Several ideas that could get traffic moving

Transportation experts have had nine months to mull the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, the effects of the two-block closure on traffic downtown and options for alleviating congestion.

One intriguing idea comes from John Undeland, public relations director at the American Automobile Association's Potomac chapter.

His advice is easily summarized: Widen E Street NW. The four-lane street, which runs east-west like Pennsylvania Avenue, has been closed to westbound traffic for several months. To Mr. Undeland, this makes no sense. Traffic on E Street should be expanded, not limited.

"Why not cede some of the parkland behind the White House and make traffic on E Street two ways?" he asks. "They could even straighten out E Street so it stays a good distance away from the White House. This would really help crosstown traffic."

With President Clinton's permission, the Secret Service closed Pennsylvania Avenue NW on May 20 for security reasons. Between 15th and 17th streets NW, the avenue is a short distance from the front of the White House. As such, it was a popular spot for mobile tourists to pull over and snap pictures -- and a concern for the agents who protect the president.

E Street NW runs behind the White House and is considerably farther away. Mr. Undeland sees no threat there; but if the Secret Service does, he suggests the National Park Service turn over some land to the south.

E Street NW could be straightened, widened to six lanes and kept farther away from the White House than it is now.

An ad hoc commission of 15 architects, engineers and landscape architects is weighing various ideas of what to do with the closed portion of Pennsylvania Avenue-- including a plan to reconfigure Lafayette Square. The commission is scheduled to release in April four or five alternatives, including one preferred alternative, says Dennis Galvin, the Park Service"s associate director of professional services.

Mr. Galvin says the commission is not considering ideas to alleviate downtown traffic, however. He suggests the D.C. government take the lead in that area.

After Pennsylvania Avenue was closed, D.C. officials bemoaned the loss of revenue from parking meters caused by new parking restrictions on 15th, 17th, Hand I streets. They estimated an annual loss of $752,000.

City officials may not want to hear it, but downtown traffic on H and I streets NW would move much more swiftly -- especially midday -- if they ripped out more parking meters.

There is no parking on H Street NW, which runs one way eastbound, from 17th Street NW to Vermont Avenue NW. Beyond that, parking is allowed on both sides of the street from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The result is four lanes of traffic bottling up into two lanes.

Traffic on I Street NW, which runs one way westbound, seems even worse. Parking is allowed on both sides until 13th Street NW, then is prohibited.

But construction at the Veterans Affairs building prevents cars from using the left lane for the entire 1500 block of I Street NW. Traffic jams are frequent in this area, starting in the afternoon. There has been no relief from VA-caused congestion since Pennsylvania Avenue NW was closed.

Often, it's not just the construction on the left driving motorists nuts. It's delivery trucks double-parked on the right. Add a line of cars waiting to make a left turn on Connecticut Avenue and more waiting to make a left on 17th Street a short block later -- where midday parking is allowed - and the traffic on I street begins to resemble the cargo on the Cape May ferry.


Put pressure on the VA to get rid of the fence blocking traffic on I Street.

Get rid of parking on both sides of H and I streets from 13th to 17th streets (there are relatively few spaces there now).

Enforce the law against delivery drivers who doublepark in the area.

Provide a long left-turn signal from I Street to 17th Street NW (if only to prevent pedestrians from crossing long enough to clear the line of cars).

And consider Mr. Undeland's idea. If the parkland immediately south of the White House grounds is important historically or otherwise, someone remind the rest of us why.

Since engineers reconfigured downtown streets after the Pennsylvania Avenue NW closing, there's been a shortage of action to improve the movement of traffic downtown.

The Park Service, in fact, is closing a northbound lane of 15th Street as it crosses the Mall for the next year to provide tourists better access to the Washington Monument.

The $5.1 million project includes adding lights, crosswalks and additional tour-bus stops for tourists.

"Traffic Stops" appears Mondays. Send questions or suggestions about transportation matters to "Traffic Stops", The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.

Vance Burden of Washington found a good view of the White House last year after a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue was closed.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park