Open and Shut Cases
Unman the barriers at Pennsylvania Avenue. . .

A year ago the executive order of the secretary of the Treasury was issued that restricted traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue, State Place and Executive Avenue.

In the past year, Washingtonians have had time to experience the results of this action. Of course, the safety of the First Family and White House staff are of paramount importance, but rerouting of traffic around the White House has resulted in serious congestion and has exacerbated traffic problems during the many special events held in Washington. Moreover, it has physically divided the city and negatively affected both commerce and tourism at a time when Washington faces a debilitating fiscal crisis.

While the emergency and temporary restriction of traffic on these streets may have been warranted by the unique circumstances of a year ago, it should not be allowed to evolve into the long-term solution to security issues. A team of architects employed by the U.S. government that is preparing plans for the permanent closing of Pennsylvania Avenue should instead be considering alternative security measures for the White House, such as structural reinforcement, improved fencing, electronic surveillance and limiting traffic on adjacent streets to cars only. These alternatives may actually be more economical than the Pennsylvania Avenue closing and certainly will be less costly in terms of diminished national prestige.

With the end of the Cold War, our country has become more secure than at any time in-this century. Because this time of relative peace is thanks in large part to American leadership, it is ironic that we are symbolically retreating by further limiting access to and around the White House. Washingtonians have been patient and understanding about the temporary closing of Pennsylvania Avenue, the most important street in the L'Enfant Plan, but now is the time to search for better solutions to security concerns.

Business people, residents, commuters, historic preservationists and community groups should urge President Clinton to set up a task force to find alternate means of providing adequate security for the White House with the ultimate goal of reopening these streets by Inauguration Day 1997. Plenty of interested parties would be willing to participate in this task force and provide whatever resources necessary to accomplish this goal.

--Thomas W. Wilbur
is president of the D.C. Building Industry Association.