The Washington Times - January 21, 2013, 07:33AM

Updated at 9 a.m.

President Obama and the first family left the White House just after 8:30 a.m. for the block-long drive to St. John’s Church across Lafayette Square for the first public event of his second inaugural celebration Monday.

Mr. Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia and Mrs. Obama’s mother entered the church for the private service about 8:35 a.m. — just three hours before Mr. Obama was to take his place at the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, before a crowd estimated at some 800,000.

Minutes later, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, his wife Jill and son Beau Biden also made their way into the church, stopping as did the Obamas to meet briefly with the Rev. Luis Leon, the St. John’s rector who will deliver the inaugural benediction later Monday morning.

Mr. Obama was officially sworn in just before noon in a private ceremony Sunday at the White House, but the public event was saved for Monday. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president to incorporate a service at St. John’s into his inaugural ceremony, and Rev. Leon has preached a number of times for both the Obama family and the family of predecessor George W. Bush.

Monday’s crowd, gathering on a cold but clear morning that also marked the official commemoration of Martin Luther King Day, was projected to be significantly smaller than the record-shattering throng that gathered in 2008 for Mr. Obama’s first inaugural, but would still rank as one of the largest inaugural gatherings in American history.

Obama jackets and shirts were ubiquitous as the crowd navigated through heavy security that has left most of the monumental capital closed down to vehicles.

At least some of those preparing to mark Mr. Obama’s second inaugural said it was more satisfying this time around, despite the smaller turnout.

“I think I’m more thrilled this time around,” said the Rev. Eugene Williams Sr., an adjunct professor of English at the University of the District of Columbia. “When you’re 75 years old and have seen some of the things you’re seen as an African-American, I don’t think you can forget how special an event like this is.”

Mr. Obama will use Dr. King’s Bible as part of the ceremony as he is sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has vowed to try to tamp down on some of the problems that plagued Mr. Obama’s first swearing-in ceremony, including many ticket holders who were unable to make it to their places on the National Mall on a freezing cold day. Signs directing those in flocking to the Mall were far more visible this year.

— David R. Sands and Stephen Dinan

Updated at 8:26 a.m.

Hundreds of thousands of well-wishers for President Obama were streaming onto the National Mall in front of the Capitol early Monday morning in anticipation of the ceremonial inauguration.

Mr. Obama was officially sworn in just before noon on Sunday in a private ceremony, but the public event was saved for Monday.

Obama jackets and shirts were ubiquitous as the crowd navigated through heavy security that has left most of the monumental capital closed down to vehicles.

Officials are expecting up to 700,000 people to come for the ceremony, which would be far fewer than 2009’s historic inauguration but would still be one of the larger ones in history.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has vowed to try to tamp down on some of the problems that plagues last time, and signs directing folks where to go are far more visible this year.

— Stephen Dinan

Updated at 7:33 a.m.

If you are commuting to Washington, D.C., Monday morning for work or heading to President Obama’s inauguration, you’ll find traffic moving swiftly, although the police are out in force.

Mr. Obama was officially sworn in on Sunday, but he will have his ceremonial swearing-in on Monday, which also happens to be Martin Luther King Day, a holiday.

Metro lots and trains are not full, WTOP reported. But that could change as the day progresses.

— Maria Stainer