Your guide to nav­i­gate cherry blos­som sea­son

Th­ese tips should help com­muters and vis­i­tors con­trol their stress lev­els

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY ROBERT THOM­SON robert.thom­son@wash­post.com

The Na­tional Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val of­fi­cially be­gan on Wed­nes­day, but you re­ally haven’t missed a thing — for bet­ter or worse.

The se­ri­ous chal­lenges to en­joy­ing the fes­ti­val, or just get­ting around the ve­hi­cle and pedes­trian con­ges­tion, are just get­ting started. They will con­tinue un­til April 15, when the cel­e­bra­tion wraps up with a fire­works show on the wa­ter­front.

This guid­ance for vis­i­tors and lo­cals alike should help make the next few weeks less chal­leng­ing.

Key events

(1) March 25. Open­ing cer­e­mony, 5 to 6:30 p.m., Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW. The tick­ets for the per­for­mance have been dis­trib­uted. Near­est Metro sta­tions: Metro Cen­ter, Fed­eral Tri­an­gle.

(2) March 31-April 3. The Na­tion­als re­turn home to Na­tion­als Park for a pre­sea­son game against the Red Sox at 4:05 p.m. March 31. They play their home opener against the Mar­lins at 1:05 p.m. April 3.

The near­est Metro sta­tion, Navy Yard, will be es­pe­cially crowded be­fore and af­ter the home opener. Traf­fic will be slow near M and South Capi­tol streets on the South­east-South­west Free­way and on the 14th Street, 11th Street and Dou­glass bridges. Leave plenty of ex­tra time to make first pitch.

(3) April 1. Blos­som Kite Fes­ti­val, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Washington Mon­u­ment grounds near 17th Street and Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue NW. The fes­ti­val in­cludes com­pe­ti­tions, but also has open ar­eas for fly­ing kites. It’s highly de­pen­dent on good weather. The rain date is April 2. Near­est Metro sta­tions: Smith­so­nian, Fed­eral Tri­an­gle.

(4) April 2. Cherry Blos­som 10Mile Run and 5K Run-Walk. The 10-mile run starts at 7:20 a.m. and the 5K at 8:40 a.m. They both launch from 15th Street NW near the Washington Mon­u­ment grounds and fin­ish in the same area. The near­est Metro sta­tions are Smith­so­nian and Fed­eral Tri­an­gle, but note that this is a Sun­day, so Metro­rail won’t open till 7 a.m.

(5) April 8. Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val Pa­rade, 10 a.m. to noon. The floats and march­ing bands pro­ceed along Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue from Sev­enth to 17th streets NW. Tick­ets are re­quired for the grand­stands, but stand for free be­tween Ninth and 15th streets. Near­est Metro sta­tions: Ar­chives and Fed­eral Tri­an­gle.

(6) April 9. Ana­cos­tia River Fes­ti­val, 1 to 5 p.m., Ana­cos­tia Park, at Ana­cos­tia Drive and Good Hope Road SE. The fes­ti­val of­fers op­por­tu­ni­ties to ca­noe, play lawn games and en­joy the lo­cal arts scene, but this year’s event also in­cludes a spe­cial cel­e­bra­tion of bik­ing, with trail rides, safety classes and quick bike tune­ups.

Near­est Metro sta­tion: Ana­cos­tia. The walk is about 10 min­utes, but there also will be a free shut­tle bus be­tween the sta­tion’s Howard Road exit and the fes­ti­val. Note also that week­end park­ing is free at the sta­tion garage.

(7) April 15. South­west Wa­ter­front Fire­works Fes­ti­val. The fire­works are sched­uled for 8:30 p.m. over the Washington Chan­nel. But the event be­gins with a mu­sic and food fes­ti­val from 2 to 9:30 p.m. at the Dis­trict Wharf, 600-650 Wa­ter St. SW, with more en­ter­tain­ment from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Ti­tanic Me­mo­rial in the South­west Wa­ter­front Park. The rain date for fire­works is April 16. Near­est Metro sta­tions: Wa­ter­front and L’En­fant Plaza.

Travel tips

Metro. The tran­sit crowd­ing that oc­curs dur­ing cherry blos­som time is most no­tice­able on week­ends and at mid­day dur­ing the week — and at the Smith­so­nian sta­tion, which is near­est to the Tidal Basin.

