The Pennsylvania Avenue Proposal

THE CHOICE between closing off and keeping open that stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House for vehicular traffic is a tough call. That is as it should be. Two compelling and difficult to reconcile objectives are at stake. First there is the matter of the president's security and the need to protect the first family and the White House from modern day risks and dangers. Those are critical concerns. But they are not the only ones.

Presidential safety also must be weighed agunst a legitimate deslre to prevent the chief executive from becoming enveloped in an ever expanding protective cocoon that intensifies his isolation and remoteness.

The task is to reach a decision that addresses the legitimate concerns inherent in each national interest without doing serious violence to either.

The federal independent advisory committee recommendation to close the avenue presents serious problems. But it is not the product of a snap judgment. It grows out of a review of White House security and Secret Service performance that predates the bombing in Oklahoma City. That honible blast, however, was a reminder of the damage that a truck bomb parked outside a federal building or the White House gates could do. But would closing off Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic actually achieve a great deal more in security? It's worth noting that the three incidents that prompted the White House and the Treasury secretary to order a security review were unrelated to bombings.

A plane crash on the White House South Lawn, a gunman firing a semiautomatic rifle from the north sidewalk, a knife-wielding homeless man, again on the sidewalk-each was a serious and distublng episode. But closing off the avenue to cars would not prevent a recurrence of those incidents. And that, of course, is the polnt that people who are hesitant to embrace the street-closing idea are making. Without wanting to second-guess the Secret Service, some are asking, with justification, whether shutting down a vital Washington thoroughfare (with all the disruption that would bring) would add much to White House or presidential secunty--especially if pedestrians are free to roam just outside the see-through iron gates.

From the Hill to the White House, the capital has undergone extraordinary--and unpleasant--physical reanangements recently to protect Congress the president, his family and staff from acts of madness and violence. Each protective impulse--and barricade--can be justified, and each comes at a cost in relative ease of access and even, in a way, in dignity to the indivlduals and institutions being protected. Now there are rumblings about fenclng in the Capitol and glasslng in the visitors' galleries. Those steps, including closing Pennsylvania Avenue, should not be taken without much more explanation--and justification--than has been produced to date.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park