Closed Street, Open Issue

The serenity of the closed-off section of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House doesn't put to rest the serious questions that arise from the suddenness of the White House action. Without public hearings or careful review by either District or congressional leaders, two blocks of a major District of Columbia thorough-fare and a segment of South Executive Avenue were summarily placed off limits to vehicular traffic. Through apparently a fait accompli, the closings leave several legitimate concerns unanswered.

Did the secretary of the Treasury have the authority to order the street closings, and was the decision taken in a proper manner? The Justice Department believes there are federal statutes, including the Home Rule Act, that give the Treasury secretary, through the Secret Senice, broad authority to act in behalf of the president's security. There is, for those who have forgotten, a little-known provision in the Home Rule that known as the National Capital Service Area. That provision carves out and reserves federal administrative authority over a broad belt of the downtown area consisting of federal office buildings, the National Mall and other important national svmbols including the White House area and Lafa;ette Square. The Justice Department evidently believes this area of heightened federal interest also bolsters the Secret Service's authority to close streets as it wishes within the confines of National Capital Service Area. The legal authority issue, however, is not as open and shut as the administration makes it out to be. The District and Congress have every right to press this question. It has important implications for other city streets Defining the federal interest in the nation's capital must not be a White House exclusive.

Then there is the question of paying for the changes. Street closings are expected to bring with them significant financial costs. There is no way the broke D.C. government can bear the unexpected loss of revenues brought on by the removal of parking meters, loading zones and vending spaces from the surrounding streets or by changes in traffic light and signs. The federal government, which said yesterday that it would pay for the changes, must make the city whole. And Congress should see that it does.

In addition, even though the closed streets are an accomplished fact--and one that was much too summarily sprung on city officials who would have to cope with its effects--we think that they should be regarded and treated as a temporary response to an emergency, or at the very least an unfortunate but necessary step that in time may no longer be needed. The traditional and historic role of Pennsylvania Avenue as a grand street should not be abandoned as lightly and swiftly as it has for a proposed plaza sprinkled with more guardhouses, baniers and gates.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park