Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obamapalooza


(Revelers throng to the Washington Monument for Obama's swearing-in.)

A four-day weekend of high expectations came to a gleeful close Tuesday, as Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States. Nearly two million people crowded the vast frozen common of the National Mall to watch the brief swearing-in ceremony, while thousands who held tickets to secure areas at the foot of Capitol Hill found themselves trapped in immobile hordes. Thousands spent the ceremony trapped underground in the Third Street tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue, after being directed there by confused police.

For the record-shattering crowds who clustered around the twenty-one Jumbotrons erected on the Mall, Inauguration Day consisted of long, meandering walks around an overzealous network of security barricades punctuated by the high emotion of the ceremony itself. Revelers cheered and booed as past presidents and cabinet nominees filed into the bleachers above the inaugural podium. Both Presidents Bush and a wheel-chair bound Dick Cheney drew thunderous hisses and boos from the excited crowd, while Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Obamas received cheers and ululations each time they appeared on the enormous screens. After President Obama finished his oath, strangers hugged one another and people openly wept. When Reverend Joseph Lowery finished his benediction with a call and response of "amen," the call was answered with triumphant excitement.

Sunday's free concert on the Mall augured Tuesday's historical turnout. Half a million people filled the grounds around the Lincoln Memorial to watch Sunday's star-studded performance, more than the entire turnout to George W Bush's second inauguration in 2005.


(Spectators filled the west slope of the Washington Monument.)



(This man came from Jalisco to represent el espiritu Azteca.)



(After the concert, people flooded the streets around the White House.)

Monday, the Mall buzzed with excitement. Visitors took turns throwing shoes at effigies of former President Bush. Throughout DC, officials put finishing touches on complex and overlapping security precautions. Buildings around downtown were searched and sealed. Groups of National Guard troops occupied street corners along Florida Avenue and took up positions outside shuttered liquor stores. The historic U Street corridor filled with visitors who flooded restaurants, clubs and bars. Dozens stood in line outside Ben's Chili Bowl.

Hours before dawn on Tuesday, attendees began the long march towards the Mall or the sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue. The streets around the Capitol were closed, forcing uncoordinated streams of tens of thousands into chaotic confluences that left thousands stranded. Barricades and bottlenecks corralled masses of people without clear signs or informed officials to guide them. Happily, they were in a cheery mood.


(Thousands spent the swearing-in trapped in the "Tunnel of Doom.")



(Nearly two million filled the National Mall.)



(People climbed trees and portable toilets for a better view.)


While the atmosphere was jubilant, the crowd clearly harbored resentment towards eight years of Bush leadership. As current and former government officials streamed into the bleachers on Capitol Hill, the masses on the Mall booed vociferously as George HW Bush, George W Bush and Dick Cheney appeared on the Jumbotrons. When Bill and Hillary Clinton appeared, they cheered. President Obama's motorcade, his family and his cabinet nominees received shouts of praise. When the President appeared, the cheers were deafening. After Chief Justice John Roberts bungled the administration of the oath of office, Obama delivered his inaugural address with the surety and rhetorical confidence he demonstrated on the campaign trail, promising renewed national unity in the face of two wars and global economic collapse.



(President Obama takes the oath of office beside his wife Michelle.)


After the swearing-in concluded, exiting the Mall took hours. As crowds bled away, they revealed fields of detritus amounting to more litter than all the litter ever left on the Mall combined, the Park Police said today. While people waited to clear needless and redundant barricades, they were treated to a flyover by the Marine helicopter ferrying former President Bush to Edwards Air Force Base, where he caught a flight to Midland, Texas. Once clear of Mall, crowds dissipated quickly, catching Metro trains to distant hotels, filling bars and restaurants, and walking back to their neighborhoods.

During the Congressional luncheon immediately after the swearing-in, Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Bird were taken to the hospital after Kennedy had a seizure. Senator Bird was so upset, he was also taken to the hospital as a precaution. After a forty minute delay caused by their departures, Obama left Capitol Hill in his new, highly armored limousine dubbed "The Beast." He seemed happy, despite the unfortunate interruption, and opted to walk portions of the parade route before arriving at the review stand opposite the White House. After appearances at ten inaugural balls, the President returned to the White House with his wife, where they drank champagne with a small cohort of guests.



(After the swearing-in, George W Bush took one last flight over DC.)



(The line into Capitol South Metro Station reached two blocks.)



(Many crowded the homes of local residents, eager to witness to history.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Free Concert Draws Hundreds of Thousands

video
(Hundreds of thousands turned out for the concert.)

Hundreds of thousands of excited revelers flocked to the National Mall today to watch a free inaugural concert presented by HBO. Of the star-studded cast, the real star was President-elect Barack Obama, who sat beaming on the front row with his wife, daughters, Vice-president Elect Joe Biden and Mrs Biden. Hundreds of thousands filled the wooded grounds around the Reflecting Pool and the slope of frozen yellow grass between the Washington Monument and the World War Two Memorial.


(All were invited. Many came.)

Among the highlights of the show were performances by Bruce Springsteen, Usher and Stevie Wonder, and a rousing rendition of This Land is Your Land led by Pete Seeger. Among numerous speakers, Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington, and Samuel Jackson stood out, with Foxx playfully mocking Obama's oratorical style. Low points included a flaccid and long-winded speech by Tom Hanks, inconsequential appearances by several celebrities, two tethered bald eagles, and a set-ruining cameo by Jon Bon Jovi. Obama appeared at the end of the afternoon-long show, giving the last speech of his political career before assuming the office of president on Tuesday.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Obama Arrives

video
(Obama's motorcade races to Blair House)

At the end of a six and half hour railroad trip from Philadelphia, President-elect Barack Obama arrived in Washington, DC just shy of seven this evening. The city was teeming with the first of an expected 1.5 to 3 million visitors. After appearances in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore, where Obama appeared visibly moved by crowds turning out to witness his historic journey to the capital, the President-elect rolled into Union Station in a 1930's era blue caboose. Obamapalooza caught the motorcade as it roared away from the station to Blair House, where the Obamas will be staying until Tuesday's inauguration.


