Though roads closed and the Blue Line stopped running on Veterans Day, crowding and waits for commuters weren’t as bad as some had feared. For people who had the day off, the closures even created an impromptu “open streets” event on car-free avenues. But many details, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, came as a surprise.

Car-free Independence Avenue. Photo by Joe in DC on Flickr.

The Concert for Valor did attract large crowds to the National Mall, but they were nowhere near the 800,000 people that concert organizers initially predicted. Immediately beforehand, they lowered the estimate to closer to 250,000.

“Our initial indications are everything went very smoothly,” said National Park Service (NPS) spokesperson Mike Litterst. NPS was responsible for managing and coordinating road closures and security for the concert with other agencies.

Streets closed at 6 am for a 7 pm event

Thirteen hours before the concert began, all of the streets closed around the mall, including long stretches of Constitution and Independence Avenues and everything from 3rd to 17th Streets as far north as Pennsylvania Avenue and as far south as Maine Avenue. Commenters on our pre-Veterans Day post about the changes asked why the closures could not have begun after the morning rush.

“In general… closure time for the streets is a decision jointly made by all of the participating public safety and law enforcement agencies for safety and security reasons,” said Litterst. “It allows the secure area to be properly and diligently swept and secured prior to the concertgoers entering. It is a security plan and process that has been refined over numerous large-scale events in and around the Mall over the years, including Independence Day, inaugurations, and large-scale races, such as the Marine Corps Marathon.”

Cyclists, walkers, and joggers, however, enjoyed the car-free spaces. Throughout the day, photos and videos of people enjoying a nearly empty Constitution Avenue emerged.

“That was pretty fun. Let’s close down Constitution more often,” said Rob Pitingolo, who shot a video of the car-free boulevard.

But actually crossing the Mall was more difficult. Anyone entering the area between Jefferson and Madison Drives, 17th Street, and the Capitol had to pass through security checks, and those only opened at 10 am.

Metro served 40% more riders than last Veterans Day

Metrorail trains carried about 523,000 passengers on Veterans Day, says spokesperson Dan Stessel. Last year, when there was no large event, roughly 375,000 people rode Metro.

Personally, I noticed slightly more people than usual on my morning and evening commutes on Metro from Shaw to Braddock Road. Despite fewer trains and no Blue Line, my experience was better than on previous “minor” holidays when scheduled track work and crowded transfer stations made the inconveniences of reduced schedules even worse.

Light crowds on the Yellow Line heading into DC at Pentagon at about 5:30 pm. Photo by the author.

“From our perspective, the day went really well,” said Stessel. “Service levels were appropriate to meet ridership demand at all hours of the day, and we believe we struck an appropriate balance between the needs of regular commuters with those heading to the Concert for Valor.”

Greater Greater Washington readers asked why Metro didn’t keep the Blue Line open until later in the day. Metro also banned bikes all day.

“No doubt, the service changes were in place to handle crowds that, in the end, were not as large as the Park Service permit,” said Stessel. “We make no apologies for this. We have to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

What could be better next time?

Some of the details of the street closures and service changes got lost in the media blitz before the event. For example, NPS and the press could have more clearly communicated that Constitution and Independence Avenues would be free of cars and open to pedestrians and cyclists. Most news reports focused on the effect on drivers.

Also, NPS could work to minimize the impact on cyclists. While drivers could still use the 3rd Street (I-395) and 9th Street tunnels to cross the Mall, cyclists couldn’t. They had to cross either east of 3rd or west of 17th. NPS could designate corridors, perhaps along one of the streets at the edge of the security cordon, for riders to cross the Mall. Many, myself included, would have taken advantage of these.