compared to last year’s Women’s March, could help clear stations more quickly, as packed trains empty downtown.

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.

Due to the expected crowds, Metro will bar bicycles and other large items from the rail system March 24.

Evans believes with the extra Metro Transit Police, station managers and other staff, the system is ready: “Metro will be the shining example … I am very confident, more so now than ever, that the system will be able to transport whatever we have, and we could have 500,000 people here in the city, so it’s going to be very interesting.”

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