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Tree Lighting Is Thursday

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Well, it's that time of the year again. Time for thousands of commuters to be inconvenienced by the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

The tree is a wonderful tradition, and Washington would not be the same without it. But my question is: Why does it have to be done at 5 p.m.? Even ignoring the traffic issues, it would make more sense to pick, for example, 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. That way, more people would be at home to watch the lighting on television. Why do you think the President gives televised speeches at 9 and not 5? Same with presidential debates.

The National Christmas Tree lighting will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday on the northeast quadrant of the Ellipse, south of the White House. Many people really enjoy this moment, but many commuters absolutely hate it, because it disrupts traffic for hours in downtown Washington.
Tom Hoffman
Pearisburg, Va.

Why not just have it on a Saturday, when young people would be even freer to attend? Can't the president be home on a Saturday? This event goes back to President Coolidge, so it's a bit difficult to sort out the history regarding the timing -- though I suspect it has to do with the availability of the president and the security and logistical support for the event.

Thursday afternoon, count on there being a lot more cars and a lot more pedestrians in the blocks around the White House. Plus, it may be raining by the time the streets are closed.

Street closings: From about 4:30 p.m. Thursday to the end of the ceremonies, no traffic will be allowed on 15th Street NW between E Street and Constitution Avenue or on 17th Street NW between Constitution and New York avenues.

Parking restrictions: From 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., no parking will be allowed on 15th Street NW between Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues or on 17th Street NW between Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues.

Metrobuses Detoured from 4:30 to about 7 p.m.: the 32, 36, H1 and L1 lines. (Pick them up at stops outside the Ellipse area. Look here for the bus routes and schedules.)

Bill Line, spokesman for the National Park Service, said he understands the concerns of commuters and offered some suggestions. First, if your normal route includes Constitution or 15th or 17th right around the Ellipse, you'd likely be okay if you could get through there by 4:30. After that, not so good. But one option is to detour south to Independence Avenue, then head west to cross the Potomac at the Memorial Bridge, rather than the Roosevelt.

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By Robert Thomson  |  December 3, 2008; 12:16 PM ET
Categories:  Advisories , Congestion  
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