[Thanks to Sadie Kadlec and Evan Brown for shooting and cutting the video.]

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Inauguration Forecast: Bright and Cold

Five days out from President-elect Barack Obama’s January 20 Inauguration, the National Weather Service can now predict Tuesday’s weather with reasonable probability. NOAA anticipates temperature highs to hover around freezing over the weekend, with a thirty percent chance of snow Saturday and Sunday. While that may blanket the city with an inch or two of white, Inauguration Day is likely to be cold and clear. At night, temperatures will drop to the low twenties, so ball attendees should remember to bring their overcoats and gloves.


(Map courtesy of the National Weather Service)

Washington DC was built in a swamp, so humidity can be high even on cold days. This can create the sensation that temperatures are colder than they actually are. Like being immersed in water, DC cold has a habit of sucking the warmth out of you even if you happen to be insulated.

Visitors to inaugural events over the weekend have some measure of control over how long they are exposed to the weather, but on Inauguration Day, attendees will be outside for most of the day. With extreme congestion on roads and Metro on Inauguration Day, particularly after the ceremonies conclude, visitors should be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time exposed to the elements.

Obamapalooza has put together a brief low-temperatures survival guide. Follow these five simple rules and you should be fine in just about any winter weather.

1. Wear layers. With a slight breeze and humidity, low temperatures can seep through a heavy winter coat. Heat escapes from the openings at the bottom, the neck and the sleeves. Wear a long sleeved shirt with tight fitting wrists and tuck it in. Add a sweater and a scarf and then your winter coat. If you get too warm, you can always take something off. If you get too cold, there’s nothing you can do.

2. Wear a hat. Heat goes up. Even if you’re bundled up like the Michelin Man, without a hat, you’ll be miserable in minutes. Skip the cute cotton varieties. Of all the things in your Obamapalooza wardrobe, your hat is the most important. Opt for something thick and water-resistant, like wool, and make sure it’s long enough to cover your ears.

3. Wear thick-soled footwear and thick wool socks. After prolonged exposure to cold ground, like standing beside Pennsylvania Avenue from 7 AM to 3 PM, the chill will seep through the rubber soles of your footwear. Opt for winter boots with thick soles and insulate those from your feet with thick wool socks. You don’t want to get cold feet.

4. Bring a scarf. Scarves are more versatile than humanities majors and French women may let on. Not only will it stop up the gap at your throat where heat pours out of your coat and sweater, it can double as a hat, shield your face from the cold, and help insulate cold hands.

5. Don’t forget the gloves. If you plan on holding anything, whether a thermos or a flag, bring gloves. With less deep tissue around the fingers, hands get cold fast and take a long time to heat up again.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bush Declares State of Emergency

Using powers created after he failed to do anything before or after Hurricane Katrina slowly barreled into New Orleans, lame duck President George W Bush declared a state of emergency in advance of next Tuesday’s inauguration. It is the first time the federal government has declared that an emergency exists in advance of a political event.


(Bush visited storm-ravaged New Orleans four days after the hurricane hit.)

The move is little more than a bureaucratic step to free up federal money to reimburse the District of Columbia for inauguration expenditures. DC expects its final inauguration tab to run to $47 million, more than triple the 15$ million allocated by Congress. Bush’s emergency declaration is essentially an end run around the Legislative Branch, as getting additional funds from the nation’s lawmakers could take months.

Metro Gets With the Program

In an eleventh hour about-face, DC Metro has amended its inauguration-eve schedule to accommodate extended bar hours and hyperbolic crowds in a city with vehicular traffic all but curtailed for security measures. WMATA posted updated inauguration information on its website detailing its new hours and a list of stations that will be either closed completely or reserved as entrance/exit only on Inauguration Day.


(Metro stations are marked with this.)

Metro will now run until 2 AM on Monday January 19. Previously, Metro would have closed at midnight, in accordance with a normal holiday schedule, as the 19th is Martin Luther King Day. That would have severely limited movement around the capital on a night when hundreds of thousands are expected to attend eighteen balls and innumerable private parties across the District.

Obamapalooza has long lamented there was not better coordination between WMATA and the District Council over extended bar hours. While Metro’s 2 AM closing time Monday night reflects at least a modicum of situational awareness, it still comes two hours before bars stop serving on a night when what could be the largest contingent of visitors in Washington history are expected.

At least eighteen inaugural balls are scheduled for the 19th. With Wednesday, Jan 21, still officially a working day, many inauguration visitors may chose to celebrate Monday night. Those who miss the last 2 AM train will have to contend with a limited number of taxis in city all but shut down to vehicular traffic, or perhaps thumb a ride in someone’s limo.

New Metro Hours

Sat 1/17: 7 AM – 3 AM
Sun 1/18: 7 AM – 12 AM
Mon 1/19: 5 AM – 2 AM
Tue 1/20: 4 AM – 2 AM


(System map for DC Metro)

For security purposes, the Secret Service has asked WMATA to close a handful of metro stations on Inauguration Day. The following stations will be closed on Tuesday, January 20 until 6:30 PM.

– Green/Yellow Lines

Archives
Navy Memorial
Penn Quarter

– Blue/Orange Lines –

Smithsonian

Additionally, the Judiciary Square station on the Red Line will close at 4 PM, and the Mt Vernon Square/7th Street Convention Center station on the Green/Yellow Lines will close at 7:30 AM on Inauguration Day due to their proximity to inaugural balls.

In a move that could spell added confusion to Metro chaos, the following stations will be entrance only on Inauguration Day.

