By Stephen C. Fehr
Washington Post Staff Writer

Responding to a wave of public anger over the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, a group of political, business and civic leaders called on President Clinton yesterday to reopen the two-block stretch so traffic can move more easily across the city.

Led by Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.), the officials stood in the drizzle in Lafayette Square across the street from the White House and declared that the impact an commuters, businesses, tourists and residents has been devastating since Clinton ordered tbe shutdown a year ago Monday. Travel times across the city have doubled in sane areas.

"It was a kneejerk reaction to fear that closed this road to traffic" said Grams, who has introduced a resolution in the Senate asking the president to reverse the closing. Grams said he became interested in the issue after complaints from visiting Minnesotans about the concrete barricades, armed guards and patrol vehicles surrounding the White House area.

Clinton, at an unrelated bill signing yesterday, said that as long as the Secret Service wants to keep the street closed to vehicles, he would like to see it turned into a park. The National Park Service is scheduled Wednesday to unveil its lone-term plan for the closed part of the avenue.

"It's quite a nice space, and with a little investment, it can be made, I think, quite attractive," the president said. "Right now, the skateboarders and the roller-bladers seem to like it, but I'd like to see it made more helpful to more people."

The D.C. business community, Barry administration, D.C. Council and neighborhood leaders are unanimous in urging the president to change his mind Some District residents, such as Suzanne Kuser, agree. "Here we are trying to pull the city together, and we have split it in two," she said. "This is just one more impetus for many people to get out of the city.

Of greater concern, says the Greater Washington Board of Trade in a letter, is "that this is just the beginning of an imposing security trend... . Street closing cannot be an appropriate solution to security concerns; they are nothing more than a cure by amputation."

Federal and local officials have been tinkering with traffic patterns in the White House area since the closing, and they aren't finished yet. Federal officials have told the District government they plan to seal off Madison Place to Metrobuses. City officials said that move would require the reopening of a one-block section of 15th Street NW to two-way traffic between New York Avenue and H Street.

A spokesman for Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, who authorized the closing with Clinton's endorsement, said, "there are no plans to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House."

Spokesman Howard Schloss said the decision was made reluctantly because of the need to protect the president and the White House complex from a bomb in a vehicle such as the one that exploded in April 1995 in front of a federal office building in oklahoma City.

"Those concerns remain," Schloss said.

A review of White House air and ground security, begun before the Oklahoma City bombing, made 11 recommendations, only six of which were made public, including the closing of Pennsylvania, State Place and part d South Executive Avenue. The review concluded that the street closing would "reduce significantly the security risk that an explosive-laden vehicle "will bring tragedy to the White House."

Critics such as Grams said the threat of a vehicle bomb is being exaggerated. The Secret Service says it cannot publicly discuss the intelligence information it gathered to support its recommendations.

Working on the assumption that the closing is permanent, the National Park Service is developing short and long-term plans to beautify the dosed section of Pennsylvania Avenue restricting access. The short-tenn plan--replacing the stark concrete barriers and police cruisers with more attractive planters and guard booths--has been moving slowly.

Up to now, most of the criticism about the effects of the street closing has been anecdotal. White House Chief d Staff Leon E. Panetta ordered federal agencies to conduct a study of the traffic and economic impacts of the closing and report their findings by last fall.

The deadline was not met, and Treasury and Federal Highway Administration officials said they could not predict when the study will be released.

"You don't need to be a traffic engineer to know that traffic doesn't work in the District of Columbia," said Thomas W. Wilbur, president of the D.C. Building Industry Association. "Every cabdriver knows it"

Kwasi Acheampong, a District cab driver for 12 years, said: "If I'm on one side of Pennsylvania, I just don't want to go to the other side. It's extremely hard."

Most of the crosstown traffic has been diverted and H and I, which were converted last summer to a pair of one-way streets. Traffic backs up for blocks, hampered by parked tour buses and delivery vehicles that block lanes.

Nearby businesses suffer, too. The 178 year-old Decatur House, a historic home on Lafayette Square, says it needs $1.5 million to repair its foundation, which has been damaged in part by the increased traffic.

PHOTO By Frank Johnston The Washington Post Sen. Rod Grams Rod Grams (R-Mlnn.), on Pennsylvania Avenue, says the impact has been devastating.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park