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Trapped in DC by National Marathon

I must say I've heard fewer complaints about this Saturday's National Marathon than the ones in previous years, but this traveler's anger certainly compensates for lack of numbers with intensity of passion.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
The Ridiculous Blockade of practically all numbered streets running between NE and SE Saturday morning for the Marathon Nuts shows once again how little concern D.C. officials have for the community.

My wife and I were on our way to a funeral. There was total traffic gridlock going in all directions in the Capitol Hill area. We could not cross from NE to SE on any street from 4th Street to 20th Street. It was total chaos!

We went back and forth trying to find a way across to SE. Every car ended up having to make U-turns at blocked intersections on small crowded streets in the neighborhoods. Most of Capitol Hill was tied up. It was a hopeless mess!

As we were slowly inching toward one blocked intersection, horns started blasting, people started getting very angry. After making the U-turn, one man raced his SUV back down the narrow street risking knocking off mirrors.

All cars then were forced to go back to a one-way street, which also was blocked. No one could turn left, and we were blocked to the right.

The three who contributed to this fiasco are Mayor Fenty (who was in the marathon), Police Chief Cathy Lanier and the District Department of Transportation. They all should have known better. They act as though this is the first marathon they have ever handled. Marathons should be downtown if at all the city. Fire engines, ambulances and police cars would be stuck in traffic.
LeRoy Hall

What was your experience? Did you think it was a fine event to hold in the nation's capital? Or do you wish they'd find another nation for this event? The National Marathon creates problems because of the timing and the route. It is unusual in that it is held on a Saturday morning rather than a Sunday, and it's pretty comprehensive in covering the city, rather than confining itself to a relatively narrow portion of the federal area.

By Robert Thomson  |  March 23, 2009; 4:25 PM ET
Categories:  Events  
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this gentleman should have just driven across the river on benning road, headed south, and came back across on the sousa bridge. just because you can't take the exact route you want doesn't give you an excuse to whine about it. i think it's fantastic that the marathon hits more of the city than just the monumental coreā€”the only part that most people in the US know about. it's too bad they couldn't hit all eight wards...

Posted by: IMGoph | March 23, 2009 9:42 PM | Report abuse

I realize that going to a funeral can sometimes mean you are in unfamiliar territory (and my condolences).

But this is a fact of life in DC. Motorcades, blockades, protests, security measures (some temporary, some permanent) - it is one of the worst parts about trying to drive around DC.

Back when Chelsea Clinton graduated from Sidwell Friends, the daughter of a close friend graduated from a private school on the same day. While the school was not in the neighborhood, they did have some sort of ceremony at the National Cathedral. Around the same time as commencement for Sidwell.

My mother - who knows how to drive around DC - and I found ourselves blocked at every angle coming in from south of DC from NoVa. Any route toward that part o of NW you could think of was blocked off for the constantly running late Clintons.

We ended up going out of the city, out to Chain Bridge, and coming in that way, barely making the event in time. A professional driver picking up the girl's aunt and uncle from the National Airport wasn't in time - he was likewise stumped as how to get across the city. We didn't linger at the end of the event (since we were going to a family event later) - we wanted to get out before the Secret Service decided to block Chain Bridge, too.

We live in the Nation's Capitol. For all the good stuff, this is one of the recurring bad things. While I have some complaints about the quality of WaPo in recent years, the one thing they rarely seem to skimp on is alerting the locals to road closures. I always check that before driving into DC on a weekend, even if it's something really mundane.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | March 24, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

The commenters above are correct. DC should absolutely showcase the whole city with the National Marathon, just as other cities do in their respective marathons.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | March 24, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Marathon!!! Why not hold a car race on the Beltway. That would be something!!! Close off the inner loop to all traffic, the outer loop would have the stands on it and the pit stops would be around Rte. 1 in Maryland or on the Wilson Bridge's local lanes!

I really hope someone doesn't do that, because then this area would come to a stand still.

I agree with getting around DC, having maps handy (or Google Maps on your phone) is a good idea. However there should also be signs about streets closed to through traffic and ways to get around traffic. I was stuck on 295 a few weeks ago when they were shifting lanes and wound up spending about 2 hours on a road that normally takes 15 minutes. Nobody could tell me how to get around the traffic and I don't know those neighborhoods that well to try something new.

Posted by: dj1123 | March 25, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I live in Southwest and found this year's marathon to be a bit of a mess. My block was not impacted according to the "official" map but when I went to leave to purchase cold medicine, I found myself unable to do so. I ended up having to walk to the store with a fever and a bad cough.

As far as the comment about whining just because you don't have a direct route, the author should have actually tried to drive in that mess. The way they run this thing you may not be able to backtrack or side track to get to another route. In essence, you may be a temporary (15 minute) hostage in a 4-6 block area. This happened to me during an earlier attempt at this event.

Now, I know such things are part of living in DC. I've lived with this for 18 years. However, the organizers of this marathon are consistently sloppy with road closures and map design. Their handlers are also very rude to those of us who live there and dare to inquire as to why a specific block is blocked. After all, we only pay the taxes to pave the road they block.

Given the huge police presence I also wondered if we actually derived any income from this beast every year. It seems like a costly showcase. I know they want to showcase the city. Why not move it to upper northwest a little more and make their lives interesting?

Posted by: navysis | March 25, 2009 1:10 PM | Report abuse

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