Washington declares itself ready for demonstration Parking, portable toilets among expected problems

October 14, 1995|By MARK MATTHEWS AND BRAD SNYDER | MARK MATTHEWS AND BRAD SNYDER,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- This city, a longtime mecca for demonstrators of all kinds, braced itself yesterday for what could be the biggest ever -- Monday's planned march by black men.

Throughout Washington, government officials said they were prepared -- but weren't sure that everyone else was.

"The city is ready," said Zachary D. Smith, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Preparedness, the main agency involved in the planning. "The organizers may be a little behind the curve."

Earl B. King, a member of the march's national committee, predicted that by Monday the "little kinks," like a shortage of portable toilets, would be worked out.

Organizers have billed the event as the Million Man March; city officials said they could not predict how many will take part.

In any case, the city is preparing for serious traffic congestion and parking shortages despite its planning.

"We by no means anticipate, foresee or think there's a chance that it will be smooth-running," said Alvin Carter, a spokesman for the Fire Department, which will respond to medical emergencies.

With a rally of this size, he said, "there are going to be problems from beginning to end."

If the march lives up to its name, it will be the largest such gathering on the Mall, said Sandra Alley, a spokesman for the National Park Service. The largest to date was the 1969 march against the Vietnam War, in which 600,000 were said to have taken part.

Even if 500,000 show up, it will be "in the top 10," Ms. Alley said.

Organizers are following a detailed layout for placement of first-aid centers, public address systems, video screens, trailers and portable toilets.

"You never have enough comfort stations," Ms. Alley said.

To ease traffic flow, the mass transit system, Metro, is urging those arriving by bus from outside Washington to disembark at suburban subway stations.

Metro plans to begin service earlier, add more cars and provide more frequent trains.

"We're planning as if we'll have twice our usual number of passengers," said Cheryl Johnson, a spokeswoman for Metro.

She expressed concern that some bus drivers might not know where to drop off passengers.

Where the buses -- march organizers expect at least 11,000 of them -- will park after disgorging their passengers remains a problem. RFK Stadium will be able to hold about 2,500, and the Pentagon has offered space at the Washington Navy Yard, Andrews Air Force base and other installations.

Some drivers may have to cruise around before picking up passengers at the end of the day.

"In addition to human bottlenecks at stations near the Mall," Ms. Johnson said, "people may not remember where to go and how to reconnect with their buses."

The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., a march leader, said yesterday that some buses were already starting to arrive and that most were expected to be here between midnight and 4 a.m. Monday.

"We're not going to wait until rush hour Monday morning," he said at a news conference.

The Maryland State Police plan to add patrols on state roads and keep officers at the Highway Department's special operations center, which monitors traffic problems.

Organizers are setting up 24 medical stations and will have more than 30 ambulances or advanced life-support vehicles.

Park police say the march will impede, but not shut down, the federal government's operations.

Although police said they fear that some groups unconnected with the march might try to disrupt it, they have received no such threats, according to Maj. Robert Hines, park police spokesman.

Managers of some downtown buildings are taking no chances. Kastle Systems Inc., which controls electronic-key systems for 500 buildings, reported that 20-25 building managers had ordered their doors to be locked Monday.

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