Cherry Blossoms 2015: The Secret to Beating the Crowds

March 30th, 2015

Metro’s planners provide tips on avoiding crowds this Cherry Blossom season.

After this long and trying Washington winter, locals and visitors alike are marking their calendars for the 2015 Cherry Blossom Festival. While everyone knows that Metro is the best way to reach the blossoms, PlanItMetro has been digging into the data to help you minimize the crowd crush and maximize your enjoyment of this treasured DC celebration.

What happens to Metro ridership? As we showed last year, the Cherry Blossoms always bring a major bump to Metrorail ridership, especially on weekends and at Smithsonian station. Metro is ready for the increased demand: track work is cancelled, service levels are increased, and our customer ambassadors are out in the field to help with the needs of visitors. So how do savvy Washingtonians avoid the thickest crowds?

Tip #1: Avoid Smithsonian station

On weekends during Cherry Blossoms, the number of customers exiting Metro at Smithsonian dwarfs every other station during daylight hours

Especially during its peak exit hour (11:00-11:59AM)

Based on the data from past years, Smithsonian is by far the busiest entry and exit for blossom-bound visitors. While Smithsonian is the closest station to the festival hub at the Tidal Basin, other nearby stations remain well below capacity, meaning you can breeze through the fare gates without the queues found at Smithsonian. For those willing to walk a bit farther, the rewards also include access to stunning vistas and cherry groves that most festival-goers don’t see.  Archives-Navy Memorial (Yellow and Green Lines) and Federal Triangle (Blue, Orange and Silver Lines) are slightly to the north and aren’t quite as crowded as Smithsonian. But the best less-traveled routes (IMHO) are to the Southeast and Southwest:

  • Alternative A: Arlington Cemetery (Blue Line)

Walking distance to cherry blossoms: 1 mile/20 minutes It may be a stone’s throw from some of the Capital’s biggest attractions, but Arlington Cemetery station is one of the least-used stations in the system. During the 2014 Cherry Blossom festival, the average weekday ridership at Arlington Cemetery was 89% less than Smithsonian’s (4,402 vs. 41,161), leaving plenty of room for more festival-goers. After exiting the station, walk over Memorial Bridge and see dramatic view of the trees in bloom framed by the Potomac and monuments, a vista most visitors never get to see.

  • Alternative B (weekends only): L’Enfant Plaza Metro (Yellow, Green, Blue, Orange and Silver Lines)

Walking distance to Tidal Basin: 0.8 mi/18 mins Walking distance to East Potomac Park via L’Enfant Plaza and Francis Case Memorial (14th Street) Bridge: 1mi/20 mins This route may not offer the dramatic approach of Memorial Bridge, but it has the best access to Hains Point and East Potomac Park, where lighter visitor counts mean that spreading out a blanket for a picnic under the blossoms is actually possible. On weekends, take the Yellow, Green, Blue, Silver or Orange lines to L’Enfant Plaza, make your way through the monuments of 1960s urban planning, and either hop over to East Potomac Park and Hains Point via the 14th Street Bridge walkway or dive into the heart of the festival at the Tidal Basin. Either way, you’ll be spending less time shuffling out of the station. On weekdays, though, L’Enfant Plaza Station will still be bustling with workers at the many nearby offices, so rush hours will still be packed.

  • Alternative C: Waterfront Metro (Green Line)

Walking distance to Tidal Basin via Maine Avenue: 1.2 mi/23 mins Walking distance to East Potomac Park via Maine Avenue and Francis Case Memorial (14th Street) Bridge: 1.3mi/26 mins Another approach from the East is Waterfront Station on the Green Line. Like L’Enfant, this route provides easy access to the less-visited area of East Potomac Park and Hains Point. The walk along the Southwest Waterfront also offers great views of the cherries across Washington Channel.

Tip #2: Time Your Trip Right

As much as we might wish otherwise, most Washingtonians still have to work during the festival, so definitely avoid usual rush hours if you’re traveling to the blossoms on a weekday. If you must travel during the peak periods, definitely consider using Arlington Cemetery or Waterfront stations, since the rush hours aren’t nearly as heavy.

Smithsonian ridership patterns may be visitor-oriented, but 9-to-5ers still define the peaks at other stations nearby

On the weekends, there is a difference between Saturday and Sunday.  Saturday blossom-chasers are an earlier bunch, with Smithsonian customer exits peaking at over 6,100 people in the 10:00AM hour. The Sunday crowd isn’t quite as rushed, hitting its Smithsonian exit peak in the 11:00AM hour. So for those able to get moving a bit earlier on Sunday, there’s a great opportunity to beat the rush. One other thing to note is that Federal Triangle station really calms down between Saturday and Sunday, potentially due to the larger number of people working.

Saturday visitors get moving early and en masse, causing exits to spike by 10:00 AM at Smithsonian

While Sunday folks show up at a more leisurely pace, peaking at 11:00 AM. The lesson? Brunch Saturday, Blossoms Sunday

Other Tips? What are your favorite ways to get around for cherry blossom season? Which bus lines that always get you to the heart of the celebration? Let us know in the comments. Happy Spring!

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  1. Darren
    March 31st, 2015 at 08:48 | #1

    Capital Bikeshare will be running weekend corrals at the NCBF, where users can leave bikes without having to find empty docks. One way to exit at a non-Smithsonian station and travel quickly to the blossoms

  2. Jamie Carrington
    March 31st, 2015 at 10:08 | #2

    Thanks Darren – that’s good to know. CaBi is definitely a great way to cover that last mile, particularly if you don’t have to worry about full docks at the festival (folks should just remember that Arlington Cemetery has no Bikeshare stations nearby).

  3. Clark
    March 31st, 2015 at 10:56 | #3

    Very helpful data. I like the L’Enfant option to access the less-crowded Hains Point.

    Wait, now everyone knows about it. ; )

  4. buslover
    April 6th, 2015 at 11:49 | #4

    #52 metrobus. connects from many stations downtown and gets you close.

Comments are closed.