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Inauguration Aftermath: Attitude Counted

We're still figuring out what went right and wrong and what could have been done differently, but one thing I feel sure of after sampling our transportation system under its severe stress on Tueday. The attitude of the officials on the streets and the platforms and of the travelers had a lot to do with whatever successes we had.

L'Enfant Crowd.jpg Crowding at L'Enfant Plaza. (Thomson)

Time after time, I saw situations that could have turned out differently had one side or the other not been determined to make things work. They occured at intersections, on sidewalks, on Metro platforms, on escalators and on buses.

That's a lot of stress to put on equipment, transit employees and transit riders. It translated into crowded platforms, crowded trains, crowded escalators and crowded entrances. Yet for the most part, people not only kept their cool but also demonstrated a commitment to making the thing work for everybody.

Here's one scene: After the swearing-in ceremony, people heading from the trains to the Mall were waved toward a fare gate by a Metro employee. After going through the gate, they walked to an escalator bank, where another Metro employee told them the esclators were now for entering passengers only, and they should go back and tell that to the other Metro employee.

Which they did. Without any hassle. The first Metro employee opened the swinging gate and let them back into the mezzanine, so they could find another way out. That wasn't so easy. At the exit for Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street SW, one escalator was under repair, another was for incoming passengers and the third was stopped so it could serve as a stairway for exiting passengers.

slow walk.jpg Slow walk up escalator. (Thomson)

No one was moving on the stairway because the incoming crowd at the top was so big, it had the entire area at street level blocked. Gradually, slowly, people started moving again. There was no fighting, no shoving. The crowd at the top -- frozen stiff after many hours standing on the Mall and looking forward to reaching the relatively warm station -- gave way enough to let exiting passengers through.

Many Metro employees showed the kind of patience and flexibility essential to coping with a big crowd. These people were commanding when necessary, but tolerant enough to wave passengers through fare gates when that was the only way to keep people moving.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 21, 2009; 9:25 AM ET
Categories:  Inauguration  
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I think any planning for future events needs to recognize how much stress can be placed on any one facility. Union Station is a good example. It has a Metro station and carried Amtrak, VRE, and MARC trains. It was also a de facto cafeteria and warming station for people who just wanted out of the cold. It's probably big enough to do all of these things, but probably not big enough to do all of these things and host an inaugural ball which necessitated closing the main entrance and cramming all the traffic through the side entrance with little or no information given to visitors on who is to go where. The compressions in the crowd there yesterday afternoon were very scary at times, and the DHS people with bullhorns simply could not be heard in a crowd that large.

Posted by: kevinmscott | January 21, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

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