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How It Worked, Part 2: Introduction to Walking

One of the reasons our transportation system performed so well under great stress on Inauguration Day was that people made their feet part of the transportation system. Perhaps it will become a habit.

memorial bridge crossing (2).jpg Walking Memorial Bridge. (Thomson)

Rarely has walking for distance been such a widespread activity here. Many people did it because they knew that the roads and transit systems would be crowded on inaccessible. Some did it because the walk could be part of the day's experience.

Many of the practical-minded got off Metro's Red Line at stations well north of the Mall and walked south. Metro had done a good job creating and distributing walkers' guides on how to reach the ceremonies from stations without having to transfer from train line to train line. And many people going to the ceremonies had done a good job getting acquainted with the walking routes ahead of time. But Metro also was handing out printed guides in the stations.

This didn't always make the walker's task easy. Pennsylvania Avenue, with its parade route, was a serious barrier to north-south progress. And there were plenty of areas where walkers were absolutely baffled about where to go after their first choice, a Metrorail station for example, proved inaccessible.

Once again, that's where the good mood of the crowd counted for so much in the overall success. Many people showed great patience under trying circumstances, and they eventually found alternative routes.

The thousands who crossed the Potomac Bridges to reach the Mall included many who were walking for the pure pleasure of it. They had great views of monumental Washington, particularly from the Memorial Bridge. Many discovered that the Potomac isn't such a great barrier to reaching the District.

I asked Peter Owen, who routinely commutes by foot from the Union Station area to Clarendon, for his take on what happed Tuesday. These are some of his thoughts.

"On this happy occasion," he said, "many people learned how relatively easy it was to get around our city by walking."

"My guess is that many will choose walking such distances more often now that they know how to go about it.

"Walking -- the form of transportation least reliant on government -- and transit -- the form most reliant on government -- proved the most effective ways to get around," Owen concluded. "Perhaps this is an embodiment of some of the new President's words when he spoke to us: "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works ... "

By Robert Thomson  |  January 26, 2009; 8:36 AM ET
Categories:  Inauguration  
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Next: How It Worked, Part 3: Closing Roads Last Tuesday


When I still lived in NoVa, I had a job at the fringe between Georgetown and Foggy Bottom, only a block or so off of M Street.

I considered this a boon to my sedentary desk life, because it was in such a pedestrian friendly part of the world. I had a backpack with my good clothes and would then get off the Metro at Rosslyn (or Court House, or on a really nice morning, Clarendon) and walk down to the Key Bridge, and then jump on the tow path. Great way to start and end my day (though a lot of times, I would walk up to Dupont Circle for the trip home, too).

The one thing that made it difficult was the lack of shower facilities at my office. Once it got summer hot and humid, I had to give up walking in the morning, since there was no place to clean up. I think that's really half the battle - so many offices don't offer any sort of locker room facilities. When I worked at a company that did though, I always used them.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | January 26, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Some of us were happy to walk, but hadn't planned on walking quite so far as we ultimately did. Trying to get to my bleachers seat on the south side of Penna Ave at 12th, I was first directed from Gallery Place to a pedestrian crossover on 6th that turned out to be non-existent, so I got directed to 3rd, which hell no, then 1st, then New Jersey, and then alllll the way around the Capitol, at which point I turned right back around (still on the north side of the mall) and ended up walking back to 14th or 15th. I know others had the same experience, so at least some of the walking throngs one saw on that day were just in the same kind of purgatorial holding pattern as I was!

Still, right on about the good mood of the crowd. I was acutely aware of and grateful for it, all throughout my wanders.

Posted by: bug451 | January 26, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I would be happy to walk from Capitol Hill to my job downtown (or the reverse) most days but irresponsible drivers make that impossible. Trying to thread my way through a gridlocked intersection, staring down drivers who will not yield even though I have the light, drivers who aren't looking ahead but still moving -- it's too scary. Even if I am in the right, in a collision with a car, I will lose. It's not worth my life.

Posted by: pirate1 | January 26, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

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