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Posted at 10:31 AM ET, 01/21/2009

How Did D.C. Fare as Inauguration Host?

By Marisa Katz

The Post editorial board thought the city proved equal to an unparalleled challenge. Do you agree? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Editorial: Millions on the Mall

EVERYWHERE you looked, there were people: thousands and thousands of people. A crowd that some estimates put at nearly 1.8 million flooded the Mall and its surrounding streets to join in the inauguration of Barack Obama. Yet the unprecedented numbers did not overwhelm this federal city. Smart planning, cooperation between local and federal officials, and a public in extraordinarily good spirits and on its very best behavior made for a splendid day.

We don't mean to underestimate the difficulties and the disappointments that many visitors and residents encountered. Too many people with hard-won tickets to the swearing-in never made it to their places because of inexcusable problems at checkpoints. A woman narrowly escaped serious injury when she fell onto the Metro tracks at the Gallery Place-Chinatown Station. The 14th Street bridge was shut down unexpectedly, dozens were treated for hypothermia, and some people were injured when they became trapped between security barriers and gridlocked crowds. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who heartened his many admirers with his jaunty appearance at the inauguration ceremony, alarmingly fell ill at the lunch soon after.

But considering the size of yesterday's events and those of the days leading up to it, most things went remarkably well. Moreover, it seemed that for most participants, no glitch could dim the sheer exhilaration of the day. "I am so pumped. I am so pumped I can't even explain it," volunteer Anna M. Griffin said in a show of emotion that captured the mood of the city. The public's good cheer and patience helped to make the day special and largely trouble-free, even as clouds obscured the sun and confusion sometimes reigned. Thousands who wouldn't budge from the parade route, despite the presidential motorcade's late start, were rewarded when the new president and first lady exited their car to walk up part of Pennsylvania Avenue. Riders on the jampacked Metro system described an atmosphere in which people were eager to strike up conversations and offer help. Even those who couldn't get close to the steps of the Capitol felt themselves to be a part of the grandeur. One D.C. government worker told of watching the ceremony on television with colleagues in the Wilson Building, "clapping, cheering and laughing."

Officials involved in the planning were properly wary about declaring success until all the events had concluded, with every spectator safely returned home. They also want to review what worked and what didn't. Mr. Obama was right, though, to hail the thousands of military personnel, volunteers and police officers, as well as D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and others, who worked so hard to shape this unique event. Mention must be made of the good coordination among D.C., Virginia and Maryland officials and the wisdom of many of their transportation decisions. And special credit must go to Metro, which, in shattering its ridership records, proved once again that, no matter how long its lines or crowded its trains, it is invaluable to the life of the Washington region.

By Marisa Katz  | January 21, 2009; 10:31 AM ET
Categories:  Inauguration, Inauguration  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: After the Inauguration: Will We Get Our City Back?
Next: An Inaugural Disappointment, for Some

Comments

I second the editorial board's kudos to Metro. I went downtown with my sister and two other friends and Metrorail experience was trouble-free. We didn't wait more than 2 minutes for a train the entire day, despite needing to transfer at Gallery Place on the way in and Fort Totten on the way out.

The biggest problem we had was with the lack of direction and conflicting or incorrect information from police in the area of L'Enfant Plaza on our return home. It is amazing to me that there wasn't a single police officer with a PA system or a bullhorn to direct crowds and inform us of changes. Were it not for a chance encounter with a Metro employee in the crowd, it would have taken us much longer to get home than it did.

Posted by: scottlaw1 | January 21, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

The disappointment of many color-coded ticket holders was (almost) shared by my daughter, who met a college friend and her friend's parents from California. They got in the blue line around 6:45 and she finally texted me that they were in just as TV showed Obama arriving after 11:30. The lack of anyone to insure the integrity of the line, and virtually refusal of the many security/police personel to answer questions, will be what she, and the many out-of-town "line mates" they met, will remember regretfully.

Kudos to Metro, though; her ride from and to Huntington went very well.