– Blue/Orange Lines –

L’Enfant Plaza
Metro Center
Stadium-Armory

– Red Line –

Farragut North
Gallery Place-Chinatown
Metro Center
Union Station

– Yellow/Green Lines –

L’Enfant Plaza
Gallery Place-Chinatown

The following Blue/Orange Lines stations will be exit only from 4 AM to 10:30 AM on January 20.

Capitol South
Farragut West
Federal Triangle
Federal Center SW
McPherson Square

Additionally, WMATA is asking riders not to transfer at Metro Center, Gallery Place-Chinatown or L’Enfant Plaza on Inauguration Day.

While these restrictions aim to reduce system-crippling congestion, they essentially render the center of Washington a pedestrian-only zone. People residing or staying within two miles of the Mall or Pennsylvania Avenue should walk to the swearing-in ceremony and parade to facilitate droves of visitors relying on Metro to shuttle them in from Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

For more Metro information, see WMATA's inauguration website: http://www.wmata.com/getting_around/metro_events/inauguration.cfm

Post Map Shows 21 Jumbotrons on Mall

According to the Washington Post, twenty-one, not twenty-two Jumbotrons will be placed along the 1.9 miles of the National Mall for President-elect Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. With more than a million visitors expected Tuesday morning, inauguration officials will provide the enormous television screens to enable viewing from the far reaches of the grassy common. In accordance with Obama’s wishes that his inauguration be more inclusive than past ceremonies, the US Park Police, which oversees the Mall, has decided to open the entire 309 acres to the public. In previous years, much of the area was used as a staging ground for the Inaugural Parade.

A map detailing the location of the Jumbotrons appeared in this morning’s paper and is available online here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Free Sunday Concert Details Pinned Down

More than a dozen A-list musicians and celebrities will appear at a free 2 PM concert Sunday January 18 as part of this weekend’s inaugural festivities.

The 90 minute concert at the Lincoln Memorial will feature Beyoncé, Mary J Blige, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, René Fleming, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock, Heather Headley, John Legend, John Mellencamp, Shakira, Bruce Springstein, James Taylor, U2, Usher, Will.I.Am, and Stevie Wonder.

Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington and Queen Latifah will make speeches on the historic nature of Obama’s election. HBO will broadcast the show later on Sunday.

Obama supporters upset at the choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at Jan 20th’s inauguration should be pleased with the selection of V. Gene Robinson, a gay Episcopal Bishop, to give Sunday’s concert’s invocation.

Though, why, pray, does a concert need an invocation?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Weekend Roundup

With just over a week remaining before the inauguration, officials ran through an inauguration rehearsal while the Obamas spent their first weekend in Washington as future first family.

Saturday, President-elect Obama went to lunch with DC Mayor Adrian Fenty at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a DC institution long considered one of the important centers of black culture in one of the capital cities of black America. True to his promise to be in better touch with DC than previous presidents, Obama accompanied Fenty to the grubby U-street diner rather than one of numerous fine restaurants reserved for Washington power brokers. They ordered the house special, chili half-smokes, a half-pork half-beef sausage smothered in chili. The half-smoke is DC’s signature dish. A sign in the restaurant which once read "People who eat free at Ben's: Bill Cosby and NO ONE ELSE" has been amended to read "People who eat free at Ben's: Bill Cosby and The Obama Family." Hand written beneath it someone wrote, "He Paid."

Later on Saturday, Obama visited the Lincoln Memorial with wife Michelle and their two daughters Malia and Sasha. Arriving after dark, the future first family toured the enormous temple at the west end of the National Mall, with its famous 20 ft statue of the 16th President and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and 2nd Inaugural Address inscribed on its walls. They toured the basement museum of Lincoln memorabilia before appearing briefly on the monument's white steps where they waved to passersby. Perhaps Mr Obama was looking for inspiration for his own inaugural address, which he will give a week from tomorrow at the opposite end of DC’s great common.

On Sunday, officials from the alphabet soup of different and complimentary inauguration committees performed a rehearsal of the swearing-in ceremony and inaugural parade. 26-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Derrick Brooks portrayed Obama, giving the shortest inaugural address in history, “My fellow Americans, God bless America.” LaSean McCray, a 36-year-old Navy yeoman first class, portrayed Michelle Obama. Several military and civilian bands marched in the mock parade from Capitol Hill to the White House, while officials twice practiced Marine One’s helicopter departure from the Capitol's East Plaza which will take George W Bush on the final ride of his presidency.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What One Press Conference Giveth

DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier assured District residents that there will be ample security during inauguration weekend, noting that more than 10,000 National Guard troops will be on hand to back up civilian police, the Washington Post reported today.

That figure is at odds with figures released earlier this week putting the total number of military personnel at 11,500 -- 5,000 of whom will march in the Inaugural Parade in a ceremonial capacity and at least a modest percentage of whom will be from the Marines, Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force.

Air Force General Victor Renuart, head of Northern Command, had previously put the number of National Guardsmen at 4,000, with 7,500 active-duty airmen, sailors, soldiers and marines either involved in the parade, or conducting various security functions, including intelligence gathering and combat air patrols, Roll Call reported on December 17. It is not clear whether Lanier was announcing a massive inauguration surge or merely misspoke.

According to the Post article, DC police officers will start 12-hour shifts on January 16, ensuring they will be grumpy and sleep-deprived on Inauguration Day. All of Washington's 4,000 police officers will be on deck for crowd control purposes, bolstered by an additional 4,000 officers from jurisdictions outside the District.

Chief Lanier downplayed expectations of gargantuan crowds, saying she expected one to two million people to arrive in Washington, DC on Inauguration Day. If DC's 580,000 residents and the large numbers of people arriving in the District before January 20 are taken into account, that figure meshes pretty well with the 1.5 to 3 million predicted earlier this week.

In any event, the inauguration will be televised. According to the Post article, inauguration officials have upped the number of Jumbotrons on the Mall from ten to twenty-two.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Nasty, Brutish and Long

The Secret Service and DC Government released important inauguration transit information today.

