Thursday, January 08, 2009

Suppose They Gave An Inauguration And No One Could Get There

The Curmudgeon and family are fleeing town for the Obama inauguration, and not a moment too soon. (And no, you can't stay in our home--it's already taken.)

Yes, we're proud of Obama's election. But the predicted crowds for his inauguration are ridiculous, and when combined with the security measures being taken by authorities guarantee a very unhappy mess.

Today's Washington Post reports that ALL bridges from Virginia into D.C. will be closed to private automobile traffic. And, for good measure, the George Washington Parkway will be closed between the 14th Street bridge and the Beltway, which means further gridlock on the Virginia side.

Even if you could sneak into D.C.--say by going around and coming in from Maryland, you'll get nowhere because the entire downtown and mall area are closed to all private vehicles. In short, you can't get anywhere close to the inauguration, the parade and most inaugural balls in your own car. (This despite the fact that D.C. has tens of thousands of parking spaces downtown and can handle quite a few people on a normal day via car.)

That means the only realistic options are (1) Metro--which can handle, at most, 1 million people THROUGHOUT THE DAY (not all at once); (2) walk or bike; and (3) a tour bus (which can't park anywhere close by either). And, for good measure, a number of Metro parking lots will be closed, and the closest Metro stations to the events will also be closed.

As a practical matter, this all means that probably not much more than 1 million people can get into D.C. for the festivities. Of course, if the Secret Service had its way, NO ONE could get in, thereby making things quite secure.

The arrangements for getting about are pretty impractical. Suppose you live (or are staying) in Fairfax County and you want to go to the inauguration and then later to a ball. How do you get back and forth? You probably can't. As one friend suggested, "you can change in the port-a-potty."

In any event, predictions that 2-5 million people will attend are vastly inflated because IT SIMPLY CAN'T HAPPEN.

We do have a suggestion: it's time to change the way the inauguration is handled. The current practice of being sworn in on the west front of the Capitol goes back many years, to a time when the crowds of onlookers were in the thousands, not millions. Today, security, crowd control, transportation are all a nightmare.

If you've ever been to the inauguration, you know that, at most, about 10,000 people can actually see it in person on the grounds of the Capitol. (In the photo above, the people on the other side of the pool can't see much of anything; nor can those at the bottom of the hill.)

So why not move the inauguration to a place designed for thousands of onlookers: Fed-Ex Field (where the Redskins play). That venue can be set up to host about 100,000 (including on field seating), with reasonable parking and transportation and security. All in attendance would be able to see (and hear) what's going on, and it wouldn't require building out an elaborate inaugural stand every four years.

True, it would lack the backdrop of the Capitol, but it was never designed to host something so big. It would also lack "tradition," but then before this "tradition" dictated that the major party nominees accept their nominations in the convention hall where their party was meeting. Not Obama: he went to the Denver Broncos' stadium for his acceptance speech so he could properly accommodate the expected crowd.

We could still have an inaugural parade in downtown D.C., and fit more people in because the space around the Capitol would be freed up.

Tradition is great. But most traditions made sense when they started. Time for a new tradition.

As for us, we'll be swooshing down the ski slopes, while our DVR captures the action on television for later viewing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And other for the actual cermoney, this whole thing will be a snoozer. Read the text of the speech in the NY Times. It used be they talked about whether the new President would get out and walk along the parade route. Odds of that this year: zero point zero, even if its shockingly warm that day. The secret service would tackle him and drag him back into the car.