Posted by: smdur70 | January 21, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I spent Monday and Tuesday in DC and had a wonderful experience overall considering what I knew needed to be done for the events on hand. I must say however, that sometimes a little common sense goes a long way. I thought it was ridiculous that the city began closing streets before most motorist could make their way out on Monday evening. Streets were closed before 7pm when some of the parking lots closed. I think some of the street closings could have occurred much later in the evening. Our plans included driving in on Monday and taking the Metro in on Tuesday from outside the city.

Posted by: Stratus | January 21, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I didn't come to the events on the mall. But I live iside the beltway in Fairfax County and my life was affected by the early road closures on Monday, and the complete closure of I395 to private traffic on Tuesday.

I still do not understand the need for these closures, especially the all day prohibition of private cars on I395 N. At 2:00 pm yesterday the police were still stopping private cars at one exit I passed.

To me this was more an assault on my freedom, than some well-thought-out transportation plan. Closing the bridges should have been enough to discourage travelers. The I395 closure abridged my plans for the day -- which didn't include attending the inauguration. And I don't understand why the POST has failed to comment on the fact that the transportation plan in virginia was overkill, not because of closed bridges, but because of closed Highways -- in particular I395. It made for a sour note in anotherwise happy day.

Posted by: robin14 | January 21, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to Metro for a spectacular effort in managing crowds. And kudos to all the people on the metro and walking who were friedly, excited, supportive and most of all calm throughout all the crowding and confusion.

But,the Secret Service botched crowd control badly, based upon experiences around the Parade route. There were simply not enough screening facilities. There were way more porta-potties than screening entrances. What were they thinking?

Huge crowds built up around the security entrances, especially at 7 and D. The crowding was a danger to the people waiting hours to go through security. Yet, the Secret Service had no effective means to communicate with the crowd. They had no bullhorns or speakers. There was no line control-- just a jumbled crowd.

The Secret Service's crowd management effort makes the TSA efforts at airports appear to be are a model of efficiency in comparison. The end result was that thousands were unable to participate. The parade route was almost barren of people when throusands were eager to see the President there. Fortunately, the good spirit and good nature of the participants overcame these difficulties.

Posted by: Ed20 | January 21, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

This was surely a security success, in that no one (elected or otherwise) was hurt. But, to get from any point A to any other point B, there was Way too much guesswork involved. The signs for ticketed areas were small and infrequent. The signs for nonticketed areas (just get me to The Mall) were nonexistent.

Many people with tickets spent the day in the 3rd street tunnel, and many never saw the event they traveled cross-country to see. How is that a success?


Posted by: USA117 | January 21, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

While I had a wonderful inaugural experience (I was one of the lucky ones), I don't think the Inaugural Committee, or whoever coordinated between parties making arrangements, deserves credit for the success, or kudos.

Perhaps lessons learned, and not to be repeated, but kudos? I saw the empty bleachers on the parade route, the pictures of ticket holders turned away, and have in just one morning heard many many many stories of heartbreaking disappointment.

Thousands of ticket holders were turned away from a truly moving moment. And as one of the lucky ones who got into the Silver area, I can tell you, it was nowhere near to full. I was wondering why it was half-empty when tickets seemed so precious--because people were kept out for no reason. Certainly it wasn't overcrowding in the Silver section.

At the ball that I attended, the workers assured us that the president would not arrive until 2 a.m. or later--AFTER metro closed (most of the people at the ball arrived on metro), and this at the Stadium Armory, where taxicabs are in short supply. Nor is it a place to which one may easily drive, especially on inauguration day--where would thousands of people park. When I pointed out the inconsistency in planning to a worker--who plans for the main event of a ball to strand people there-- she suggested I leave early--leave an inaugural ball before I saw the president? She seemed unconcerned. Apparently, she was being picked up when it was over, the very real problem of thousands of people stranded in the same place, potentially angry and VERY tired, concerned her not at all.

Luckily, I decided that none of them knew what they were talking about, that he would show up at a reasonable hour, and sure enough, we saw him around 12:30. When I got home at 1:10 a.m. and switched on the news, he was apparently already at home.