This is the first, and prob­a­bly the only fes­ti­val to oc­cur dur­ing Metro’s SafeTrack main­te­nance pro­gram. The cur­rent edi­tion of SafeTrack, which af­fects ser­vice on the Blue and Yel­low lines, is sched­uled to con­tinue un­til April 9, though the April 2-9 phase in­volves the Yel­low Line only.

This is also the first fes­ti­val with­out the late-night rail ser­vice on week­ends. Metro now closes at mid­night seven days a week. It opens at 5 a.m. week­days and 7 a.m. week­ends.

On the up­side, vis­i­tors this year are more likely to ride on one of the new trains, which are al­ways eight cars long. They look bet­ter and smell bet­ter than the old trains. Also, they have more signs to tell rid­ers in crowded rail cars what the next stop will be.

Crowds are rarely dis­trib­uted evenly, es­pe­cially when the train is eight cars long. The last two cars of an eight-car train often are less crowded.

Tell your out-of-town guests: On the es­ca­la­tors, we stand to the right and walk on the left. Don’t try to hold the train doors open for oth­ers to board. They don’t bounce back like el­e­va­tor doors.

It will be crowded, so whether you’re an in­fre­quent lo­cal rider or vis­it­ing the city, buy your SmarTrip card in ad­vance and make sure it’s with enough money for your trip to avoid long lines at the fare ma­chines.

D.C. Cir­cu­la­tor. The Cir­cu­la­tor’s Mall route is a great op­tion dur­ing the fes­ti­val. This is not a tour bus, but it’s a con­ve­nient way to reach many sites. The red, sil­ver and yel­low buses pass by Union Sta­tion, the Smith­so­nian mu­se­ums, the Mall mon­u­ments and the Tidal Basin.

The fare is $1. Al­though the Cir­cu­la­tor fare­boxes take ex­act change, it’s bet­ter to use a SmarTrip card for the free re­board­ings and trans­fers be­tween buses within two hours af­ter first board­ing. Maps and more de­tails are avail­able from the Cir­cu­la­tor web­site at dc­cir­cu­la­tor.com.

Driv­ing and park­ing. The fes­ti­val is an in­ter­na­tional tourist mag­net. Dur­ing the peak bloom and be­yond, driv­ers are likely to wan­der in con­fu­sion and frus­tra­tion seek­ing park­ing near the Tidal Basin. Vis­i­tor park­ing is avail­able along Ohio Drive SW be­tween the Lin­coln and Thomas Jef­fer­son memo­ri­als, but there is nowhere near enough space to ac­com­mo­date the de­mand. Our best ad­vice is to avoid driv­ing and use Metro.

Park­ing for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties is avail­able along West Basin Drive at the Roo­sevelt Me­mo­rial and along Ohio Drive on the Washington Bound­ary Chan­nel side of Hains Point, north of the in­ter­sec­tion with Buck­eye Drive.

At fes­ti­val time, Ohio Drive will be one way north­bound be­tween In­let Bridge and 23rd Street.

Walk­ing. Even if you drive, do it in sen­si­ble shoes, be­cause you will wind up do­ing a lot of walk­ing. Park­ing garages are at least a few blocks from the Tidal Basin, mostly on the north side of the Mall.

Then there’s the Tidal Basin. If you visit dur­ing the peak bloom, you will not be power walk­ing. It’s like rush hour on In­ter­state 66, only you’re more likely to crash into a per­son. Be pa­tient.

While Smith­so­nian is the clos­est Metro sta­tion to the Tidal Basin, it’s also jammed at blos­som time. If the weather is pleas­ant, get off the train at L’En­fant Plaza, Fed­eral Tri­an­gle or Foggy Bot­tom. Or get bonus views by ex­it­ing the Blue Line at the Ar­ling­ton Ceme­tery sta­tion and cross­ing the Po­tomac River on the Me­mo­rial Bridge and walk­ing past the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial to the Tidal Basin.

Cen­tral Washington, with its grid pat­tern of streets, is fairly easy to nav­i­gate. But if you set off with­out a walk­ing plan, you will dis­cover that it is, in fact, pos­si­ble to get lost.

