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.


  1. The great unwashed hordes moving toward the center and the light, panic in the streets, chaos, mayhem, the fall of great civilizations - and a lot of drinking.... Sounds like fun!