- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Jim Calderon has seen the security detail and other hoopla surrounding the arrival of a new president, but nothing like the barricades, gawking and gridlock outside the Hay-Adams Hotel for President-elect Barack Obama and his family Monday.

“They’ve never closed off any streets that I can remember,” said Mr. Calderon, who moved to the District 30 years ago.

Using his local knowledge, Mr. Calderon peddled his bicycle right down 16th Street Northwest in front of the hotel, as motorists merged and took detours around the security perimeter.

“I’m surprised that they’re allowing pedestrians on the sidewalk across the hotel,” he said.

The gridlock around the historic, downtown hotel was at its worst about 7:30 a.m. when Michelle Obama and Mr. Obama’s daughters left for their first day of school at Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker school.

Sasha, 7, will go to the Friends lower school in Bethesda, and 10-year-old Malia will attend classes at the school’s Wisconsin Avenue Northwest campus.

“There were press releases [about the roadblocks], but I’m not sure people knew what they were getting into,” WTOP traffic reporter Bob Marbourg said of the Monday morning traffic.

Among the biggest problems were barricades on two of the most heavily traveled routes into the city - 16th Street Northwest and Connecticut Avenue Northwest.

H Street Northwest - a major crosstown thoroughfare - also was closed for several blocks.

“The [roadblocks] definitely created delays,” said D.C. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Karyn LeBlanc. Some people were confused.”

Still, Mrs. LeBlanc was optimistic that the traffic situation would improve now that motorists know the extent of the potential delays.

“We recommend people find alternative routes and alternative means of transportation,” she said.

Beyond the frustrated motorists, others Monday did not seem to mind the security perimeter and enjoyed a first glimpse of history, as Mr. Obama, a Democrat, becomes the first black U.S. president, and millions prepare to come to the city Jan. 20 for the inauguration.

Philip Cowlishaw snapped a quick photo of the hotel, blocks from the White House while en route to his restaurant job in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood.

“I really wasn’t sure how close they’d let people be,” said Mr. Cowlishaw.

The hotel has been the focus of a steady stream of onlookers and photo takers since officials announced late last week that the Obamas would stay there until Jan. 15.

On that date, the family will move into the Blair House across from the White House.

Photographs from Mr. Obama’s official Web site show Malia dressed for her first day of school in her puffy pink jacket and Sasha in pigtails, wearing a pink camouflage backpack.

There were no reports of traffic problems, news media cameras or onlookers at either Sidwell Friends campus.

“The last thing they need is for a camera crew to stand outside their school,” NBC reporter Tom Costello said on air. “So we are leaving, back to you.”

School officials decline to talk about special security but have experience in such matters. Former students include Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton.

Observers say the girls are likely to be as protected at Sidwell as they were at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

“While their situation was unusual, we work hard to guard the privacy and safety of all students, and our entire community cooperates to make that possible,” David Magill, director of the Chicago schools, told the Associated Press.

Ann Stock, who was social secretary in the Clinton White House, said she cannot imagine fellow students causing problems.

“Kids are very protective of each other,” she told the wire service. “You’re talking about a school environment, and I generally think that once they start school they become family and friends with each other.”

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