All Potomac River bridges linking Virginia to the District of Columbia will be closed to private vehicles. The Arlington Memorial Bridge will be open to pedestrians walking into the District from North Virginia. All other bridges will be open to buses, taxis, limousines and emergency vehicles.

•14th Street Bridge (Buses and Authorized Vehicles Only)
•Roosevelt Bridge (Buses and Authorized Vehicles Only)
•Memorial Bridge (Pedestrians and Emergency Vehicles Only)
•Key Bridge (Buses and Authorized Vehicles Only)
•South Capitol Street Bridge (Buses and Authorized Vehicles Only)
•11th Street Bridges (Buses and Authorized Vehicles Only)

The Sousa, Whitney Young and Benning Road bridges across the Anacostia River will be open, though enormous portions of South East DC around RFK stadium will be used as tour bus parking.

Major vehicular arteries into the District from Maryland will be open to all traffic.

•Rock Creek Parkway (all traffic) – From Piney Branch Rd to Virginia Ave
•East Capitol Street (all traffic) – RFK area will be filled with tour buses
•Benning Road (all traffic)
•New York Avenue (all traffic)

To facilitate charter bus passengers and motorists lucky enough to find parking, the 3rd Street Tunnel will be reserved for pedestrians.


(Street closures and access points in downtown DC)

Meanwhile, DC Metro will open 60,000 private parking spots at park and ride lots in Maryland and Virginia, the Washington Post reported. The park and ride lots were previously reserved for charter bus parking, but after DC officials provided parking for 10,000 charter buses within walking distance of the Mall, those lots became available.

Lots and garages open 3:30 AM on Jan. 20. Parking costs a flat rate of 4$ payable only in cash.

Park and ride lots in PG County will be open at Greenbelt and Morgan Blvd stations on the Green and Blue Lines, and in Fairfax County at the Van Dorn St station, also on the Blue Line.

With transit points into the District severally limited, much of the city center off limits to private vehicles and parking likely to be a nightmare, inauguration attendees coming from Virginian suburbs are likely to face long waits and large crowds at Metro stations, while those arriving at Dulles and National Airports will be at the mercy of traffic conditions.

With no rail link between Dulles and DC, passengers arriving there will have no option but to take a cab or bus into the city. Traffic from Dulles is congested under normal conditions. Given the huge turnout expected, passengers arriving at Washington’s least accessible airport may spend hours on clogged roadways. Passengers arriving at National Airport willing to shell out for a cab may have an easier time than normal entering the city as bridges will be free of private vehicles.

Visitors arriving from Maryland face different challenges. Though major vehicular arteries are open to private vehicles, traffic will be horrendous. Congested under normal conditions, the multiple branches of the I-95 system connecting DC to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston will likely be gridlocked. Traffic inside the city will be no better and finding parking will be a miracle. Passengers arriving at BWI Airport have a choice of MARC commuter rail, Amtrak, taxi and bus. Though MARC will be closed to service Sunday Jan 18, MARC is running full service on the Penn Line, which serves BWI, on Martin Luther King Day.

Those lucky enough to have a hotel room, rented apartment, sofa or living room floor inside the District will likely have to walk several miles to the Mall and parade route. No word yet on expected weather conditions.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Inaugural Security Picture Coming Into Focus

In a front-page article in Sunday's paper about beefed-up security at the inauguration, the Washington Post again missed the forest for the trees.

Based on figures compiled from the Post article, the total security presence for the 2009 inauguration will be 67% larger than for George W Bush’s 2005 inauguration, while total attendance, currently estimated to be between 1.5 million and 3 million, will be four to eight times larger. In other words, the proportional security presence at Barack Obama’s inauguration will be anywhere from half to nearly a quarter of that provided for Bush in 2005.

According to the figures reported by the Post, the FBI’s Washington Field Office will bring in a 20% larger force than is typical for an inauguration. The Park Police, which oversees the National Mall, will increase its force by 66%. The D.C. police presence, bolstered by 4,000 officers from outside the District, will be 25% larger than that at George Bush’s 2005 inauguration. Relative to this year’s expected turnout, those increases would be paltry without a massive increase in military personnel acting as security.

11,500 active duty troops will be in Washington on Inauguration Day, compared with 7,000 in 2005, a 64% jump. But if the 5,000 servicemen and women who traditionally participate in the inaugural parade are discounted as security, the size of the military’s security footprint, in real terms, will increase from 2,000 to 6,500, a 225% larger force than in 2005. According to the Post, 1,300 unarmed National Guard soldiers will bolster the ranks of 1,000 Park Police tasked with controlling the 309 acres of the National Mall. The remaining 5,000 military personnel – a full brigade – will assist “with crowd control, communications, security, medical care, logistics, weapons detection and other needs,” the Post reported.

That means Obama’s inauguration, with a substantially smaller security presence relative to crowd size, will be substantially more militarized. Given that inaugurations are exercises in symbolism, filling Washington with thousands of uniformed troops seems like a potential public relations gaff. Obama rode into office on a wave of public discontent with the Iraq War. The last time the National Guard flooded DC’s streets was 1968, during the race riots that exploded after the assassination of Martin Luther King. A militarized inauguration could evoke both.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Renegade Has Landed

The Obama family arrived in Washington, DC this weekend on separate planes from Chicago. They checked into the Hay-Adams hotel, near Lafayette Squre, after being snubbed by the Bush administration, which refused the future first family quarters at the Blair House until January 15. Blair House, across the street from the White House, is the traditional residence of presidents-elect while they await inauguration.

Obama told reporters that he was displeased with the prospect of a further two weeks living in a hotel, saying, “we kind of did that for two years.” Secret Service has transformed the Hay-Adams into a fortress, closing adjacent streets and setting up barricades to prevent suicide car bombings. The president-elect’s daughters Malia and Sasha start school today at Sidwell Friends with fellow classmates returning from winter break.