Unfortunately, many people left the ball early, worried about transportation and being stranded, believing those working the event, so that they paid for, dressed-up for, and attended an inaugural ball, without seeing the president, due to incredible incompetence.

Another friend of mine, who worked tirelessly to elect the President for two years, waited in her dress and heels OUTSIDE for over 45 minutes to get into the Youth Ball, and wisely left--losing fingers and toes to frostbite is not worth it.

The sheer joy of people was unprecedented. It makes it more all the more sad that it just didn't work for so many.

Posted by: anganarshah | January 21, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

While I had a wonderful inaugural experience (I was one of the lucky ones), I don't think the Inaugural Committee, or whoever coordinated between parties making arrangements, deserves credit for the success, or kudos.

Perhaps lessons learned, and not to be repeated, but kudos? I saw the empty bleachers on the parade route, the pictures of ticket holders turned away, and have in just one morning heard many many many stories of heartbreaking disappointment.

Thousands of ticket holders were turned away from a truly moving moment. And as one of the lucky ones who got into the Silver area, I can tell you, it was nowhere near to full. I was wondering why it was half-empty when tickets seemed so precious--because people were kept out for no reason. Certainly it wasn't overcrowding in the Silver section.

At the ball that I attended, the workers assured us that the president would not arrive until 2 a.m. or later--AFTER metro closed (most of the people at the ball arrived on metro), and this at the Stadium Armory, where taxicabs are in short supply. Nor is it a place to which one may easily drive, especially on inauguration day--where would thousands of people park. When I pointed out the inconsistency in planning to a worker--who plans for the main event of a ball to strand people there-- she suggested I leave early--leave an inaugural ball before I saw the president? She seemed unconcerned. Apparently, she was being picked up when it was over, the very real problem of thousands of people stranded in the same place, potentially angry and VERY tired, concerned her not at all.

Luckily, I decided that none of them knew what they were talking about, that he would show up at a reasonable hour, and sure enough, we saw him around 12:30. When I got home at 1:10 a.m. and switched on the news, he was apparently already at home.

Unfortunately, many people left the ball early, worried about transportation and being stranded, believing those working the event, so that they paid for, dressed-up for, and attended an inaugural ball, without seeing the president, due to incredible incompetence.

Another friend of mine, who worked tirelessly to elect the President for two years, waited in her dress and heels OUTSIDE for over 45 minutes to get into the Youth Ball, and wisely left--losing fingers and toes to frostbite is not worth it.

The sheer joy of people was unprecedented. It makes it more all the more sad that it just didn't work for so many.

Posted by: anganarshah | January 21, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

As one who stood in the "Blue ticket line to nowhere" for many hours and who was shut out of the ceremony, it is hard to find praise for the handling of the event. I have more praise for the millions of attendees who behaved with civility and patience despite the lack of crowd control, communication and adequate guidance as to route closures and gates. Union station, with its closure at 2pm only added to the exasperation. I saw a great deal of frustration and sadness among many attendees who also found themselves out in the cold. The apology issued today by the Inaugural Committee is insufficient at best.

Posted by: lbeckwith | January 21, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

I live in Alexandria and took the metro to all of the weekend's activities -- BRAVO to metro! I confess I doubted your ability, but you amazed me. THANK YOU for making the weekend so much more enjoyable for my family and me!!

Posted by: km3737 | January 21, 2009 10:46 PM | Report abuse

I made it to the Mall at 7:00 am after walking Southeast path of chain-link. My experience getting there and leaving with three companions over 75 years old, was not easy. I was appalled that we did not see any of the 20,000 police that Chief Lanier talked about for days; not one in sight as thousands crushed 7th Street gate in the morning, nor later when thousands who stood in cold for 5 hours exited, tired and lost! They should have been on every street corner directing people or just assuring them or offering assistance. As we walked home to Capitol Hill, many around us were lost. Metro stations were mobbed and needed some kind of order and information to those jammed on the street. I was appalled at the lack of police; they only show up in a police car or truck to push or arrest, not when or where they are needed by the public. I have read the stories of those lost in the tunnel and now feel lucky!