Con­sult vis­i­tor maps on down­town streets or the ones posted by the Na­tional Park Ser­vice around the Mall. Bus shel­ters also often dis­play large maps. Metro sta­tions dis­play maps of their sur­round­ings. Bik­ing. Ride your own bike or rent from one of the many Cap­i­tal Bike­share sta­tions. You can sign up for a sin­gle trip, passes of 24 hours or three days, or mem­ber­ships of a month or a year, then take a bike from any sta­tion. A pass for a sin­gle trip of up to 30 min­utes costs $2; a 24-hour mem­ber­ship costs $8.

See more de­tails at cap­i­tal­bike­share.com.

While rid­ing around the area is de­light­ful, the bike park­ing is very lim­ited at pop­u­lar times. Cap­i­tal Bike­share has an­nounced it will of­fer a free cor­ral ser­vice near the Washington Mon­u­ment at Jef­fer­son Drive and 14th Street SW this week­end and this Monday through Fri­day.

Nav­i­ga­tion aids

This sec­tion of­fers guid­ance for peo­ple nav­i­gat­ing via smart­phone. It’s just a sam­pler of the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Twit­ter. The of­fi­cial fes­ti­val feed is @Cher­ryBlossFest. It’s good for event an­nounce­ments and up­dates. Fol­low @Metro­rail­info for in­for­ma­tion on the sub­way and @Metrobus­info for the buses.

The D.C. Cir­cu­la­tor bus sys­tem sends alerts on its Twit­ter feed, @DC­Cir­cu­la­tor. The Cap­i­tal Bike­share feed is @bike­share.

Get­ting around. As a gen­eral guide for driv­ing, tran­sit, bik­ing and walk­ing, try the Google Maps app. With your GPS en­abled, it’s an easy way to quickly ex­plore travel options and fol­low turn-by­turn di­rec­tions. Many trav­el­ers also rec­om­mend the Waze app. It pro­vides real-time guid­ance, drawn from a com­mu­nity of driv­ers, and as with Google Maps, it pro­vides voice di­rec­tions, so you don’t need to take your eyes off the road.

Bik­ing. The SpotCy­cle app works for cities in many na­tions, but for fes­ti­val­go­ers, it can dis­play a tap­pable map of the clos­est Cap­i­tal Bike­share lo­ca­tions, their ad­dresses and how many bikes and empty docks they have. Also try BikeAr­ling­ton’s Rack­Spot­ter, a crowd­sourced guide to bike park­ing lo­ca­tions through­out the D.C. re­gion, at rack­spot­ter.com. It dis­plays many options near the Mall and Tidal Basin.

Tran­sit. Since the last fes­ti­val, Metro has re­designed its web­site for eas­ier use with mo­bile screens. Go to wmata.com on your mo­bile de­vice and add the Metro site to your home screen.

The mo­bile ver­sion of­fers a ba­sic guide to bus and rail travel, in­clud­ing Trip Plan­ner, Next Train and Next Bus, as well as ser­vice ad­vi­sories for when things aren’t go­ing so well. Us­ing the “Ser­vice Near Me” fea­ture, you could tap in “Tidal Basin” and see all the tran­sit options within walk­ing dis­tance. See also the “Tourist & New Rid­ers” fea­ture to find an­swers to fre­quently asked ques­tions.

The easy to man­age RideDC Trip Plan­ner app can use GPS lo­ca­tor ser­vices to help find nearby tran­sit, and plan a route to your desti­na­tion that may in­volve sev­eral modes of travel.

The Post’s DC Rider app has re­vamped its home screen since last spring. A touch-screen map links to sta­tion names with ser­vice de­tails. There is a trip plan­ner fea­ture and links to the lat­est sto­ries by The Post’s trans­porta­tion writ­ers.

Park­ing. Th­ese web­sites and apps are help­ful in find­ing park­ing spa­ces: Park­ing Panda, SpotHero and ParkWhiz. They al­low mo­torists to find and re­serve park­ing spa­ces in garages that are in the vicin­ity of the fes­ti­val events. The app ver­sions use your de­vice’s GPS in­for­ma­tion to cre­ate maps and dis­play park­ing avail­abil­ity and rates.

The Park­mo­bile app can do some off-street park­ing reser­va­tions, but it’s also a way to pay for street me­ters with­out car­ry­ing a bag of quar­ters.

BON­NIE JO MOUNT/THE WASHINGTON POST

Cherry blos­som buds along the Tidal Basin are seen on Fri­day. The re­cent snow­storm up­set the cy­cle and dam­aged part of the bloom.

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