President-elect Obama flies to Philadelphia on January 17 to begin a ceremonial train journey to Washington, DC. Official inaugural events begin January 18 with an appearance by Obama at the Lincoln Memorial.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Tale of Two Phillies

Barack Obama’s decision to arrive at his inauguration on a train from Philadelphia offers more than a rhetorical nod to Abraham Lincoln, who traveled to his 1861 inauguration along the same route. The Amtrak line Obama will follow January 17 on a specially chartered train offers the President-elect an on-the-ground perspective of how badly America’s infrastructure and working class communities have corroded due to decades of decline and neglect. Official appearances are scheduled in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore and Washington – all once-prosperous cities suffering from a surfeit of institutional and social maladies. Symptoms as wide ranging as rusting bridges and rampant homicides speak to a civilizational malaise desperately in need of a corrective.


(Train yards west of Philadelphia's 30th Street Station)

For decades, while Wall Street and real estate portfolios ballooned with profits from nothing, working-class communities and the massive public works projects of the early 20th century have been systemically starved to the brink of collapse. DC saw its homicide rate climb 2.2% to 185 in 2008. Even though Baltimore and Philadelphia saw double-digit percentage drops in homicides this year, to over 200 and 300 respectively, murder rates in those cities remained several times higher than the national average. Wilmington set a city record of 24 homicides for 2008. Institutionalized poverty, failing public schools, a now decades-old drug epidemic, rampant divorce, AIDS, failing or non-existent community organizations, unemployment, underemployment, government corruption, and societal and governmental neglect all contribute to these appalling statistics.


(Philadelphia's 30th Street Station)

Perhaps nothing could be a better symbol for the decline of these four American cities than Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. Built in 1933, Philadelphia’s rail hub is a wonder of public infrastructure resembling an Egyptian temple. Then state-of-the-art steel beams enabled the building’s architects to fill the exterior walls of the post and lintel structure with windows, flooding the enormous central hall of the station with natural light. The arched roofs of the station’s trolley platforms are made of an interlaced webbing of steel girders. It is precisely the kind of building one would never expect government contractors to be able or willing to build, yet it was built four years into the Great Depression.


(The "Drexel Shaft" on the west side of the 30th Street Station)

Straddling the west bank of the Schuylkill River, the 30th Street Station sits in the heart of a sprawling industrial complex that at its heyday was a feat of American engineering. Now blighted with rust, its web of rusting tracks and bridges encircle the defunct “Drexel Shaft” – an enormous smokestack looming over the University City neighborhood – which once provided power and heating to the 30th Street Station and its outbuildings. The massive quantity of steel girders, rails and rivets, the esthetic care of the station’s architects, and the political will to push through the financing of such a costly public good during a time of economic ruin speak to the surplus of cultural wealth available in the midst of this country’s worst economic era. That that richness was left to spoil by an oligarchy of conmen and profiteers speaks to moral bankruptcy in desperate need of a bailout.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

JCCIC Asks Disabled to Think Twice About Inauguration; Ticket Holders to Arrive by 9

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies advised ticket holders to the January 20 inauguration to arrive no later than 9 a.m. The program starts at 11:30. 240,000 ticketed guests will occupy a secure zone on the western slope of Capitol Hill. Strollers, backpacks, thermoses and umbrellas are prohibited in the secure zone and all ticket holders will pass through a metal detector and receive a pat down.

1,000,000 or more people are expected on the National Mall, a grassy common that stretches from the base of Capitol Hill to the Lincoln Memorial, some two miles distant. Those attendees will be able to watch the inaugural program via ten enormous Jumbotrons. While there are no restrictions on strollers or other items on the Mall, event organizers have asked parents to consider the wisdom of bringing young children given limited space, large crowds, hours-long waits and potentially cold weather.

Additionally, the JCCIC asked people with special needs to think twice about attending the inauguration. Traffic to and from Capitol Hill and the Mall will be severely curtailed, requiring millions to either walk several miles or suffer inordinately long lines and overcrowding in Metro stations. Given the importance of Metro to the overall movement of inauguration attendees, JCCIC’s decision seems a thinly veiled plea for the disabled to get out of the way.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Balls and Mayhem

The Washington Post ran two inaugural updates this morning.

According to the Post, the Presidential Inaugural Committee has announced that it will hold ten official inaugural balls in five locations. These are the only balls where the first and second families are certain to make an appearance the night of January 20th. Six of the balls will be held at the Washington Convention Center, with the remaining four at the National Building Museum, Union Station, the Washington Hilton and the D.C Armory. Attendance at the balls is sorted geographically, with ticket holders from various parts of the country attending together. The five sites are guaranteed to be tightly guarded by Secret Service, with long lines expected and traffic severely curtailed in the surrounding streets. Ten balls is more than either of George W Bush’s inaugurations, while falling short of the record of fourteen, set by Bill Clinton in 1997.

Additionally, the Post reports that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff met with DC mayor Adrian Fenty and the governors of Maryland and Virginia to discuss the incipient road and rail fiasco as millions of people arriving for the inauguration test the limits of the Washington Metropolitan Area’s transportation infrastructure. It seems that the gravity of the situation may suddenly becoming real to elected officials and their representatives. Obamapalooza has reported extensively on the likelihood that tens of thousands of people trying to get into DC for inauguration festivities will be stranded on over-crowded train platforms and in gridlocked traffic backed up for miles. Robert Crouch, homeland security advisor to Virginia governor Tim Kaine told the Post, “[traffic] is part of where the major focus will turn, so that people don’t spend hours, if not days on the interstate.”

Days, people. Days.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Abrahamapalooza 2.0

First he settled on following the tail leg of Lincoln’s whistle stop tour to the 1861 inauguration, deciding to travel by train from Philadelphia to Washington January 17, 2009. Now Barack Obama will swear his allegiance to the Constitution on a bible once owned by the sixteenth president, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced yesterday.

