At the Women’s March last year, I started the day with a group of 10. We were a motley crew of Washington D.C. students, out-of-towners, anarcho-communists, and suburban moms.
As the day progressed and the crowds got thicker, our group dwindled. We lost my mom and her friends in the crowd as we pushed toward the U.S. Capitol. We lost my anarcho-communist friend when she found comrades with “antifa” patches. We lost another half in the miles-long line at Shake Shack.
At the end of the day, when we wove our way through crowds to get to Farragut North, there were only three of us left. The platform was packed but each arriving train was too full to accept any new passengers. I eventually pushed onto a Shady Grove train like a Circ du Soleil contortionist, inadvertently abandoning my two friends on the platform.
It felt straight out of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
Officials are predicting that the March For Our Lives this Saturday will be bigger than the Women’s March. To give you a sense, 250,000 were expected for the Women’s March, and more than 500,000 are expected for the March For Our Lives.
As both a transportation nerd and a Women’s March participant, here are my top tips for successfully navigating the March For Our Lives.
1. For the least-crowded train, think about which direction you’re traveling in.
In the morning, you’ll likely be stuck with a crowded train no matter what: every downtown-bound train will be crowded. But you can definitely snag a seat on the way home.
In the afternoon, trains arriving in downtown D.C. will be empty but will quickly fill up as they arrive at downtown stations. If you want a seat or at least some standing room, get on at a station that is the “first” downtown stop for that line.
Here’s an example: Shady Grove- or Grosvenor-bound Red Line trains arriving at Union Station won’t be that full because they haven’t reached the downtown core. But Glenmont or Silver Spring bound trains at the same station will be packed because they have already visited all of the Red Line’s downtown stations.
So, if you’re heading towards Shady Grove or Grosvenor, board at Union Station. If you’re going towards Glenmont or Silver Spring, get on at Farragut North.
The same logic applies to other lines: board at Capitol South for Virginia-bound Blue, Silver, or Orange Lines and at Farragut West for Maryland-bound trains. Board at Gallery Place for the Green Line towards Branch Ave or Yellow Line towards Virginia, or at L’Enfant for Fort Totten or Greenbelt.
2. Download a transit planning app like Citymapper or Transit
This is a must if you have a smartphone. Unlike apps that merely tell you when the bus or train is coming, Citymapper and Transit plan the best public transportation routes with step-by-step instructions, even alerting you when you have to get off the bus. They constantly update with real-time disruption information from WMATA, so they won’t tell you to go to an exit-only Metro station. They’re much more reliable and efficient transit planners than Apple Maps or Google Maps, so I highly suggest downloading one (or both) of them.
In addition, these apps can help you plan alternate Metrobus routes if you’re unable to get on Metrorail.
3. Don’t count on ride-hailing
During the Women’s March, many people on Twitter reported surge prices on Uber that were five times the normal fare. As of this posting, Uber has not announced plans to cap surge pricing.
Lyft will be offering free rides to people participating in the March For Our Lives. However, as many people will likely be utilizing this service and as nearby roads will be closed, don’t count on it to pick you up in a timely manner.
4. Learn the streets
Be prepared to walk A LOT on Saturday. You’ll want to have a loose understanding of where things are so your eyes aren’t glued to your phone or map.
But rather than memorizing the map of downtown D.C., lucky you: the District’s streets are a grid! Perhaps not the easiest grid to learn (those damn state avenues!), but a grid nonetheless.
Remember: D.C. is divided into four quadrants radiating from the Capitol building. Alphabet streets run east to west. Numbered streets run north to south.
Both these street systems correspond with which quadrant they’re in. So numbered streets in the Northwest or Southwest quadrants will run in decreasing order the closer they get to the Capitol building. Alphabet streets in all quadrants run alphabetically from the Capitol.
For example, if I’m standing on 7th and F Street NW, and I want to walk towards the Capitol building, I should walk south so that the alphabet streets are running reverse-alphabetically and east so that the numbered streets are decreasing. So if I find myself on G street instead of E or 8th instead of 6th, I’m going the wrong way.
5. Fill up your SmarTrip card
Because of increased demand, WMATA will not be mailing SmarTrip cards before this Saturday, so you must have your card loaded and ready to go by then. Because the fare machines in the stations will be incredibly busy (and they’re difficult to use), you should buy your SmarTrip card at any CVS or Giant.
It takes a certain amount of experience and street smarts to optimally navigate your city’s public transportation. And when transit agencies don’t offer much more advice than “buy a fare card,” first-time riders can feel unwelcome and alone.
But learning how to optimally use public transportation is worth it. To those of you who are visiting Washington, D.C. or riding Metrorail for the first time, we hope that you love public transportation as much as we do!
Photo by Brian Florence/Flickr.