With Washington, D.C., residents bracing for traffic gridlock and overwhelmed public transportation systems on Inauguration Day, one advocacy group is encouraging employers to allow their workers to telecommute.
Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, is the day U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in as president. The swearing-in ceremony, parade and other related events are expected to draw up to 4 million people to Washington, which has a year-round population of about 590,000. News reports and bloggers have warned about potential chaos, and many D.C.-area residents say they want to be as far away from the festivities as possible.
Some organizations in Washington are giving employees the day off, but other employers don't have that option, said Cindy Auten, general manager of Telework Exchange, a D.C.-area group that advocates for telecommuting. If the large crowd estimates prove correct, traffic gridlock will likely continue throughout much of the week, with many out-of-towners staying in Washington for several days, she noted.
"There are a lot of organizations in the D.C. area that can't just shut down," Auten said. "This is a good opportunity to try teleworking."
Several U.S. government agencies and area businesses that already allow telecommuting are using the inauguration as a test of their telework readiness during a disaster, Auten said. Auten hasn't yet heard from organizations new to telecommuting about plans for Inauguration Day, but Telework Exchange is ready to assist those groups, she said.
Among the tools on Telework Exchange's Web site is the Telework Gizmo, which assesses a worker's ability to telecommute.
Jon Rochetti, author of the DC Traveler blog, wrote that crowds could cause several problems during Inauguration Day. It's very likely that people using Washington's Metro subway service will face several hour waits, and mobile phone networks may be overwhelmed, he wrote.
People riding chartered buses into Washington may face problems getting from remote parking spots to central Washington, and it'll be tough to find a parking spot at any metro station, he predicted. And forget about getting a sit-down meal in the area of the National Mall, he added.
"Getting a meal on the Mall will require an act of Congress," he wrote. "You should be able to find plenty of hot dog vendors around the Mall on inauguration day. But if you want to wait out the exit rush after the ceremony, at a restaurant anywhere near the Mall, expect a multi-hour wait."
Columnist Lyric Winik of The Daily Beast predicted Inauguration Day will be "miserable."
Even the inaugural balls aren't as glamourous as they may sound, Winik wrote. "The outdoor lines begin long before you even reach the building," she wrote. "Four years ago, it snowed on the morning of the inauguration. The streets and sidewalks were icy and slushy. Men skidded in patent dress shoes, women tottered in four-inch Louboutins. Everyone shivered. And then waited outside, airport-style, to have their bags searched, cell phones tested, IDs checked, and then to pass through the metal detector gates."
Even during normal work days, Washington is one of the worst U.S. cities for traffic jams, Auten said. "Sitting on Route 66 on an average, random Tuesday is quite painful enough," she said. "I think people are really starting to get tired of this traffic."