Owning to a combination of Obama’s personal admiration for his predecessor and a knack for political showmanship, the 2009 inauguration will be full of nods to Lincoln. True the men have something in common. Both were adopted sons of Illinois who began their careers in Illinois state politics. Both were long shot candidates, political outsiders often ridiculed for their backgrounds, appearances and lack of the traditional presidential trappings. But much of the Lincoln-Obama parallel results from circumstance and shrewd stagecraft.

Obama has chosen to arrive at his inauguration on a train from Philadelphia, after a stop in Baltimore, as Lincoln did in 1861. Obama will take the oath of office with his hand on Lincoln’s bible. During Obama’s swearing in on the west steps of the US Capitol he will look across the National Mall to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King gave the most important speech of the civil rights era forty-five years ago.

If any theme has predominance in Obama’s nascent presidency it is reconciliation. He has stocked his cabinet, as Lincoln did, with rivals. He has reached across party lines, inviting prominent Republicans to join his cohort. In the selection of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation, Obama showed that embracing the evangelical right at least symbolically was worth alienating an important and influential part of the left.

The inauguration is our first glimpse at what the Obama presidency will be like, apart from the bluster and promise of the primary and general elections. It is the first fruit of Obama policy. In the choice of Lincoln as a symbol and a role model, Obama promises to follow ideals rather than political expediencies. Hopefully he can live up to that promise.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Towards a Final Tally

Guessing how many people will attend Barack Obama’s inauguration in just under a month is quickly becoming the most popular parlor game in DC. Backing away from previous estimates that as many as 6 million people could flood the city for the January 20 festivities, city officials revised their projections downwards in an article appearing in today’s Washington Post. But new figures of 1.5 to 3 million are drawn from maximum capacities of DC’s metropolitan area transportation infrastructure, not demand. In other words, the new figures reflect how many people may actually make it into the city for the swearing-in and subsequent parade, but not how many people may try.

The Post article reveals that original estimates of 4 to 6 million came from projected demand and did not reflect infrastructural capabilities. Much like the German army’s Schlieffen Plan in World War One – which put more troops in motion than roads and trains could physically carry – these early projections appear to have originated with haphazard reasoning based on little more than holding a wet finger in the political winds. While officials are cutting those estimates by more than half, their new figures do not account for what will happen to any excess of people who come to the DC area during the inauguration weekend but are left stranded outside the city due to insufficient road and rail capacity.

In an augury of just how little officials know about inauguration turnout, the Post story repeats City Administrator Dan Tangherlini’s fallacious reasoning that the final number can be estimated by accounting for Metro’s 1.2 million person capacity. Metro is not an indicator of turnout as a Metro rider must already be in the DC area to use Metro in the first place. How many people can ride the subway doesn't reflect how many people will try to come to the city. Furthermore, while suburban residents from Maryland and Virginia may use Metro to reach the inaugural festivities, the 1.2 million figure also accounts for visitors who reached the Washington area by other means.

Calculating those numbers is easier.

500,000 people are expected to arrive on 10,000 chartered buses – half of the total number of charter buses east of the Mississippi. An additional 500,000 are due to arrive at National, Dulles and BWI airports. 75,000 are slated to arrive on Amtrak. 580,000 people live in the District. 5.3 million live in the Washington Metropolitan Area. While these projections, drawn from ticket sales and bus charters, appear relatively stable, several important variables remain unknown that could radically alter the final attendance numbers.

Perhaps the most important is car travel. AAA told the Post that three-quarters of tourists visiting DC arrive by car. But with bridges closed to private vehicles and large swaths of the city closed to traffic for security, it is anybody’s guess how many people will try to drive into the city or to outlying park and ride areas. If anywhere close to the three-quarters figure holds true in this case, upwards of 3 million people could be stalled in gridlock on the complex system of interstate surrounding the nation’s capital. How many would-be drivers actually make the inauguration is anyone’s guess.

The next most important factor is weather. If January 20 is a clear, relatively warm day, hundreds of thousands of residents living within a few miles of the National Mall may walk to the inauguration, swelling the total numbers substantially. DC is a Janus-faced city. On the one hand, it is Wonkdom – home of legions of federal bureaucrats who live and breathe politics. On the other, it is Chocolate City – historically and culturally one of the most important black cities in America. In a testament to his political charisma, Obama has sent a bolt of electricity through both enclaves. Decent weather could bring out Washington area residents in huge numbers.

Finally, one must account for interest. While people who already purchased tickets are unlikely to scrap their plans, visitors planning to drive from east coast cities and residents of surrounding suburbs and exurbs looking at a potential meltdown of mass transit services may opt to stay home and watch the inauguration on TV. That decision is affected by a complex and fluctuating political energy. Obama attracted record numbers during his close primary fight and election battle. Inauguration turnout may measure whether the Obameter is already starting to settle towards a new reality.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Looking Out For Number One (& For Number Two)

In what is either a serious downgrading of expected inauguration turnout or a bureaucratic snafu waiting in the wings, Presidental Inaugural Committee executive director Emmett Beliveau announced that 5,000 portable toilets will be made available for the inauguration.

While that may sound like a lot, 2,200 portable toilets were on hand for George W Bush’s 2005 inauguration, which 300,000 people attended. That’s one porta-potty for every 136 people. If two million people attend the noon swearing-in ceremony and the 2:30 inaugural parade, 5,000 toilets will provide one seven-foot plastic sanctuary for every 400 people, exceeding the National Park Service’s recommendation of one per 300.

Does this mean the Obama inaugural committee expects a lower than predicted turnout? Or has Mr Beliveau fudged his toilet algebra?

Obamapalooza thinks the latter.

