Traffic snarl averted for day
Street-closing impact to come, officials say
by Brian Reilly and Brian Blomquist
Commuters breezed through a surprisingly easy rush hour yesterday
morning, but traffic watchers are still predicting doom and gloom
as motorists learn to make do without all of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The road was closed Saturday in front of the White House because
of security concerns, but the gridlock it was supposed to have
created during rush hour never occurred. Commuters instead found
themselves easing through light backups at intersections near the
closed-off stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue.
But police and traffic officials said yesterday's smooth going
may have resulted from factors that will not exist today:
staggered arrival times for federal workers and the normally
lower amount of Monday traffic due to some workers taking a long
The true test is yet to come, they say.
"We can't declare victory. This will be a chronic problem, like
it or not," said John Undeland, spokesman for the local chapter
of the American Automobile Association.
Many commuters staggered their trips to work to avoid the
predicted traffic jams. Federal offices in the District opened at
10 a.m. yesterday to allow for traffic problems.
"I left a little later than usual but will still be on time,"
said Bill Honeycut, 52, cruising east on I street towards his
Connecticut Avenue office about 8:30 a.m.
"But just wait two or three days, and this will all change."
Others left early to work and still others garaged their cars
and hopped the Metro.
"I know public transportation, and I know how to walk," said
Viola Burley-Leak, a school-teacher who was downright chipper as
she walked across what has become the Pennsylvania Avenue plaza
in front of the White House.
Traffic reporters, who daily lead commuters through tight spots,
credited yesterday's low traffic volume to press reports
"The media really stressed the potential problems and a lot of
people may have adjusted their departure and arrival time,"' said
Steve Eldridge of Metro Traffic Control. "The real surprise is
that the morning wasn't that bad."
Mr. Eldridge and Mr. Undeland, a former White House staffer,
both said that if they were commuting in from Northern Virginia
they would favor the 14th Street corridor and then backtrack
toward the White House. But no one wanted to recommend a best-bet
route for fear they would provoke a rush.
Already, police are foreseeing problems at two of yesterday's
minor bottlenecks: Soon after 8 a.m., traffic lined up on 17th
Street south of K Street, while another chain of cars snaked all
the way around Washington Circle and continued down 23rd Street.
Police had 17 officers stationed at various intersections to
Inspector David Bostrom, commander of the 2nd Police District,
which includes most of the downtown area west of 14th Street,
said Pennsylvania Avenue has been closed regularly for parades
and protests, so police were ready.
"But I think we'll see more traffic than normal [today]," he
Officer Barbara Rauf had her hands full orchestrating traffic
yesterday at 15th Street and Pennsyivania Avenue, where drivers
slowed down to gawk at the newly created plaza in front of the
White House. Officer Rauf tried to guide motorists who were
confused by the street arrows that still directed them yesterday
to turn left from 15th Street into a set of concrete barriers
and cement flower pots the size of love seats.
"The cops are keeping things clear," said Howard Mortman, 28, as
he watched traffic flow along 15th Street.
Police officers will continue directing traffic at problem
intersections near the White House until D.C. Department of
Public Works crews can switch traffic lights and put up new
A Public Works spokeswoman said traffic lights were re-timed
and no-parking signs posted when the Secret Service shut down the
street Saturday morning. But she said the department will study
traffic patterns for two weeks before making any more changes.
While most motorists appeared to be aware of the road changes,
there were other obstacles to complicate the morning commute.
A broken-down Metro bus monopolized the right southbound lane of
17th Street and a two-car fender bender slowed K Street traffic.
Construction blocked southbound traffic on part of 15th Street
while a television news van did the same on 17th Street.
Drivers, meanwhile, had to keep alert for reporters and
photographers who darted into the road to question stalled
Jackie Ward of Dale City, Va., summed up the commute as she
stepped out of her fiance's car at 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue
yesterday. "The ride in was great today for some odd reason," she
Gretchen Lacharite contributed to this report.
THE WASHlNGTON TlMES
Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park