|City layout |
The city is split into four quadrants centered on the Capitol Building: NE, NW, SE and SW. City roads are laid out in a grid, with east-west streets named for letters (then alphabetically single-syllable words, double-syllable words, etc.) and north-south streets named for numbers. Since an address can theoretically apply to four different locations in Washington, street addresses properly indicate the quadrant. The Northwest quadrant is the largest and home to most items of interest to visitors. The grid has a few peculiarities which are the legacy of Pierre L'Enfant's 18th century plan for the city. There is no J Street, since at the time L'Enfant considered the letters I and J to be essentially the same letter and not two distinct letters as they are today. (It is a myth that he had it out for statesman John Jay.) In the English language, the use of the letter J began to take its modern form in the 1600s but remained commonly interchangeable with I until the mid 1800s. Addresses on I Street are usually written Eye Street to avoid confusion with the number 1. Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenues are broad thoroughfares partly because early proposals called for them to be canals. Perhaps the greatest complications are the Avenues, named mostly after states. These cut diagonally across the grid, and many major intersections are formed into circles dedicated to historical figures.
Washington has one of the best public transportation systems in the country. The hub-and-spoke rail system is integrated with an extensive bus system, with all lines converging in downtown D.C. A car is often a hindrance in the District, particularly for tourists; public transportation is often the fastest way to get around.
New, red "DC Circulator " buses provide the cheapest way ($1) to travel cross-town along DC's major axes: East-West from Union Station past the Convention Center to Georgetown and North-South from the Convention Center through the National Mall to the Southwest Waterfront.
For more extensive coverage, use the "Metro", operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA ). Its five intersecting "Metrorail" subway lines stop in most major neighborhoods, with the notable exceptions of Georgetown, Adams-Morgan, and Old Town Alexandria. Since parking downtown can be scarce and expensive (up to $15/day), many attractions recommend using the Metro, and WMATA publishes a pocket guide indicating which line and stop to take for various landmarks. In addition, WMATA devotes a section of its website to visitor resources . All parts of the Metro system are extremely safe, reliable, and amazingly clean.
• Red Line - forms a long "U" from suburban Montgomery County, Maryland through downtown. Attractions on the Red Line include the Union Station, the MCI Center, the National Zoo, the National Cathedral and Cathedral of St. Matthew Our Apostle. The Red Line's Wheaton station boasts the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere.
• Yellow Line - links the Washington Convention Center to Alexandria via the MCI Center and Reagan National Airport.
• Green Line - forms a "C" which swings through Prince Georges County from Greenbelt (and its BWI Airport shuttle) past the University of Maryland, the gentrifying U Street and Columbia Heights districts, the Southwest Waterfront, and historic Anacostia.
• Blue Line - an "S" that meanders from Largo Town Center near FedEx Field (home of the Washington Redskins) to RFK Stadium (home of the Washington Nationals and the D.C. United), under the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery, and south to Reagan National Airport and Alexandria.
• Orange Line - Runs from Fairfax County suburbs (and the Washington Flyer Dulles Airport shuttles at West Falls Church) along the Wilson Boulevard entertainment corridor, through downtown, and out again past RFK Stadium to New Carrollton (with onward connections to MARC and Amtrak).
Metrorail's Hours of Operation are as follows:
• Monday-Thursday: 5 AM to Midnight
• Friday: 5 AM to 3 AM
• Saturday: 7 AM to 3 AM
• Sunday: 7 AM to Midnight
When riding late at night, it is advisable to be aware of when the last train leaves each particular station (this will be clearly stated at each station and is also given on WMATA's website), and make sure you do not miss that train (you must also take into consideration any transfers you will need to make). However, unlike in some other systems, all trains continue to the end of their respective lines (usually until well after Metro's stated closing time), so you need not worry about a train stopping before it reaches your destination.
Parking is available at many suburban stations, particularly at the terminus stations, and costs a flat rate of $3.50 (as of January 3, 2006) at most lots, though a few cost slightly more. It is important to note that weekday parking at a Metro lot requires a "SmarTrip" card, which is a special rechargeable debit card. Cash, credit cards and checks are not accepted for parking. One must purchase a SmarTrip card for $10 at a vending machine (SmarTrip machines are located at all stations with parking). The card itself costs $5 and it is dispensed pre-loaded with $5 in value (hence the $10 cost). The SmarTrip can also be used to pay Metrorail and Metrobus fares, and to make paperless transfers from one to the other. If you park at a Metro lot on a weekday, make sure you purchase a SmarTrip card and not a regular farecard. Only the SmarTrip cards with microchips will be accepted by the parking gate. Parking on weekends and holidays is free.
As stated above, for ease of use, one can use the same SmarTrip card to pay for both the Metro trip and parking. In fact, at a few stations (though certainly not the majority), you can only get the reduced Metro customer parking rate if you use the same card (specifically New Carrollton, White Flint, and Twinbrook). Unfortunately, use of a SmarTrip card currently precludes customers from taking advantage of unlimited ride passes (which are mentioned below), though Metro has plans to eventually enable unlimited ride capabilities via SmarTrip.
