THE WASHINGTON POST
SATURDAY, MAY 18,1996
PROMOTING AN OPEN AVENUE POLICY
By Stephen C. Fehr
LEADERS REACT TO ANGER ABOUT BARRIERS ON PENNSYLVANIA .
AREA LEADERS SEEK END TO BARRIERS ON AVENUE
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
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
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
"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
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
PHOTO By Frank Johnston The Washington Post Sen. Rod Grams Rod
Grams (R-Mlnn.), on Pennsylvania Avenue, says the impact has been
Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park