David Broida will be leading a group of friends to the presidential inaugural aboard a chartered bus.

Until a couple of weeks ago, he needed two buses.

But people began dropping out as officials in the capital predicted unprecedented crowds and severe travel complications.

"Nobody knows what the reality is going to be," said Broida, a Lower Merion Democratic Committee worker.

That's the problem. And it's a big part of the reason that Broida's group has shrunk from about 80 people to 54 or so.

If you want to see Barack Obama sworn in on Jan. 20, do you stay home in front of the TV? Or do you risk spending Inauguration Day mired on I-95?

Bernard Greene, 32, and his family drove to his native D.C. for the holidays. But Greene, of Drexel Hill, wouldn't dream of going back for the inauguration.

"It's going to be ridiculous," he predicted, noting that D.C. traffic is gridlock on a good day.

A few months ago, buoyed by the prospect of witnessing history, Greene considered joining the anticipated swarm. But now, emotion has given way to cold reality. "It will be a headache trying to get in-and-out of there," he says. "I'll probably remember the headache more than the actual inauguration."

"Everyone thinks they're going to be five feet away from the stage, and you're not. If I'm going to watch it from a video monitor, I mind as well be at home."

Federal and district officials in Washington anticipate a crush of 10,000 charter buses, each helping to build a crowd estimated at between two million and four million. The Washington Post reported last weekthat District of Columbia officials were backing away from their early prediction of four million to five million and now expect about half that many.

Amtrak officials say they still have seats available for Jan. 20 travel from 30th Street Station to Washington, and more room if people can go a day or two in advance.

In Washington, many streets will be closed, and others will open and close as the day goes on, as dictated by security.

Trains on the Metro subway are expected to be packed. Transit officials plan to run rush-hour service from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. That means trains will arrive every three or four minutes rather than every seven or eight minutes, Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel said.

"We expect the crowds to be huge," Metro general manager John Catoe said in a statement.

Metro ridership totaled 811,257 during Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993, and has routinely neared or surpassed 500,000 for others.

Jessica Hoy of the Westin Rinehart public-relations firm in Washington has three words of advice for anyone going to the inauguration: "Wear comfortable shoes."

Because no matter where you're headed or how you plan to get there, you may end up walking a long way.

The crawl to the Mall

On most days, driving the 136 miles from Philadelphia to Washington takes about 21/2 hours.

On Jan. 20, who knows?

The Harbor Tunnel Thruway at Baltimore is a regular choke point. I-495, the Capital Beltway around Washington, can resemble a parking lot during rush hour.

Maryland officials expect heavy Inauguration Day traffic along the I-95 corridor from Baltimore to Washington. There are no plans to suspend tolls, said Cheryl Sparks, spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The good news is that the estimated 10,000 charter buses headed to Washington will come from different directions on different roads. The bad news is that all will be going to the same place. Their numbers don't include thousands of smaller buses and vans for church, school and community groups.

Inaugural officials plan to park buses on big lots near Metro stations, such as those at RFK Stadium. Of course, that will send crowds of disgorged riders surging into the stations.

All plans could be complicated by bad weather.

While there will surely be delays and backups, the major highways to Washington can handle the additional buses and cars, predicted Joseph Martin, a civil-engineering professor at Drexel University who studies transportation.

"They'll get to the Washington area fine," he said. But "circulation within Washington will be desperate."

'There's nowhere to stay'

Here's a suggestion for those hoping to avoid the inauguration travel madness by booking a room at a hotel:

Forget it.

"There's nowhere to stay," said Hoy, of Westin Rinehart. "The hotels are either completely booked, or just [have] completely over-the-top prices. It's unbelievable."

It's creating a Craigslist bonanza.

An entrepreneur in Suitland, Md., is ready to let you rent his two-bedroom condominium during inauguration week - for $20,000. A homeowner in Falls Church, Va., is offering his house for $1,500 a night - with a minimum three-night stay.

People who want to slip in and out of Washington - and have the money to do it - are exploring other options. A New York charter-jet company, Chief Executive Air, is offering round-trip flights that will leave after the inaugural balls early on Jan. 21.

Prices for a speedy New York-to-Washington round trip range from $9,500 to $22,700, depending on the type of plane and number of passengers.

Hoy is helping coordinate a lavish ball thrown by the Creative Coalition, an arts-advocacy organization. Elvis Costello is the headliner, with guests including Ron Howard, Spike Lee, Ashley Judd and Dana Delany. The least-expensive tickets go for $10,000 a pair.

Hoy noted that the Grammys draw a music crowd, the Oscars a movie crowd, the Emmys those from TV - but that the inauguration will draw all three groups, along with people from business, law and politics. Not to mention reporters from around the globe.

"That's the difference," Hoy said. "This is like all the world is going to be there."

Second thoughts

Grace Baptist Church of Germantown has seen a 52-seat bus dwindle to 25 riders. "Folks are dropping off left and right," the church's Tyrone Beach said.

But Broida is determined to get there. He and 54 others on the bus plan to depart from the parking lot of the Radnor Hotel at 5 a.m.

"One possibility is they'll usher buses to RFK, and we'll park and take the Metro."

When he attended Clinton's first inauguration, Broida said, the trains were packed - at 7 a.m. The crowd for Obama is expected to be far greater.

Broida isn't worried, though. He has attended lots of demonstrations in Washington and organized loads of bus trips. He has the cell-phone numbers of everyone in the group in case someone gets lost. If the bus can get within 15 blocks of the Capitol, people can walk.

He's ready for freezing weather, long lines and lengthy delays.

"If you're not," he said, "you shouldn't go."

Broida, the interim director of Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education in Philadelphia, worked for Obama during the campaign. He also raised $35,000 for the candidate. He's hoping his service might earn him a ticket to the viewing area near the stage.

"If I don't get a ticket, I'll stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and I'll see the crowd in front of me, and the dome of the Capitol," he said. "And that's good enough for me."

A crush that didn't develop

In 1976, as hordes of people were expected to descend on Philadelphia for the nation's Bicentennial Fourth of July celebration, a worried Mayor Frank Rizzo asked for 15,000 Army troops to maintain order.

He expected 15 to 20 million visitors and "attempts at disruption and violence by a substantial coalition of leftist radicals."

President Gerald Ford turned down the request.

The national debate over troops for the city scared away would-be celebrants. Only about two million, including Queen Elizabeth and Charlton Heston, showed up for the festivities, which were quite peaceful.

- Kia Gregory

Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 610-313-8110 or jgammage@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writer Kia Gregory contributed to this article, which also contains information from Inquirer wire services.