WASHINGTON – Hundreds of thousands of spectators at President Obama's second inauguration encountered blocked-off streets, delays at some security checkpoints and a packed National Mall. But authorities reported no major problems before or during Monday's swearing-in, with a crowd that appeared far smaller than the record-breaking turnout of 2009.
Police officers were stationed inside rail stations and on street corners, National Guard Humvees blocked some intersections in downtown Washington and spectators were shuffled through security checkpoints to be screened for prohibited items including balloons, glass containers and weapons. Flight restrictions were in place in the skies above Washington and more than 2,000 out-of-town officers were specially sworn in to work security.
Officials had hoped that earlier and more signs, plus additional magnetometers, would ease pedestrian congestion and reduce some of the logistical snafus from four years ago.
But even with smaller crowds this year, there were sporadic reports of slow-moving security lines, including at a checkpoint between Union Station and the U.S. Capitol that came to a halt so a motorcade could pass and barriers could be repositioned. Stuck spectators vented on Twitter that the line did not move for at least a half-hour and that they were redirected to another security gate.
"It was a little tense this morning" at some of the gates, acknowledged D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who sent additional officers to deal with crowding at the gates for people with tickets to the ceremony. She said the crowd was larger than she anticipated, and that many people decided to come later. But she said that her department didn't have to deal with any major problems.
Some repeat inauguration-goers said the experience was easier this year than in 2009, when 1.8 million people packed the Mall and temperatures dropped below freezing.
"It's a lot easier because there aren't as many people," said Anita Sutterlin, of Middlefield, Conn., from her perch on the top row of some aluminum bleachers near the White House. She was attending her third inauguration with her husband, Paul.
"I come down just to soak up what I consider to be very positive national pride," said Paul Sutterlin, a 6th-grade social studies teacher. "It feeds me. It energizes me."
Others said they were discouraged by the long walk they faced in simply getting to the Mall.
Cheryl Tate, 52, of Flint, Mich., and her friend, Karen Pugh, 43, decided to turn around and watch the ceremony in a restaurant with a television, if they could find one.
Tate, who attended the inauguration in 2009, blamed the difficulty in getting in this time on where their tour bus had to park, at RFK Stadium, in southeast Washington. Last time, she watched from near the Washington Monument, closer to the bus parking.
"People keep telling us a few more blocks, a few more blocks," Tate said.
Officials were expecting a crowd of between 500,000 and 700,000, far smaller than the crowd for Obama's first swearing-in. About 308,000 train riders had entered the District of Columbia subway system as of 11 a.m. Monday, about 60 percent of the number of passengers by the same time in 2009, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
A smattering of protest groups occupied spots along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, but the demonstrations largely were directed at long-running national and international concerns rather than at policies specific to the Obama administration.
A few dozen protesters with the ANSWER Coalition, a peace and social justice coalition, gathered at Freedom Plaza, near the White House, to honor the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy and call for jobs, not war. Brian Becker, director of the antiwar ANSWER Coalition, said the group chose to focus on messages that would resonate with a pro-Obama crowd. In addition to a poster focusing on MLK's legacy and jobs, protesters had signs saying "Indict Bush Now" and "Drone Strikes (equals) War Crimes."
Another activist, Malachy Kilbride, said that while he and other protesters with the Arc of Justice Coalition were pleased Obama had broken the race barrier by winning the presidency, "that does not negate the fact that we are very upset with issues like the bailout of the banks, corporate influence in government, big money in politics."