On Pennsylvania Avenue, Frustration Mingled With Understanding
By Mnrcia Slacum Greene
They talked of little else as they snapped pictures of the White
House, strolled through Lafayette Square and rode bicycles in
circles in the middle of what used to be one of the busiest
sections of Pennsylvania Avenue. Security was the issue, and
their views ranged from sadness to outrage.
It was the first day that Pennsylvania Avenue NW in
front of the White House was closed to traffic out of concern for
presidential security. Tourists and area residents, who for the
first time had to leave their buses and cars to get a closer look
at the nations most famous residence, had mixed reactions to what
they agreed was a historic action.
The closing was a boon to bicyclists and roller-bladers, with a
couple of people even playing street hockey in front of the White
House in early afternoon.
But many people saw the change as an ominous sign of fear
gripping the nation.
Carol Meola of Allentown, Pa., who had just toured the White
House with her husband, said she wished there were another way to
deal with potential threats. As she spoke, her voice trembled,
and her eyes filled with tears.
"I know this is a sign of the times," Meola, 54, said. "I wonder
what this says about the kind of world we live in, and I start to
worry about my kids. My husband was just saying last night that
it seems that everything is falling apart. My 78-year old mother
was recently mugged. Now, I see this, and it becomes a reminder
of so many things that are wrong."
On the other side of Laffayette Square, George D. Berry, a New
Yorker, snapped pictures of a crane that was placing concrete
barriers along H Street to prevent parking. "To see this
happening is historic, and I want pictures," Berry said. "But
to close this to the American people, I think it's terrible."
The section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House
was closed to traffic at 5 a.m. yesterday. Immediate complaints
focused on the inconvenience that change would cause. Until
yesterday, about 26,000 cars and Metrobuses with about 11,000
passengers had used all or part of the closed section of
Pennsylvania Avenue daily.
Some D.C. Council members, who did not learn of the impending
closing until late Friday night, expressed concerns about what
will happen tomorrow morning when commuters begin seeking
"lt will cause a disruption in Ihr flow of the traffic," said
D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5), chairman of the
council's committee on public works. "But I think it was a much
needed thing. We have to have the best security for the
Meanwhile, some tourists were annoyed by the change.
It's horrible," said Deborah Duke, here with her family from
Cincinnati. "We had to park far, far away. We had to walk all
around. We got lost because we couldn't get up here. . . . I
think it's too much security."
Michelle Roberts also was disappointed. "We were just saying how
when we came from New York before it was so nice to just be able
to drive by," said the New York lawyer, in town with her mother
and 1-year-old son for her brother's graduation. "It [the White
House] was just part of the community."
Bob Hanshaw, of Waynesboro, Va., was stuck in traffic traveling
south on 17th Street in the early afternoon. "I think it sucks,"
he said. "It's the people's house. Everyone should have access
to it. Schoolchildren go by and wave and say, "That's the
Concerns about security at the White House have heightened since
the bombing last month of a federal building in Oklahoma City.
In addition, there have been several recent security breaches at
hte White House. In September, a plane crashed on the White
House lawn. In October, a man fired an assult rifle from the
sidewalk in front of the building into the White House before
being subdued by bystanders.
The change came after an advisory committee reviewing White House
security recommended this month that part oft he street be
closed. David Douglass, executive director of that committee,
said yesterday that after looking at issues regarding security
and access to the White House, he feels good about the decision.
"If the Avmerican people could know the htings we learned in the
course of the review, they would be enthusiastic about this
action," he said.
But yesterday, some people were skeptical and debated whether the
new security measure is justified.
Carl Nelson, a District resident, said that making the White
House less accessible to people puts more walls around the
government and makes it more remote to citizens.
"I don't know what the threat is," Nelson said. "If they had
some intelligence that there were a number of plots hatching to
bomb the place, then it would be justified."
Perry Hicks, 26, and Carol Kelley, 30, argued about such
justification as they rode their bicycles on Pennsylvania Avenue
directly in front of the White House.
Noting that recent attacks on the White House came from a plane
and a man walking by with a gun, Hicks questioned how much more
secure the building or those inside would be by keeping traffic
at a distance. Hicks doubted that the gains will outweigh the
inconvenience to the thousands of people who will have to find
alternate traffic routes.
But Kelley, leaning on her bicycle and staring at the White
House, dismissed Hicks's arguments. "I stand here, and I can see
people's faces in the windows of the White House," she said. "It
is just awfully darn close to the street. A truck bomb could do a
lot of damage. The president and the White House are symbols of
this country and the government. We can put up with a little
inconvenience to make sure they are safe."
Others agreed with Kelley.
"It took something like the Oklahoma City bombing," said Robert
Davenport, 29, a District resident who takes the Metro to his job
as a mover near the White House. "It should have been done
earlier than this."
Said Charles Wright, who was making his first trip to Washington:
"It's a good idea. There are too many nuts out here."
Meanwhile, tour bus drivers stood around wondering - no one they
asked seemed to have the answers - where they would park and how
they would satisfy customers now that they can no longer fulfill
one of the most popular requests: Let's drive by the White
In fact, the White House was supposed to be the highlight and
final stop on a Saturday night tour of Washington for a group of
fifth-graders from West Virginia.
"I think it's sad we can't see it that way," said 11-year-old
Tommy Adkins, one of those fifth-graders. "It should be open to
Staff writer Sandra Evans contributed to this report.
Washington Post Staff Writer
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