While government workers have the day off for Veterans Day, many people don’t. They will face challenges traveling around the region: Metro will temporary suspend service on the Blue Line, and road closures for the Concert for Valor will block driving and bicycling routes along and across the National Mall.
The Concert for Valor, which begins at 7 pm, is expected to draw up to 800,000 people. Corporate sponsors are funding additional Metro trains to handle the crowds for the concert.
Metro plans to operate weekday peak frequencies with more eight-car trains than it normally offers immediately before and after the concert. However, Metro will suspend the Blue Line and replace it with some Yellow Line trains running to Franconia-Springfield. A bus bridge will connect Pentagon and Rosslyn, and a special shuttle service will serve Arlington Cemetery.
The National Park Service, which is managing access to the Mall for the concert, will close Constitution and Independence Avenues and all of the cross streets from 17th Street to 4th Street (except the 9th Street tunnel) starting at 6 am.
“Minor holidays” mean crowded trains
Metro has faced criticism for crowded trains on so-called “minor” holidays during previous years. Metro ridership declines on these holidays, which include Columbus Day, Presidents’ Day, and Veterans Day when government offices are closed but many private sector employees remain open, its own data shows. Metro frequently reduced service on these days and scheduled track work. However, that meant long waits and crowded trains and platforms.
The morning commute this Veterans Day will likely look a lot like ones past. All terminal stations will see a train only every 12 minutes, with the Yellow Line replacing the Blue Line at Franconia-Springfield. There is no scheduled track work that could disrupt this schedule.
The evening commute will benefit from the additional trains that are planned for the concert but commuters will have to share trains with the crowds bound for the Mall.
Cyclists have to take long detours
Cyclists will face the biggest issues commuting across the Mall tomorrow. There will be no opportunities to cross the Mall between 3rd Street and 23rd Street. Jefferson and Madison Drives along the Mall, both popular east-west bike routes, will also be closed.
Unlike drivers, cyclists do not have the option of taking the Third Street Tunnel (I-395) or the Southwest Freeway to bypass the closures. People can get to offices located south of Independence Avenue by taking Maine Avenue SW to either 3rd Street or 7th Street SW. However, neither is ideal as there is no contiguous east-west route through the L’Enfant Plaza and Federal Center SW neighborhoods from either street.
Crossing the 14th Street Bridge and getting to or from Virginia from downtown DC will be tough. The bridge approach from East Basin Drive and Ohio Drive SW will be open but access will only be available from 23rd Street or via a roundabout journey through Southwest that includes looping south to Maine Ave SW and returning north. Another option is to bypass the 14th Street bridge entirely and use either the Memorial Bridge or Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.
All of the options for cyclists headed to places like Alexandria and Crystal City from the District are likely to add significant mileage to their journeys, especially those coming from points further north or east of the Mall.
Cyclists are already feeling the impact. 4th Street between Jefferson and Madison had been closed since at least the evening of Tuesday, November 4. Jefferson closed today between 3rd and 4th without any advance notice. This has affected my daily commute along the Mall to the 14th Street Bridge; I could not find any notification of these closures after a Google search.
Will tomorrow bring chaos?
A lot of people will still need to get to work on Veterans Day, but the Metro frequencies, road network, and other transportation infrastructure seem to be set up with the assumption that the only people traveling are going to the concert.
Agencies could do better to plan major events on the Mall on a minor holiday. Metro should ensure that there is frequent enough rail service to keep trains uncrowded and waits reasonable, while NPS should consider the rapidly growing number of bike commuters and provide workable alternative bike routes.