Of those 5,000 toilets, only 1,000 will be arrayed along the Mall, with 3,500 dotting the parade route. Surely at least as many people will attend Obama’s inaugural ceremony as will attend the parade. Beliveau’s toilet algebra would have three times as many people attending the latter, which, if a smaller than expected crowd of 1.5 million comes for the inauguration, would mean the Obama team anticipates a crowd of about 350,000 to watch his swearing-in.

500,000 turned out to watch Obama’s victory speech in Chicago on Election Day. It is highly unlikely, given numerous estimates putting expected attendance somewhere between two and five million, that fewer people would turn out for Obama’s inaugural ceremony than did his Chicago victory speech, particularly as they are coming to Washington specifically for the inauguration.

Even a Mall crowd of 700,000 – twice the figure required to validate Beliveau’s equations – seems conservative. If a lowball estimate of 1.5 million people come to Washington on Inauguration Day, would more than half of them really opt to miss the swearing-in?

Obamapalooza predicts at least one million people fill the National Mall on Inauguration Day, at a bladder/toilet ratio of a 1,000:1.

Mr Beliveau, get your mop.

JCCIC Releases Inaugural Lineup

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has released the inaugural lineup.

After musical selections from the Marine Corps Band, the San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus, California Senator Dianne Feinstein will call the inauguration to order and present welcoming remarks.

Controversial evangelical pastor Rick Warren will then give the invocation. Musical legend Aretha Franklin will perform after Warren.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will then administer the oath of office to Vice President-elect Joe Biden.

Musical selections from Hollywood composer John Williams, performed by Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill, follow Biden’s swearing in.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will then administer the oath of office to President-elect Barack Obama. Following his swearing in, Obama will give his inaugural address.

Poet Elizabeth Alexander will read a poem after the newly minted President concludes his remarks. Following her Reverend Joseph Lowery, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, will offer the benediction.

Finally, the US Navy Band “Sea Chanters” will perform the National Anthem with the accompaniment of a record shattering crowd assembled at the foot of the US Capitol.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Inauguration Updates

Controversial evangelical pastor Rick Warren will perform the invocation at Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony. Warren is founder of the Saddleback Church, a sprawling California megachurch that draws 20,000 people to its Sunday services, making it the fourth largest church in the United States. While Warren and Obama agree politically on AIDS and poverty relief, the choice of a figure with conservative views on gay marriage, stem cell research and women’s rights has mystified and angered many of Obama’s liberal supporters.

Roll Call reported yesterday that 10,000 active-duty US military personnel will be on hand in Washington during the January 20 inauguration. That figure is double the previously mentioned figure of 5,000 soldiers slated to aid in security and crowd control. It remains unclear how many of the additional personnel will perform ceremonial functions. While the Secret Service controls overall security during the inauguration, the US military coordinates the inaugural parade of the newly sworn-in President. Traditionally, soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines march in the procession.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced that poet Elizabeth Alexander will read at the inauguration. Alexander, 46, a professor of African American studies at Yale will be the fourth poet to read at a US Presidential Inauguration, and the first since Miller Williams read at Bill Clinton’s second inauguration in 1997. Previously, Maya Angelou read in 1993 at Clinton’s first inauguration and Robert Frost read at John Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. Alexander, the author of four books of poetry, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1995.

The Washington Post reported today that more than 700 of nearly 1,700 locations slated for inauguration vendors will be given to Washington locals. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs revised the original number of vendor locations up from 500 to address the massive turnout expected for the inauguration. Only 100 vendors were on hand during George W Bush’s second inauguration in 2005. 716 D.C. street vendors will be given first preference for locations near the National Mall and at parking lots where thousands of buses are expected to unload visitors.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

“Last Call” Compromise

The DC Council succumbed to pressure from concerned US Senators and ecumenical and community groups last night and moved a special inauguration week “last call” in District bars to 4 a.m. from the 5 a.m. cutoff announced last week.

Under rules laid out in last night’s 9-4 vote, bars can remain open twenty-four hours from January 17-21, but may only serve alcohol until 4 a.m. Bars that wish to extend their hours past 2 a.m. weekdays and 3 a.m. weekends must pay a registration fee of $100 for bars and restaurants and $250 for nightclubs, the Washington Post reports.

The new 4 a.m. closing time is a compromise to vent off anger from various sources. Community groups said the DC Council rode roughshod over legally binding agreements between communities and bars about noise and operating hours when it announced last week without prior public notification that bars would have been able to serve alcohol until 5 a.m.

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) protested drawing police away from inauguration security to contend with drunken crowds on the streets of places like Adams Morgan. The Downtown Cluster of Congregations sided with Sens. Feinstein and Bennett noting that the current level of police presence in Adams Morgan hasn’t been able to prevent a string of recent homicides in the popular nightlife neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the bureaucratic disconnect between the DC Council and DC Metro remains. With the dust settled, the 4 a.m. “last call” compromise appears likely to stand, but Metro has yet to amend its hours of operation past 3 a.m. January 17, midnight January 18 and 19 and 2 a.m. January 20.

After celebrating late into the night in District bars during inauguration week, throngs of revelers trapped in the city by insufficient transportation infrastructure will have to find their way back to their lodgings on foot, in the dark, in late January, or wait for Metro to begin operating.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama to Arrive in Washington by Train

Those looking for further evidence that Amtrak is the premier mode of travel to the 2009 Inauguration should note their fellow passengers: the Obamas and the Bidens. The Presidential Inaugural Committee released President-Elect Barack Obama’s inaugural travel plans yesterday.

Mimicking the last stage of Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 railroad journey to Washington, Obama and his family will board a chartered Amtrak in Philadelphia January 17. Vice President-Elect Joe Biden will join the Obamas in Wilmington, Del., from which Biden made daily commutes on Amtrak during his long tenure as a US Senator. A final stop in Baltimore will provide residents of Charm City unable to attend the January 20 inauguration in neighboring Washington DC a chance to cheer on the hugely energizing Obama.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee suggested official inaugural events will begin after the Obamas’ and Bidens’ January 17 evening arrival. Without releasing specifics, they suggested there may be an official appearance by Barack Obama on the National Mall January 18.

