User:Howles/BlogEntry: 2008 November 11 18:10:16 EST

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To National Harbor and Back

Friday, Nov. 7, was a lovely day in the Washington DC area (sunny; afternoon highs in the low 70's F or low 20's C), so I decided to take a trip to National Harbor and back to check out public transportation options for SAS Global Forum.

I began and ended my trip at my neighborhood Metrorail station, Pentagon City. It's just two stops from the Reagan National Airport station, so the details I will relate are applicable to travel from and to that airport. To begin at a different station, consult the rail system map.

I first boarded a Yellow Line train in the direction of Fort Totten. During rush hour these trains terminate at Mt. Vernon Square, but it doesn't matter since both of those stations are beyond the transfer point. I got off at L'Enfant Plaza (the first station after the Potomac River crossing) and made my way to the opposite platform, where I waited for a Green Line train in the direction of Branch Avenue. I took that train to the Southern Avenue station, where I exited the rail system. The travel time, including both rail segments and the waiting time for the transfer, was about 30 minutes.

I left the station on the side which connects with the parking garage, but immediately after exiting to the sidewalk I turned right and walked a short distance to Bus Bay P, where the NH-1 bus stops. I waited a few minutes for the bus, which provides service at 30-minute intervals. I boarded the bus and paid the fare with a SmarTrip card, which provided me a discount since I had paid for the rail trip with the same card. The Metro authority is planning to abolish paper transfers in January 2009. When that happens, SmarTrip will be the only way to get a transfer discount. People using the magnetic-stripe paper farecards for rail travel will have to pay full fare to board busses.

The bus trip took about 30 minutes. Despite its special route designation (NH = National Harbor), it's not a dedicated shuttle. The route serves neighborhoods between Southern Avenue and National Harbor, and makes several stops.

National Harbor is huge; see either the interactive map or the printable one. The Gaylord is at the far (southern) end, so when the bus entered the complex I did not get off at the first stop. The bus went a few blocks parallel to the river, then made a left turn, putting it right in front of the Gaylord's main entrance. The route then turns left again, where there is a stop. It's directly behind the Hampton Inn, about a block from the Gaylord.

I walked around for a few minutes, and had lunch on the outdoor terrace overlooking the river. Late March weather in Washington can easily be as nice as this mild November day, but it's not a sure thing.

Back inside the Gaylord, I stopped for a few minutes to talk with a couple of the concierges. They confirmed that there was no free shuttle. In other words, the public transportation links I was using are all there is. I've since seen mention on the SGF web site of a special conference shuttle between the Gaylord and the King Street Metrorail station in Alexandria VA.

Of course, there is taxi service and the usual vans and limos for airport transfers to all three Washington area airports.

Instead of backtracking, I departed National Harbor via the water taxi which crosses the Potomac to reach Alexandria. National Harbor is so big that there are two docks served by the water taxi. The South Dock is adjacent to the Gaylord. I just missed a departure there, and since the next one was an hour and ten minutes later, I opted to walk to the North Dock to catch the boat I had missed. It's about a 5 minute walk and the departures are 15 minutes apart, so there was no need to rush.

The trip across the river took about 20 minutes. I had a great close-up view of the new multi-billion dollar Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The Alexandria dock is adjacent to the Torpedo Factory Art Center. I stepped off the boat there and followed the boardwalk to the left (in the direction of the Wilson Bridge). After walking the length of the Torpedo Factory I turned the corner to the right, putting me at the foot of King Street, Alexandria's main business street perpendicular to the river. There I boarded the King Street Trolley (actually a bus, but fitted out like a vintage trolley and painted a distinctive red). Rides on the trolley are free, which was a nice contrast to the seven-dollar one-way fare for the water taxi. I rode to the trolley's other turnaround point, right in front of the King Street station. There I boarded a Blue Line train in the direction of Largo, which returned me to Pentagon City to complete my loop excursion.

Of course I could have used either service (the NH-1 bus or the water taxi) in the opposite direction. During the conference, the promised special shuttle will provide another option for getting to Alexandria.

Note that none of these conveyances, including Metrorail, operates 24/7.

Addenda-Howles 22:22, 9 February 2009 (EST)

The Gaylord later began offering scheduled shuttle service (not free) to and from Union Station and to and from Reagan National Airport. See their transportation page.

From any point on the Metrorail system, one can travel to the King Street or Southern Avenue stations, then make connections as described above. To get to Metrorail from either Dulles or BWI/Marshall airport, see the information from commuterpage.com. Amtrak passengers arriving at Union Station in Washington can access Metrorail there. A few Amtrak trains stop at the Alexandria Amtrak station, which is adjacent to the King Street Metrorail station.