Tourists, residents to flock to Mall for cherry blossom weekends

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Local,DC,Liz Essley,Metro and Traffic

The fussy March weather won't stop the cherry blossoms from blooming or the tourists from coming.

Residents can expect to see 1.2 million people flood the Mall, the Metro and the city's hotels and restaurants for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, officials from the festival said.

The festival runs from now until April 14, and the National Park Service expects the blossoms to peak April 3 to 6 -- a week later than originally forecasted, thanks to a finicky March.

Tourist tips
What the locals want you to know:
• The National Cherry Blossom Festival has a helpful app featuring a festival event schedule, a discount-earning Petal Pass and more.
• Don't pick the cherry blossoms. It's against National Park Service rules, and it means fewer for the rest of visitors to enjoy.
• D.C.'s main arteries and streets around the Mall are likely to be congested on weekends during cherry blossom season. To avoid the traffic, take Metro or Capital Bikeshare.
• When on Metro's escalators, stand on the right and walk on the left.
• Using a paper fare card on Metro will cost you an extra dollar for each trip. If you're making frequent trips and want to save money, buy a SmarTrip card, available in special SmarTrip machines in all stations for $10 -- $5 for the card itself and $5 in fares.
• Some hotels are offering special cherry blossom packages. Find many of them at washington.org.

But tourism gurus don't expect that to dampen attendance.

"Even with the blooms pushed back to April 3 through 6, that's actually going to be Easter week, so obviously more people will have time off and be in the region," said Theresa Belpulsi, vice president of tourism for Destination DC. "More families will be around visiting."

Metro will suspend its usual weekend track work for four weekends during cherry blossom season, cutting down on long wait times and delays for the sake of visitors.

"While the work we do almost every weekend is necessary to get the system back to a steady state of safety and reliability, we are in a position where we can take a short break to let everyone enjoy the season," said Metro General Manager Richard Sarles. "The spring break will give people an opportunity to experience the type of system we are working toward."

Metro will perform limited track work on all five of its lines on Sunday nights, when it has fewer riders, the agency said.

Belpulsi says her group tells tourists to take Metro to avoid congestion downtown.

"We always encourage everybody to take public transportation when you're coming down because there are so many people coming down to see the blossoms, and the traffic down by the National Mall does get very congested," Belpulsi said.

The transit agency said it gets about 15 percent more riders during cherry blossom season weekdays, and nearly double the number of weekend riders.

Capital Bikeshare's shiny red bikes are another popular option for getting to the Tidal Basin. The bike-sharing system had about 6,000 riders every weekend of the season last year and this year will have its five new stations on the Mall available for blossom-goers, spokeswoman Monica Hernandez said.

District Department of Transportation officials will set up a corral, where riders can always return a bike even if the nearby stations are full, for the next three weekends, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., near the Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorials on the Tidal Basin.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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