From Lafayette, Views Vary
Skaters, Walkers Praise Closure; Protesters, Homeless Criticize
By Linda Wheeler
For the last year, Neal Peterson's route to work has been right
down the middle of Pennsyhrania Avenue. He strides along a faded
yellow stripe, three lanes to the left of him, three lanes to the
right of him, silent and peaceful.
Peterson, a deputy director of the Thrift Depositor Protection
Oversight Board, gets to walk down the most famous block in the
country because there are no cars to dodge or traffic lights to
halt his progress. In May of last year, the 1600 block of
Pennsylvania Avenue NW was closed to through traffic after the
bombing of the federal government building in Oklahoma City. The
abrupt closing created instant traffic jams and a year-long
debate about its permanence.
"I Guess they could improve the aesthetics of it all," He said,
as the sun rose behind him and he turned right onto Jackson
Place, passing conctete baniers and parked police cars.
In addition to Peterson's dawn patrol, thousands of tourists,
hundreds of in-line skaters and a handful of hockey players have
made use of the street. The noise of braking cars, horns and loud
music is no more. The Birds, always a part of Lafayette Square,
now can be heard along with the hum of the lawn mower being
pushed through the thick grass by John Allen, a National Park
All this quiet and concern for presidential security hasn't been
good for perennial protester Concepcion Picciotto, who has
campaigned for world peace in the park since February 1981. She
asks for signatures on a petition and takes donations for her
hand-painted stones at her round-the-clock protest site adjoining
the closed street.
"This is like a fortress now," she said, shaking her head.
"People used to drive by and give us food and blankets. It was
nice. Now, even the tourists have a hard time getting here."
Sandy Crane, visiting from San Francisco, said that driving to
the White House would have been difficult but that she had no
trouble getting there from her Arlington hotel by Metro. She
likes the closed road, saying it reminded her of cities in
Europe where pedestrians are given priority over cars.
"This works," she said. I don't want to have to dodge cars to
see the White House. We read about this ahen it happened last
year and didn't know what to expect. It's just fine."
Street hockey players like the vacant avenue as well. Brooks
Singer, a Catholic University law student, said he and three
classmates try to play every day. There are few places with open
pavement in the city, he said.
"I hope they don't change this," he said. "They need to think
about the people before opening it up again or making any other
There have been a few changes in the park as well in the last
year. David Lockwitch, who has camped with his signs advocating
nuclear disarmanent for more than a year, said he believes there
is a conspiracy between the White House and Supreme Court to keep
the avenue closed, discouraging groups from bringing free food to
Belind it all, he said, is not presidential security but a wish
to drive the homeless from the park.
"This is our living," he said. "This is our constitutional
right to be here."
"There are indeed fewer homeless people inthe park than a year
ago, said U.S. Park Police Maj. Robert Hines, whose agency has
jurisdiction over the federal park. In December 1994, a Park
Police officer shot to death a homeless man in front of the
White House. The man had been brandishing a knife taped to his
hand, police said.
"Many of the homeless have mored on because of the increased
presence of the police," Hines said, noting that his two officers
are backed up by at least a dozen uniformed Secret Service
"Some of the homeless seek the safty of the park, and others,
bent on nefarious activities, have left."
A year ago, homeless men congregated by a fountain on the east
side of the park, ever ready to panhandle from anyone who walked
Yesterday, there was no one there except book readers and
Across the way, Jill Gibbons sat on one of the many
wood-and-metal benches that dot the park, eating her lunch. The
legal analyst for the executive office of the president said the
closing of the avenue had improved the park, a place she visits
almost daily in good weather.
"It's more like a college campus now," she said.
Gibbons was one of thousands of daily comunuters who got caught
in traffic jams prompted by the street closing. She said that for
several weeks, her car pool continued to take the same route,
circling the park to get to 17th Street NW.
"Then it dawned on us to try another way," she said. "One day we
came across the 14th Street Bridge, turned left on Constitution
Avenue and zipped up 17th Street. The old way was a mess. The new
Washington Post Staff Writer
Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park