Posted by: fran48 | January 22, 2009 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Great job Metro & DC!!! I personally believe there were more than 1.8M - I met that many walking around :).

However, poor job Nielsen ratings, claiming Obama's ratings are less than Reagans 38M - 42M.

Posted by: rlj1 | January 22, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I definitely echo the Post's kudos to Metro! I was impressed and - I admit it - pleasantly surprised at how smoothly Metro operated in the face of unprecedented ridership and challenges.

Still, I can't say that the day was perfect. My dad drove down from New York to attend the inauguration with my husband and I, even though we did not succeed in getting tickets. In hindsight, though, I am actually glad that we didn't have tickets, because we didn't even have the opportunity to try to get into the color-coded areas and end up disappointed. Instead, we parked ourselves on the mall near one of the Jumbotrons, made new friends and had a good (albeit freezing cold) time. If we had tickets, we might have gotten in - but quite possibly, we would have ended up disappointed and angry, too.

The one thing about the day that was frustrating to us was crowd control when we were leaving the mall. Because we are local, my husband and I were able to figure out the best way to get to where we wanted to end up - Dupont Circle. However, many who came from out of town were hopelessly confused, and the security personnel were no help at all. At one point, we attempted to turn up 19th Street, only to be told that it was closed, but 20th was open. We went to 20th, and that was closed, too. The police were instructing everyone to walk another three blocks, in the bitter cold, to 23rd. The reason? Apparently, they wanted to park a few tour buses on 20th. Mmmmmkay... A group of people decided this was ridiculous (because it was), and headed up 20th anyway. The security guards didn't lift a finger to stop them, so we followed. In the end, about half of the crowd headed up 20th anyway and no one seemed to mind or care... which begs the question, why try to re-route the crowd? My husband commented that it seemed that we were cattle being herded into the smallest possible area - not a great method of crowd control unless you live on a ranch. It worked out for my group, because 2/3 of us were locals who were able to think out of the box and be flexible when the police complicated matters rather than helping people get to their destinations. But what about the many, many people who traveled so far to get here, only to miss the ceremony and/or get treated like livestock? DC can do better for our guests.

Posted by: jlyn13 | January 22, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

It wasn't just ticket holders that had problems. I do not agree with the Washington Post's position that the day was well run. Crowd control was very poor. There were too many barriers that led to logjams and potential crush situations. A number of persons fainted as a result of overcrowded intersections. The overuse of barriers created safety hazards for the crowd. There was too little information. The police were uninformed in directing people to the mall from downtown. The area around the gallery place metro station was chaotic.

Posted by: jimf3 | January 23, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I had a GREAT time, although I might have suffered some of the same problems many others did if I hadn't walked to see where the parade perimeter fences were being put up along the parade route Monday evening. I knew exactly what route I wanted to take.

Two recommendations for the next Inauguration:

a few Jumbotrons (they need not be as large as those on the Mall) along the parade route would let the parade spectators observe the ceremony, and could be used to convey other information to spectators.

Jumbotrons at entrance points could also be used to provide information to the crowds, to preclude people not knowing where they needed to go.

Posted by: CraigWagner | January 23, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies had to apologize to ticket holders who weren't admitted. I think that says a lot about how the day went. If you had tickets, you may or may not have seen the event you traveled so far to see. Not a success.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/21/AR2009012104248_2.html?sid=ST2009012003386&s_pos=

Posted by: USA117 | January 23, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

A friend who had a silver ticket took the metro from Huntington in Alexandria and on the way they were told that L'Enfant Plaza metro station was closed. She was one of thousands who had to walk through the Third Street tunnel. Waited about two hours to get through security. Told they could not get in, the good-natured crowd pushed through the barriers.