No word yet on how Amtrak travel along the Philadelphia-Washington corridor will be affected by security.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Washington Metro’s Answer to Inauguration Crowds: The Schleppin Plan

Expected Inauguration Day turnout will vastly exceed Metro’s capabilities, forcing hundreds of thousands of visitors to walk to and from the noon swearing-in ceremony and the afternoon parade.

Area transportation experts told the Washington Post that even half the expected two to four million attendees will swamp a transit system designed to move 120,000 people per hour.

Coupled with massive street closures in the heart of the city and an estimated 10,000 charter buses expected Inauguration Day, the transportation infrastructure of the greater Washington area will be strained to the brink.

Southwest, United Airlines and US Airways have all added flights into the three airports serving DC, but in the case of National and Dulles airports, arriving passengers will be bottled-necked crossing the Potomac.

Passengers arriving at Dulles lack a rail link into the city and their schedules will be at the mercy of northbound traffic trying to navigate the five bridges connecting DC to Virginia.

National Airport is linked to the city by Metro and is much closer to Washington and the outlying cities of Arlington and Alexandria where tens of thousands of visitors are likely to stay. But with Metro ridership expected to exceed capacity, passengers should remember to pack their senses of humor.

Arriving into the city from Maryland’s BWI could prove easier. Maryland’s MARC commuter train, which serves BWI, will run on Inauguration Day, but southbound traffic on the I-95 corridor likely will be punishing. Amtrak, which also serves BWI, has added additional trains into Union Station.

East Coast visitors still looking for tickets to Washington might consider taking the train. With Metro and vehicle traffic likely to be paralyzed, Amtrak’s service to Union Station could be the most convenient way in and out of downtown Washington.

At the northern foot of Capitol Hill, Union Station is a short walk to the National Mall. On January 20, it looks like walking is going to be the transport of choice for visitors and residents alike.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Feds Scurry to Dampen Camping Fears

The Washington Post reported this morning that camping will not be permitted on the Mall for the presidential inauguration, assuaging nervous Washingtonians that the projected three to five million attendees of the 2009 Inauguration might transform the center of the District into a makeshift campground.

US Park Police Spokesman Sgt Robert LaChance told reporters that it is "not legal to camp on the Mall" and that though it is open twenty-four hours a day, the 500 acre common in the heart of the city might be swept to check for bombs during the night, the Post reported. Sgt LaChance did not specify what exactly constitutes camping versus all night loitering.

In contrast to DC Mayor Adrian Fenty's comments that he expects Obama supporters to camp overnight for inauguration parade seating, Secret Service spokesman Malcolm D Wiley said that 7 am would be "the absolute earliest you can get to a sidewalk" along the parade route, the Post also reported.

Wiley also struck a more conservative tone about expected turnout to the inauguration. According to the Post, Wiley said, "we have nothing to suggest there will be four million." Mayor Fenty has put the estimated number of inauguration attendees at three to five million.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What 800,000 Looks Like




A photo of 1995's Million Man March, which an estimated 800,000 people attended, taken from the steps of the US Capitol.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Forty days and forty nights remain in the Bush presidency and planning for Inauguration Day is in full swing, but with three to five million people estimated to attend Barack Obama's history-making inauguration, Washington DC is scrambling to accommodate the largest crowd ever to descend on the US Capital.

At the low end of the District's projections, three million attendees would more than double the previous record of 1.2 million who came for Lyndon Johnson's 1965 inauguration.

Few of Washington's 95,000 hotel rooms remain available and hotels are booking out as far away as West Virginia. Local residents are renting their homes for astronomical prices -- apartments listed on Craigslist go for as much as $3,000 a night -- while area luxury hotels are offering special inauguration package deals running into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Despite objections raised by California and Utah Senators Dianne Feinstein and Bob Bennett, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty announced today that he will back the DC Council's decision to let bars and nightclubs remain open until five am during the inauguration weekend. DC Metro plans on running extended rush-hour service to provide bus and Metro transportation to the millions expected to arrive, while DC's non-voting US Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton has discussed opening the District's sports stadiums as spill-over public space where the Inauguration may be viewed on television.

Plans are afoot to reinforce DC's 4,000 strong police force with a brigade of up to 5,000 US troops and as many as 2,500 police from jurisdictions outside the District. But if five million people do arrive to witness Barack Obama's and George W Bush's first and final days as President, DC could descend into chaos of Woodstockian proportions.

In the case that the District's upper estimates prove true, an 11,500 strong security force would provide one soldier or police officer for every 470 people. At that ratio, police would be able to perform little other than crowd control while parking enforcement and emergency services would be deeply strained.

The US Park Service, which administers the National Mall, is unsure whether three million people can physically fit on the 500 acres of open grass between the Lincoln Memorial and the western steps of the US Capitol, where the swearing in takes place January 20, 2009 at noon. 1995's Million Man March brought 800,000 people to the slopes of Capitol Hill and stretched the majority of the 1.1 miles westward to the Washington Monument.

If projections hold true, and four to six times that number arrive on Inauguration Day, crowds likely will occupy the entirety of the Mall, spilling across Independence and Constitution Avenues, and covering the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where forty years ago Martin Luther King challenged the American status quo with his "I have a dream" speech.

To give the District's estimated projections perspective, the resident population of Washington DC is 580,000 people. Five million people, the District's upper estimate of potential attendees, represents nine times the resident population. If that number do come to the District on Inauguration Day, it would equate to fourteen million people descending on Manhattan for New Year's Eve, or the entire population of Brazil traveling to Mexico City to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

It remains anyone's guess who is coming, where they will be staying, and what they will eat, drink or do while they are here. The fact is, Washington DC has never faced a logistical and infrastructural challenge as great as Inauguration 2009. Whatever happens, it is sure to make history.