If you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing throughout the city, the Metrorail One Day Pass is a great deal - for a flat $6.50, you are afforded unlimited rides throughout the Metrorail system (the pass is valid after 9:30 AM on weekdays or all day on Saturdays and Sundays until closing (on Fridays and Saturdays, this means 3 AM of the following day). A "short-trip" 7-day pass is $22, but restricted to $2.20 rides during peak hours. An unrestricted and unlimited 7-day pass is $32.50. Note that you can only buy unlimited ride passes at the blue Passes/Farecards machines in each station, and not from the standard brown Farecards machines. Likewise, the blue machines are the only ones that accept credit and debit cards, but you can buy any farecard or pass type from these machines (including adding value to SmarTrip cards), so there is no real reason to use the standard brown machine unless you need to skip a long line. Furthermore, unlike in most other transit agencies, Metrorail passes are not valid for travel on Metrobus (nor is the fare structure identical).
Metrorail fares are based on distance, starting from $1.35. Peak fares are in effect on weekdays from (5:10 a.m.) to 9:30 a.m. and 3:00 to 7:00 p.m., during which time the maximum fare is $3.90. At all other times, lower fares are in effect, with a maximum of $2.35. Because the fare is based on distance, each passenger must have his or her own farecard (whether paper or SmarTrip) and use it both when entering and exiting the system. If the value on the card is insufficient to exit, it can be recharged using "Exitfare" vending machines.
If you have rented a bicycle, you can also take your bicycle on Metrorail outside of weekday peak hours, but you must use one of the end doors of each car (the center doors have stickers with a reminder for bicyclists to use other doors). All buses in the Metrobus system are also equipped with bicycle racks on the front.
The "Metrobus" system has a flat fare system of $1.25 for most routes, or $3 for express routes. Certain routes feature discounted fares. An all-day pass for Metrobus is $3 and valid until 3:00 a.m. on regular routes or for $1.25 on express routes. Metrobus accepts SmarTrip for payments and transfers, but does not accept Metrorail paper farecards or passes. To save money on your metrobus trips, you can also get transfer slips from other Metrobuses or from Metrorail (at your station of ENTRY) that allow you to take another bus within a two hour period at a discounted rate.
As mentioned above, there is no direct Metrorail connection to the popular neighborhood of Georgetown. However, the Georgetown Metro Connection provides convenient bus service throughout Georgetown directly from the Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle metro stations. Fare is a flat $1.00 or, with a Metrorail transfer (obtained from the machine at the station where you ENTER the system), $0.35. For out-of-towners, it is recommended to use the Foggy Bottom bus route, as it runs all along Wisconsin Avenue throughout the heart of Georgetown. Buses leave from the top of the escalators at the Foggy Bottom metro station every 10 minutes during the following hours:
• Monday-Thursday: 7 AM - Midnight
• Friday: 7 AM - 2 AM
• Saturday: 8 AM - 2 AM
• Sunday: 8 AM - Midnight
Taxi cabs do not use meters, but charge fares based on zones traveled -- plus such surcharges as one dollar during rush hours (7 - 9:30 AM and 4 - 6:30 PM) and $1.50 for each additional passenger. This can cause a lot of confusion and tourists often think they're being ripped off. To be prepared, you can always ask about the fare in advance or view DC's Taxi Cab Zone Map . During snow emergencies, DC taxis are permitted to charge extra fares. From time to time, the DC City Council may also temporarily increase taxi rates to accommodate exceptionally high gasoline prices. For taxis to/from DC suburbs, it is often better to call a suburban taxi service from where you're going to be picked in DC (if time permits) than to use a city cab. This is because DC taxi drivers are not always familiar with suburban directions or how much to charge to locations outside of the city. (See local phone books for suburban options.)
Downtown Washington's roads are well-signed and organized on a relatively predictable grid, but also heavily congested with aggressive drivers. Weekday parking can be scarce and expensive. The city ruthlessly enforces parking regulations to a near-comical degree. Don't think you can ignore tickets if you're a tourist from far away; the city has hired collection agencies in the past to go after unpaid tickets and threaten the credit records of folks who ignore citations. Many major intersections are formed into circles. The larger circles can be harrowing for inexperienced drivers. Dupont Circle links five roads running in ten directions with two traffic rings and an underground bypass. Partly as a means to combat heavy rush hour traffic, a significant number of intersections are monitored by traffic cameras. Drivers may also wish to note that since Washington is federal land, a traffic ticket is a federal violation. Local opposition prevented the construction of interstate highways through Washington; the two freeways that feed into the city from Virginia, I-66 and I-395, both terminate quickly. Washington and its innermost suburbs are encircled by the Capital Beltway, I-495, which gave rise to the expression "Inside the Beltway."
Washington boasts several scenic drives:
• Pennsylvania Avenue from 14th Street NW toward the Capitol
• Rock Creek Parkway, which follows Rock Creek, then the Potomac to the Lincoln Memorial
• Reservoir Road from Georgetown to the Clara Barton Parkway, continuing to the Capitol Beltway
• Embassy Row, Massachusetts Avenue from Scott Circle to Wisconsin Avenue
• the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which follows the Potomac on the Virginia side