District Simply Goes With the Traffic Flow


WASHINGTON, May 22 -- This city, long accustomed to legislative gridlock, had steeled itself for gridlock of the vehicular variety during the Monday morning rush hour. But despite the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House over the weekend, traffic was lighter, tempers were sunnier and the only congestion was between tourists and television crews vying for the best shot of the traffic-free avenue that for nearly two centuries has been the route of Inauguration Day parades, protest marches and countless bus tours.

Washington had been warily awaiting the first weekday rush hour since Saturday morning, when the Secret Service closed Pennsylvania Avenue from 15th to 17th Streets - where 26,000 cars pass each working day -- as a security precaution.

"I think it's wonderful," said Gayle Petersen, an administrative manager for the field staff of the Wiiderness Society, who walked over at lunch time to see the United States' Main Street, which has been transformed into a pedestrian mall with cyclists, skaters and strollers. "I think more of Washington should be closed so that people could walk around without fear of traffic."

Robert L. Wilkinson, an auditor who described his trip from the suburb of Alexandria, Va., this morning as "just a breeze" agreed. "It's past due with all the terrorists," he said. "Now if we can just get rid of all those permanent protesters with their signs that sit along the street."

Just for the record, it was not all green lights and mangle-free merges. Parking was no longer permitted on H Street, which borders Lafayette Park on the north, just above the White House, so tour buses had to find accommodations farther away than usual.

Randall Pence, a lobbyist for the National Concrete Masonry Association, parked his car on Capitol Hill instead of near the United States Chamber of Commerce, at 16th and H Streets, where he had some business. Mr.Pence took the subway from the Capitol to his appointment, pausing long enough to survey the people on Pennsylvania Avenue.

"I notice it's a bit quieter and there is a subdued feeling because it's sad that this has to happen," Mr. Pence said. "Still, there could be a bonus in it if they make it into a nice park, where people can Roller Blade and have picnics."

The idea of making the closed avenue into a park for the public was a general theme among tourists, city residents and workers alike.

Jacques Bourgeois, owner of Vox Populi, a restaurant near Lafayette Park, thought the area could become "a forum of freedom with bands, plays and a public speakers corner instead of a symbol of freedom being gone." Mr. Bourgeois was already feeling freer than usual; the fumes from the tourists buses would no longer disturb patrons at his sidewalk cafe.

Less sanguine observers predicted that the actual effect of the closing was only delayed, since the Federal Government permitted some 214,000 employees to begin work an hour later than normal because of expected delays.

"I spent five hours downtown this morning, from 4:30 to 9:30 A.M. and traffic was lighter than usual," said Steve Eldridge of Metro Network which provides traffic news to 37 radio stations and all five television stations in the Washington area.

Mr. Eldridge speculated that some Federal workers might just have taken the day off to enjoy the near-perfect spring weather of clear blue skies, temperatures near 80 degrees and the hint of a breeze.

"This is the last weekend for reduced rates at the beaches before Memorial Day," he said. "Given fact that the media has been pounding this pretty hard all weekend long I bet a lot of people just decided to show up.

Mr. Eldridge added: "Knock on wood. It wasn't as bad predicted. D.C. copes, but I reserve judgment until we get through another week."

The decision to close Pennsylvania Avenue from 15th to 17th Street and make E Street south of the White House one way was recommended by Treasury Department officials after two incidents at the executive Mansion in the last year and the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City last month.

"The greatest symbol of democracy in the free world is the White House," Treasury Under Secretary Ronald K. Noble said on the ABC News program "Good Morning America," "and what we've done we've made it secure for the visit the occupants and the people work there as well."

But officials of the District of columbia were apprehensive at who would pay for lost revenue from parking meters, changing traffic patterns, and new signs and signals. And they were still smarting over the fact that they had received only hours notice before the Federal Government closed the portion of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting Congressional delegate for the city, said: "Nobody is complaining about the need for security. But the whole thing could have been handled better."

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park