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Caution for Elderly, Disabled on Inauguration Day Travel

When I urge you to think of Inauguration Day travel as you would a day when a blizzard is forecast, one of the things I have in mind is this: The events are not very welcoming for older, frailer or disabled people.

The transportation systems have their setups to assist the elderly and disabled, but they won't be enhancing them for Jan. 20. Every transportation agency expects its roads, sidewalks, buses and rails in the Washington area to be heavily stressed by the inauguration crowds. They are urging people to think seriously about whether they also are up for the stress of getting to and from these events.

Metro officials said today they are cautioning seniors and people with disabilities about what they are likely to face when using Metrorail, Metrobus and MetroAccess on Inauguration Day and the weekend days leading up to it.

"Although Metrobus and Metrorail are fully accessible, and Metro is making every effort to ensure that this historic event is accessible to as many people as possible, security and environmental restrictions will make travel especially challenging for people with disabilities and senior citizens," Christian T. Kent, Metro's assistant general managerfor access services, said in a statement.

The transit authority says riders may find it difficult to wait on crowded platforms and board crowded trains. Many escalators will be turned off to help with crowd control. (Take note, passengers who get on or off at Foggy Bottom Station.) People will have to walk up or down escalators to enter or exit stations. The elevators will be working, but they're not that big. Expect long waits for them.

Metrobuses are accessible for disabled people. That said, consider that they're likely to be very crowded. Also, while Metrobuses will be running about every 10 minutes along special corridors to ferry people to and from central Washington, the bus drop off points are still many blocks from the spectator areas. The buses have to stop outside the security zone.

Buses on local routes will be operating on a modified Saturday schedule, and many are likely to be delayed by street closures and heavy traffic across the region.

People who use the special Metro vans and cars for the disabled need to be prepared for lengthy delays throughout the region because of the street closures, crowds on the streets and sidewalks, and the heavy traffic congestion that will ripple out from the central area.

Kent said in his statement: "It will be extremely difficult for MetroAccess drivers to meet customers at prescheduled pick-up and drop-off locations in the District of Columbia. Customers might be required to walk considerable distances due to extensive street closures, and there only will be a small number of accessible restroom facilities available."

So this was the bottom line: "We are advising customers that if they have any concern about being able to navigate or endure these conditions, they should avoid traveling into downtown Washington on these days."

MetroAccess will operate its regular schedule on Sunday and Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but with limited service to the Mall area, and delays are likely, Metro warned.

On Jan. 20, MetroAccess will operate its regular schedule, but with no service to inauguration venues. Door-to-door service, particularly in the downtown core, will be very limited, if it's available at all. Again, extensive delays are likely.

MetroAccess subscription trips are cancelled for Jan. 20, and all other trip reservations for the entire weekend are subject to cancellation if Metro determines that the trip would require MetroAccess to enter restricted or unserviceable locations, Metro said.

It's a good idea for any rider to sign up for special e-alerts dedicated to inauguration issues.

See full inauguration coverage.

By Robert Thomson  |  January 12, 2009; 10:41 AM ET
Categories:  Inauguration  
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