Posted by: swissmiss150 | January 23, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I was supposed to be a volunteer at the Inauguration. I decided to take a cab into DC instead of Metro because I had read that cabs and buses could take 395 into downtown, unlike private vehicles. I got up at 3:00am and my cab arrived at 4:30am. We sailed down 395 until we crossed the 14th Street Bridge, and then could not enter DC at 14th Street. So the driver went to the Southwest Freeway to Maine Avenue and through SW streets. He finally dropped me off in the Mall area, as close as he could get. I needed to be at 10th & F to meet my team leader, so I figured I'd just walk over there from the Mall. Unfortunately for me, there were roadblocks everywhere and security wouldn't let me cross over Pennsylvania Avenue in spite of my cute little red volunteer hat. I felt like a rat in a maze, because wherever I went, the streets were blocked and I couldn't get through anyplace. I tried to reach my team captain by cell phone, but my phone didn't work. Then I thought I could catch the Metro and to go Metro Center and walk to 10th & F. The only Metro station in my area was Federal Triangle and it was exit only. I found a warming tent for volunteers where I sat and warmed up for a while. Then I decided the best place for me to be was home. Someone told me that I could walk up 18th Street because it wasn't blocked, so I did and slowly made my way to Metro Center. I was walking in the opposite direction of thousands of people headed for the Mall. My train to King Street Metro was nearly empty, but the trains and platforms on the other side were packed. I was home a little after 9:00 and watched everything on tv warm and cozy. At least I can say I was there...everybody I encountered that morning was happy and joyful in spite of the crowds and cold weather. It was a wonderful day!

Posted by: bliegus | January 25, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I couldn't disagree more with those offering kudos to Washington D.C. on how it handled the inaguration. It was a horrible mess at the Silver entrance and Union Station! Allowing people to languish in mass (there was no such thing as a line) is unforgiveable. Police officers were there, but they did nothing to create organization or explain to people why it was taking so long to move an inch at a time. After waiting four hours for inagural tickets on Monday, my family and I were thoroughly disappointed that we had to end up missing most of the inaguration. We we able to catch President Obama's address on a television in the gift shop in the Longworth Building. Thank God for that gift shop manager! The ones who deserve kudos are the ones who persisted in the mass of people without getting mad or turning on each other. There were times I felt like my children might get trampled so I prayed every inch of the way. Next time, the city ought to carefully consider whether it wants to spend all that money on overtime for crowd control. The city certainly didn't get its money's worth!

Posted by: greenwellava | January 25, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Its funny that as Americans we have become so used to not receiving good service and respect from the government That we think DC did a great job. No the host was terrible, It was the people that came in drawn out numbers with pride and hope for change that made the trip bearable.
The DC Government should hold there head in shame and apologize to the patrons that visited there city.

Posted by: handsonii | January 25, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

On behalf of the members of the Cleveland Firefighters Memorial Pipes and Drums, I would like to thank the people who live in work in the Washington, DC area for showing us great hospitality during our visit for the Inaugural Parade. Residents of Chevy Chase West opened their homes and treated us like family. The Montgomery County Fire Dept, Bethesda Station 6, allowed us to park our bus at their station and store our instruments inside. The members of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee and our military escorts did an outstanding job of keeping us informed about what was going to happen that day. People we met along the way were friendly and happy that we were able to make the trip for this historic event. If we could have only controlled Mother Nature, the day would have been perfect. We will always consider participating in the Inauguration a highlight in our band's history.


Ken Rybka
Band Manager
Cleveland Firefighters Memorial Pipes and Drums

Posted by: firepiper1 | January 26, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I am a UK citizen resident in Germany. This day was amazing and DC and the US should be VERY proud as a capital and nation.

One matter that concerns me greatly is apparent censorship in the media - including the Post. The opening prayer on the Sunday evening by Bishop Gene Robinson....was allegedly completely screened out by HBO. Yup- deleted- in the best traditions of the worst regimes you can think of.

On this occasion, it doesn't take too long to work out why this happened. That it should occur at all is too bad - but on this day of all days - !!

For details - I suggest that the Post editors go to FaceBook and check "Silenced at the Inauguration".

When the whole day was about one nation, the Press/Media were subverted in the worst way.

A disgrace - and I hope that the Post can correct this.

Posted by: jtrev | January 27, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse

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