Inauguration Frustration

Update: Many are calling this the “Purple Gate Conspiracy”. In the tradition of political controversies in the US, I’d prefer if we could all just call it PurpleGate.

I just posted this as a comment over at Prince of Petworth

The scene from the narrow part of the 395 tunnel, where thousands of ticket holders were stuck for hours--most never got in.

The scene from the narrow part of the 395 tunnel, where thousands of ticket holders were stuck for hours--most never got in.

, but thought I’d post it here instead of writing it out again:

My girlfriend and I were unexpectedly given purple tickets on Saturday night and were absolutely thrilled! Turns out we would have been much better off without them. While two groups of friends without tickets departing Petworth at 4 am and 7 am go to the Mall and joined the celebratory crowds, we weren’t so lucky. We left Petworth at 6 am, took the 70 bus down to Chinatown and were in line at the Purple Gate before 7 am. The line snaked all the way back into the 395 tunnel–it ran the entire length of the tunnel–and we were about halfway down. We were inside the tunnel with the line mostly not moving until we inched our way out after 10:40 am. That’s over 3 1/2 hours underground. Disturbingly, there were no police visibly present in the tunnel. It was *packed*, and the crowd yelling and chanting at people cutting in line was almost frightening at times–I think the lack of crowd control and lack of barriers to separate those in line and those just coming into the tunnel was an unpardonable failure in planning. Can you imagine thousands of people (I’d estimate at least five, probably more) stuck in a cold tunnel underground for 3+ hours with no law enforcement? It’s really lucky nothing happened.

When the crowd finally started moving out of the tunnel, it was apparent that there had been no crowd control outside the tunnel either, as the group from inside the tunnel–that had been waiting for hours–merged with people just arriving on the scene. This made us furious of course, because we could have started hours later and ended up at the same spot. Evidently they had been letting these latecomers through the gates for hours while those in line were stuck in the tunnel, because by the time we got to the Purple Gate (around 11:30 am) the gates were closed, people were being turned back, and there were thousands of (sometimes chanting) people with purple tickets left outside the gate. The crowd trying to get in through the Purple Gate was actually the largest single grouping of people I saw all day–more people and more crowded than we were in the tunnel. That means there were a ton more people with tickets than they had space.

Now, I can understand (sort of) if they gave slightly more tickets than there was space, accounting for people not showing up. But the satellite photos on CNN show the crowd at the purple crowd to be as big and as dense as the area we were supposed to fit into. Did they really give twice as many tickets out, and not think that would lead to crowd control problems? Also, if they’re going to plan an event where you don’t plan to let everyone in, it would be nice if they let those who were in line the longest in.

Eventually some of us we were routed around to one of the general admission gates that was still letting people into the Mall. But once we got in we found we weren’t really on the Mall–we were still north of Constitution, and there were no screens or speakers set up so this overflow crowd had gone through security to get to an area where nothing could be seen or heard. We ended up leaving before the oath was take and watched the swearing-in from the Chipotle in Chinatown. Talk about disappointing.

I can’t believe that with all the planning that went into this event, nobody thought to have barriers and/or officers assigned to crowd control at intersections were the line merged with other groups. And if they were planning on warehousing thousands and thousands in the 395 tunnel, they should have planned a way to separate incoming and outgoing crowds. The situation as it played out was frustrating (we missed a once in a lifetime opportunity), unfair, and potentially very unsafe. And just plain stupid.

At least we have one positive note: Barack Obama is now President of the United States!!!

http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2009/44.president/inauguration/mall.satellite/

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4 Responses to Inauguration Frustration

  1. Bob Francis says:

    Thanks for posting this! We were in the tunnel, too, and we’re trying to piece together just what happened. We left Columbia Heights Metro at 6am and arrived at our place in “line” – maybe 4/5 of the way down the tunnel – at 7:30am. After not a lick of direction from anyone official, we emerged from the tunnel at 10:52am (we made sure to mark the time). Shortly after 11, still hundreds of feet from the purple gate, we faced crowds streaming the opposite direction, saying that the gate was closed or that they had waited in one place for 20+ minutes w/o getting closer to the gate. We bailed the line at around 11:10am for my office, which luckily was close by. However, we watched the ceremony on TV, only a few blocks from where it was taking place. Very disappointing to be so close, yet so far. I hope this feedback gets back to all of our representatives!

  2. Ryan White says:

    There were many people around the purple gate that actually did not have tickets which led to too many people in general. Also, my friend who got in the blue gate has pictures of the area designated as a purple gate area (which the barrier was broken down by people in the blue area) and you would not believe the amount of space that was available. He estimated that at least 5,000 people could have fit into the purple area. The DC police should take full responsibility for their incompetence. Feinstein and whoever was in charge of volunteers should also take responsibility as it is inexusable to not have people who actually know what they are doing when this many people come to a city.

  3. Drew says:

    That kinda sucks. Amy and I waited in line six hours to vote for Obama, so we can empathize.

  4. Mike Licht says:

    The Nation’s Capital will celebrate the effective, efficient security measures during the recent Inauguration festivities at the National Bollard Festival.

    See http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/celebrate-inaugural-security/

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