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For the crowds, headaches coming and going

We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial
Hundreds of thousands crowded the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall for a free concert Sunday.Win Mcnamee / Getty Images
/ Source: and NBC News

To the headache of shepherding as many as 2 million people to and from Barack Obama’s inauguration as president Tuesday, add this complication:

It’s expected to snow in Washington, a city notorious for its inability to handle even a flurry.

The snow will only make things harder for the from 58 local, state and federal agencies across the nation who have come to the capital to keep the crowds moving through a city with an already overloaded mass transit system.

Forecasters were predicting about an inch of snow Monday afternoon and evening, warning that falling temperatures could mean slick roadways and icy conditions.

That will likely send even more people to the region’s strained Metro subway trains, which were filled Sunday by hundreds of thousands of people who flocked to the National Mall for an inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

After the concert, thousands stood on packed Metro platforms and in lines snaking out the stations as train after train whizzed past with no room for additional passengers. There were no major breakdowns, officials said; there were just more people than the system was built to accommodate, and delays were no worse than expected for any major event in Washington.

“It’s not our first time at the rodeo here,” said William Hanbury, president of the Washington Convention and Tourist Corp. “We’ve done other inaugurations. We’ve done Million Man Marches, G-20 summits, papal visits.” 

But it will be another story Tuesday, when Obama takes the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

“Up and down the Mall, you can probably fit about 2 million people,” D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said. “It’s easier when you have 2 million people on the Mall than to actually get them to the Mall.”

For security reasons, 150 blocks around the Mall will be closed to vehicles. Access to major Interstate highways through and around the area will be forbidden or restricted. Three of the major bridges into the city will be closed to all traffic except pedestrians and buses.

Little parking; hour-long waits for trainsInaugural organizers said anyone within 2 miles of the Capitol should walk to the Mall, because bicycles won’t be allowed within the security perimeter.

Otherwise, visitors will be left with Metro, second only to New York’s among the nation’s largest transit systems. In recent years, the aging train and bus network has been plagued by track fires, power failures and delayed expansion projects.

The first problem will be getting to the trains.

Two of the Metro stations close to the Mall will be closed for security reasons, and only 60,000 parking spaces will be available at feeder stations across the system, which spans the metropolitan area of Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

And forget about poaching a spot ahead of time: Overnight and reserved parking aren’t allowed.

Once visitors get to the stations, they will encounter what the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority calls “crush capacity.”

Passengers should expect to wait at least an hour to board trains, Metro General Manager John Catoe said. When the inaugural parade is over, visitors should “consider staying downtown for lunch, for a movie or to visit museums” to reduce load on the system, he said.

Facilities called ‘grossly inadequate’Local officials with long memories of huge D.C. events identified two other main choke points that visitors should prepare for: security check stations and rest rooms. There won’t be enough of either.

Every person showing up for the swearing-in and the parade that follows will be individually screened, the Secret Service said. Anyone arriving after 11:30 a.m. ET, when the ceremonies begin, will not be allowed in.

Arguments are inevitable as people show up with everyday items that are banned, including backpacks, umbrellas, Thermoses, strollers and anything with which to hold up a sign. Banned items will be confiscated, and they won’t be given back.

And don’t drink much. Only 5,000 portable toilets are available for the crowds. If 2 million people show up, that’s about 1 for every 400 people, even though the National Park Service recommends 1 for every 300.

“We will have people waiting in long, long, long lines, putting a damper on what otherwise, I think, should be a festive occasion and a very wonderful memory,” said John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, who wrote a letter to the Presidential Inaugural Committee complaining about what he called “grossly inadequate” facilities.

Banzhaf, who has brought dozens of successful legal challenges to restroom practices that discriminate against women, said the shortage was no laughing matter, as it could lead to serious problems for pregnant women and people with other medical conditions.

For dignitaries like members of Congress and elected officials, dozens more upscale toilets are being trucked in from Indiana, complete with sinks, heating and hardwood floors. For everyone else, they will be off-limits.