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Tree lighting makes commuters unmerry

Reminder: The National Christmas Tree lighting is scheduled for 5 p.m. on the northeast quadrant of the Ellipse, south of the White House. Many people really enjoy this moment, but many commuters absolutely hate it. Scheduled by obscure tradition for the peak of the afternoon rush hour in the middle of a metropolis, the tree lighting disrupts traffic for hours.

In case you've forgotten -- and few commuters do, once they've experienced it -- here's a review of what you're in for:

No driving
From about 4:30 p.m. till the end of the ceremonies, no traffic will be allowed on 15th Street NW between E Street/Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue or on 17th Street NW between Constitution and New York avenues.

No parking
From 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., no parking will be allowed on 15th Street NW between New York and Constitution avenues. No parking will be allowed on 17 th Street NW between Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues.

That's the plan, but these restrictions are subject to change without notice. (That happens a lot in events like this. Something we expected would be closed is open and -- more likely -- something we thought would be open is closed.

The openings and closings are by no means the full story. Traffic delays ripple out from the street closings and all the pedestrian traffic causes further delays. There's no reason you have to like this, but for safety's sake, be patient while you are in it.

The District Department of Transportation says its traffic control officers will be out at the 15th and 17th Street intersections, but that avoiding the area is a much better choice for drivers.

Metrobus detours
Should I take transit, you ask? Metrorail, yes. But Metrobus will just be a mess. The transit authority says that the ceremony may affect service on 37 bus routes between 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. That means delays, detours and terminal changes as the buses try to work there way through traffic. (This is insane. The kids would enjoy the lighting just as much on a Saturday or Sunday and the adults wouldn't be lit up like Rudolph's nose.)

These are the bus routes likely to be affected:
3Y, 11Y, 13A, 13B, 16Y, 32, 36, 37, 38B, 39, 42, 43, 52, 53, 54, 80, D1, D3, D5, D6, G8, H1, L1, L2, N2, N3, N4, P1, P17, P19, S1, S2, S4, S9, W13, X1 and X2.

Changes in the starting points of these routes are likely:
-- Routes H1, L1 and N3 will begin in the vicinity of Potomac Park.
-- Routes P1 and X1 will start at Federal Triangle Metrorail station.
-- Routes 11Y, G8, P17, P19, W13 and X2 will start at Franklin Square.

Routes 13A and 13B from the Pentagon will operate like this:
-- The 13A will operate to and from Virginia Avenue and 19th Street NW via Constitution Avenue and Memorial Bridge.
-- The 13B will operate to and from Federal Triangle Metrorail station via Independence Avenue NW and the 14th Street Bridge.

Metro may also detour the 32, 36, 37 and 39 routes via 13th Street NW, depending on traffic conditions. Bus service north of K Street NW will be maintained. Riders would be better off walking through the traffic congestion to board buses at stops on K or north of it for Routes 42, 43, L2, N2, N4, S2, S4 and S9.

Don't bother using the Next Bus system to find out when any of those buses will arrive at your stop. The system will have no way to factor in the impact of the traffic congestion on the arrival times.

By Robert Thomson  |  December 3, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Advisories , Congestion , Events  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, National Christmas Tree lighting  
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If I am reading this correctly, the 11Y will start at 14th and I and skip H street altogether. Is that correct?

Posted by: hereandnow1 | December 3, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

As in previous years, PRTC will run its Emergency Service Plan this evening, meaning riders should go to either the Franconia-Springfield metro station or the West Falls Church metro station to catch buses back to Prince William County.

Go here to see which Metro station you should go to:

Posted by: nevermindtheend | December 3, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

This annual event should be scheduled in the middle of Saturday afternoon.

Posted by: bullz1 | December 3, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

gives me an excuse to leave work early :)

Posted by: mediajunky | December 3, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

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