Friday, January 23, 2009

Riding the Metro on Inauguration Day

This will probably be my next-to-last substantive post about the Inauguration. I’ve got one more coming about the Swearing-In ceremony itself; tonight I just want to share some anecdotes, pictures, and videos from Washington DC’s Metrorail system the morning of the Inauguration.

Now that President Obama has gotten the important business of Guantanamo Bay and other such things out of the way, I believe his next official act should be to give the Presidential Medal of Freedom to every employee of Washington DC’s Metro system for the amazing patience and professionalism they displayed all week long. You guys rock. My day began with a packed Metro (subway) ride to the Mall. The Green line train from Fort Totten to L’Enfant Plaza was absolutely packed. Fortunately my friend and I were in the very back of the train, so when crowds started to exit downtown we were able to grab a bench and ebb the claustrophobia. The train with its elbow-to-stomach stopped several times while underground, not the best recipe for avoiding panic attacks. When we finally arrived at L’Enfant Plaza, it took us almost forty minutes to get out of the station, a walk that would usually only take two. To speed up the process, Metro quit charging its riders and just waved everyone through open turnstyles. MSNBC explains this was all because of a medical emergency and broken escalator issues, but according to the Washington Post’s transportation blog, things didn’t let up at L’Enfant until about 5pm. Here are two short videos of that crowd around 9:20 am, right after the medical issue:

Some folks managed to make light of the whole thing, as you can see from this cell phone pic of kids jumping and chanting Obama’s name.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the day was Metro’s busiest ever: 1,120,000 separate trips. The previous record had been set only the day before with 866,681 riders. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. The only serious injury occurred when a 68yo woman fell onto the Red Line tracks at 9:30am in front of an oncoming train at the downtown station Gallery Place-Chinatown. A quick-thinking Houston subway police officer (woo Houston!!!) working in DC for the week reached down, pushed her under the platform (I didn’t even know there was room down there), and told her to stay down. The station, as well as nearby Metro Center, was only closed for 45 minutes. Unfortunately, the Red Line is DC’s busiest and Gallery Place and Metro Center the most important transfer stations, so that caused delays for hours. The Washington Post reports that several people were trampled and had to be rescued by emergency crews, but none were seriously injured. Still, though, over a million rides and just a handful of injuries with no arrests? Not bad at all.

I had heard about this woman through the grapevine, but as is only typical with the rumor mill, what I heard was that she was hit and killed by the train and the entire Red Line was closed following the Inauguration. Thankfully this was not the case. What’s remarkable is that this happened at 9:30am, and had nothing to do with my own train delays at 7am. That was apparently caused by a train break-down at Anacostia station earlier in the day.

Another, more humorous story I heard through the grapevine from a friend who was there that I later confirmed in a newspaper article (but can’t find now) was that the woman on the tracks forced one train to reroute from the Mall all the way to Pentagon City. People got off the train to wait, and when the crowds grew restless, a few folks started running up the down escalator and down the up escalator and were soon joined by a large crowd chanting, “YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!” as befuddled police looked on.

I’ve also heard stories about passengers “mutinying” on a Metro bus and of nearly-empty streets thanks to drivers heeding traffic warnings. This Washington Post story on the Metro, this WaPo story on the crowds in general, and this live blog of amusing anecdotes from around the city are good reads. For even more Metro video, visit my YouTube channel. For even more pictures, visit my Flickr page.

I want to close with this quote from the Post’s Robert Thomson saluting the professional Metro workers:
The attitude of the officials on the streets and the platforms and of the travelers had a lot to do with whatever successes we had. Time after time, I saw situations that could have turned out differently had one side or the other not been determined to make things work. They occurred at intersections, on sidewalks, on Metro platforms, on escalators and on buses…

Here's one scene: After the swearing-in ceremony, people heading from the trains to the Mall were waved toward a fare gate by a Metro employee. After going through the gate, they walked to an escalator bank, where another Metro employee told them the esclators were now for entering passengers only, and they should go back and tell that to the other Metro employee.

Which they did. Without any hassle. The first Metro employee opened the swinging gate and let them back into the mezzanine, so they could find another way out. That wasn't so easy. At the exit for Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street SW, one escalator was under repair, another was for incoming passengers and the third was stopped so it could serve as a stairway for exiting passengers.


Dyaitsidyam∂ said...

If a zombie outbreak happened while you all were in the subway. You'd be screwed. Just sayin.

Nathan Empsall said...

I'm not really sure how the zombies could get to me in the middle of the crowd like that.