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Ed's TipsEd's Guide to Washington DC

  1. SECURITY: All the Smithsonian museums, and many of the other tourist places, now require you to enter via a metal detector arch & luggage scanner. It will be MUCH easier if you have some bag or fanny-pack to have to stash all your car keys, camera stuff, cell phone, pocket change, PIM, etc, to run through the x-ray scanner, and not be delayed walking through the arch.
  2. PARKING DOWNTOWN and surrounding areas. The parking regulations can be VERY COMPLEX and vary from one part of one block to another, so Read The Signs! If you are lucky enough to find an unoccupied parking meter, most only allow up to 2 hours, and some don't allow usage after 11 am unless you have DC car tags. There are many paid garages downtown, (usually in sub-sub-sub basements), but they are expensive ($12 per visit, typically) and many get filled up in the morning. See also, parking at the metro stations.
    1. In most areas of the District, parking meter effective hours are from 7 am until 6:30 pm, Monday through Friday only. However, in densely populated Georgetown, as well as on several blocks around the MCI and Convention Centers, parking meter hours may extend until 10 pm, Monday through Saturday.
    2. Meter and residential parking is prohibited on some streets during morning and evening rush hours, typically from 7 am - 9:30 am and from 4 pm - 6:30 pm.
    3. Penalty's: From $25 for a regular expired-meter to $100 if it is in a Rush Zone. So, again, Read The Signs!
  3. "THE METRO": (commuter train):
    1. General Info: The Metro is pretty convenient. It is clean and safe, goes many places, (there are almost 90 stations around town), and it is only moderately expensive, especially compared to the high cost of in-city parking. Trains are pretty frequent, every 4-6 minutes or so during rush hour, to maybe 10 - 15 minutes late weekends, from 5 am to midnight.
    2. Parking at Metro stations: Some of the stations have parking, but it is important to know that to use the parking at a Metro station, you MUST pay via a SmartTrip card, (cash is no-longer accepted). Costs vary from station to station , and are Pay-as-you-Leave, about $3.50-4 per car.
    3. Riding Fees: are charged depending on your departure and arrival station. Each traveler must scan a pre-charged fair card at their departure station, (where the fair-gates will read how much money you have available on the card), and after your ride as you exit, scanned again (where the card will be debited). Rates are a bit more expensive during rush hour. Click [Official Link] for a schedule of rates. Typical fairs are $2-3 per trip per person.
    4. Ways to Pay Metro::
      1. SMARTTRIP Metro card: [Official Link] If you plan on doing ANY parking at a Metro station, you MUST use a SmartTrip Metro card, a pre-paid hard plastic "credit card" sized scanning card that you wave over scanning areas at the incoming and again at the outgoing fair-gates, and to leave the Metro parking garages. They can be purchased via cash or credit card in any Metro station that also has a garage, (and also from the station at the Reagan Airport). You can get it from a machine that is different from the machines used to add value to any of the fair cards. One per traveler is needed, (you can't "share"). They cost $5 to buy the raw card, and then you "add value" to them, by placing them in fair crediting machines located in each station. If you add more than $20 then you get a bit more than it costs as a bonus. This method of payment is also accepted on all metro busses.
      2. Other ways to play: If you are never going to park at a Metro station, (IE: you are traveling with someone who will always be the driver), you can purchase a day or week pass, "Metrorail pass" [Official Link], or for limited use, use a "Metrorail fare card", a paper charge card you obtain (without a basic charge), and pre-load & add additional value, using cash or a credit card machines in every station. Every time you use it the remaining value upon exiting is stamped on the card, and when there isn't any more room on the card you obtain another and transfer over the residual value of the old card.
      3. My recommendation: If you are coming into town for a week or so, and think you will use one of the parking garages at a Metro station, (as you probably will), have the driver purchase a SmartTrip card, (paying the extra $5 to buy the card), and everybody else who won't need to be parking a car should purchase a week-pass paper-card.
