How It Worked, Part 3: Closing Roads Last Tuesday
One of the most important and controversial parts of the Inauguration Day Transportation plan was the closing of streets and highways in and around Washington.
It was a bold move: Faced with the task of moving an enormous number of people, planners chose to shut out the most popular instrument of travel, the private car. In the process, they promoted a shift to much less popular forms of travel: transit, walking and biking.
I can raise several questions about that plan:
* Did it underutilize our road network when we needed every transportation asset we could muster?
* Did it require both the enforcers of the plan and the spectators to follow instructions that were far too complex?
But there's no getting around the bottom line: It worked. Hundreds of thousands of people heading for one place at approximately one time were able to reach their destination and get back home again.
Please keep in mind that I'm not evaluating the Inauguration planning overall. The shutout of the ticketholders before the swearing-in ceremony was a travesty. But I think of that as a security issue, not a transportation issue.
In the transportation planning, government officials had to deal with a challenge they knew would be big -- but not how big. Plus, they had to get it right on one day. Most transportation plans are developed for the long run. If something doesn't work right the first day, engineers and enforcers have months to fix it.
So Inauguration Day involved some outside the box planning and a great deal of regional cooperation. If the goal was to avoid paralyzing central Washington, it could only be achieved by a plan with widespread impact. Creating a barrier for cars at the Potomac would have protected Washington's streets, but it would have brought Northern Virginia to a standstill. And the effects would have spilled across the river onto Maryland's roads as drivers out behind the crush flowed across the Wilson and Legion bridges.
The roads plan evolved right up to the days before the inauguration, meaning that the participants -- the street-level enforcers and the oncoming spectators -- had to have the latest information about an unfamiliar situation. That didn't always happen.
Dan Tangherlini, the D.C. city administrator who had a lot to do with developing and executing the plan, said officials and the public had to deal with some surprises. They didn't expect the Third Street Tunnel, reserved for pedestrians, to be so crowded. And they couldn't control the backups at the security checkpoints.
But "I think everyone tried really hard to get it right," he said.
And from what I saw all day Tuesday, I'd have to agree.
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