Inauguration Preparations in DC Still in High Gear Despite Smaller Crowds

PHOTO: The Capitol Building is seen in Washington D.C. in this undated photo.Getty Images
The Capitol Building is seen in Washington D.C. in this undated photo.

Organizations across the District are gearing up for President Obama's inauguration but with estimates of a much smaller crowd than the one that stormed the Mall for his swearing-in ceremony in 2009.

For those present for the president's first inauguration, the thought of it evokes a mental picture of a city simultaneously shut down and bustling. Streets were blocked off, businesses closed, but 1.8 million spectators filled the National Mall and the surrounding areas to see Obama befome the first black person take the oath of office. It was a moment of pride for the nation; for Washington, D.C., it was also a moment of chaos.

But this year, Washington Metro Area Transit Authority -- or Metro for short -- estimates there will be less than half the turnout: only 600,000 to 800,000 people.

Despite the lower expectations, Metro is keeping the same level of preparations as in 2009, according to spokesman Philip Stewart.

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Trains will be running at weekday rush-hour schedules for 17 consecutive hours on the day of Obama's swearing-in ceremony.

Metro is advising visitors to plan their route to and from the Capitol ahead of time and to avoid transferring lines. A feature on the Metro website called "What's my route?" tells riders how to get to the ceremonies based on their origin.

More than 200 Metro employees -- including lawyers and accountants -- volunteered to work next Monday, directing the flow of riders and helping visitors with tasks like purchasing a fare card or going through the turnstile, Stewart said.

Typically, Martin Luther King Jr. Day would be a holiday for Metro employees, "but obviously I can't remember any time an Inauguration was a day off for a metro train operator," he said.

D.C. officials have spent almost a year gearing up to deal with the influx of visitors.

Both the Metropolitan Police Department and the Fire and EMS Department declined to give specifics about how they were preparing, citing safety concerns, but they said they would provide necessary resources to support the inaugural events.

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The National Park Service prepared for visitors by corralling more than 600 park employees and volunteers from across the country, issuing permits to those who want to use park land, and working with the Presidential Inaugural Committee to ensure they have what they need, while balancing that with the rights of the people, according to NPS Communications Officer Carol Johnson.

One example of NPS duties Johnson used was working with groups that want to attach cables in Freedom Plaza. She said some might want to use tape to keep the cables in place, but that that would leave sticky residue on the granite, damaging the landmark.

"They decide what they want and we make sure where it's placed, how it's placed, is it done in a way that protects our cultural and natural resources," Johnson said.

NPS also protects Americans' First Amendment rights by making sure demonstrators have a place to protest on inauguration day, while dealing with the needs of the PIC.

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The ANSWER Coalition, an anti-war, civil rights protest group, accused the Park Service of revoking its permit to protest Monday, but Johnson said they would likely be able to settle on "a small strip of Freedom Plaza that is kept for First Amendment demonstrations."

"We always keep in mind that people have First Amendment rights, so we balance those First Amendment rights with the needs of the [PIC]," Johnson said.

Lastly, the Park Service looks out for the availability and accessibility of portable toilets, which have to meet ADA compliance, according to Johnson.

In 2009, an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 porta-potties dotted the Capitol's grounds. This year Johnson said there were somewhat more than 2,000, but she said it's a hard number to quantify, because different groups might request them in different areas across the capital city.

"We try to think of everything that anybody could need and take care of it," Johnson said.