      4. Fare-Gates. Each station has a line of fare-gates. The front side of them will have a green if they are being used in your direction. There is a scanning zone (an illuminated circle about 5" in diameter with the "S" logo) on top of the gate where you wave your SmartTrip card. Get within an inch or two and it will be read OK. The other cards all need to be fed into a reader slot near the top of the front side of each gate. It will pull your card inside, and spit it out to top of the gate ahead of you, (so don't wait at the inlet slot for it to come back out).
  4. TAXIS: Taxis in the District do NOT charge by time or miles. They use a special system of Zones. If you are traveling within a zone, it is quite inexpensive, ($4-6). The rates go up by how many borders you cross. As the border may be the street just before your destination, distance is not a sure sign of cost. Click [Official Link] for Taxicab Zone Info. Taxis in VA and MD are pretty typical for big-city suburbs being based on mileage, time, and number of passengers, and can be pretty expensive.
  5. CELL PHONES: If you are going to use a cell phone within the District, you MUST use a hands-free device or face a police fine. See on this link for this Hands-Free Law. Basically, you can turn the phone on and off, and dial the number, but when you talk, you must "be able to have both hands on the wheel." Also, only ATT phones work within the Metro system tunnels.
  6. NATIONAL MALL :
    1. WALKING & the TourMobile: Sightseeing can be quite tiring. The distances between all of the attractions around this great mall are one to several long blocks at a minimum. Fortunately, there is a convenient solution. Tourmobile buses continuously circle the mall and cross the river to Arlington Cemetery. For less than $20, you can get on and off a Tourmobile bus at any one of the 24 stops around the mall area. It is a great way to tour the mall and to visit the monuments and memorials. You can purchase tickets at several kiosks around the mall or from the drivers.
    2. PARKING: Is often hard to very-hard to find, especially near the National Mall on workdays when the government employees occupy their many offices in the surrounding buildings. Commercial parking garages are rare in this area. Parking is a bit easier to find on weekends and holidays. There are many free parking spaces on Madison and Jefferson Drives in front of the Smithsonian museums, but they usually fill quickly. West Potomac Park just south of the Lincoln Memorial has many free parking spaces along its drives. There is a large garage at the Arlington Cemetery across the Potomac River.
  7. DRIVING IN DC:
    1. Traffic: The traffic around and in DC can be really bad, with the rush hour starting about about 7-9 am and 4-6:30 pm.
    2. HOV lanes. [Info Page Link] Some of the Interstate highways (excluding the Beltway I-495 and the main east-coast highway I-95) have various High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. READ THE SIGNS. Each road has different requirements (HOV-2 is two person/car minimum, HOV-3 is for three, etc), and their posted rush hours vary.
      1. NOTE: This means that other than rush hours, everybody can use a HOV, and often it is less crowded, so keep them in mind.
      2. ANOTHER NOTE: The interstate I-66 that starts downtown and heads due west is HOV during the posted rush hours for ALL LANES while it is within the Beltway
  8. AIRPORTS:
    1. General: There are three airports serving the Metro DC area. [main paige link]
      1. DCA - Ronald Reagan, aka Washington National airport. This airport is close in to town, and has a Metro stop inside the terminal. This is the most convenient, but it has a smaller number of flights than the other two.
      2. IAD - Dulles: This is the big airport, about 30 minutes west of the west beltway. They just finished adding a lot of parking and are doing other construction (tunnels for protected terminal-to-terminal travel) so it is pretty messy. If you are going to drive to and from Dulles to DC you will want to use the Dulles Expressway. It is a 4-lane very limited free superhighway that runs from within the beltway out to, and dumps you within the airport. There is a 4-lane tollway that straddles it, for everybody who is not going to the airport. Be careful as it is often confusing and you may end up paying a toll when you didn't need to.
      3. BWI - "Baltimore Washington International" is a big airport 60% of the way to Baltimore, (about 30 minutes outside the Beltway heading NE up the BW parkway). A little less convenient as there

     

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