Report on Pennsylvania
Avenue Closing Hits a Dead End
By Stephen C. Fehr
The full impact of the closing
of Pennsylvania Avenue on Washington's economy and traffic congestion
will probably never be known, according to
a federal report released yesterday.
The Treasury Department
report, which took nearly two years to complete and
was supposed to analyze some of the economic and transportation
effects of the May 1995 closing, was thin in both areas, disappointing
some local business and political leaders who were hoping for
a more definitive report. The Barry administration declined to
comment on the findings.
The report calculated the cost
of the closing to the city government at about $412,000 a year
in lost parking meter revenue and higher Metrobus expenses. But
the potentially greater costs related to lower retail sales and
property tax values were not covered. Some firms reportedly are
locating their offices away from the downtown area to avoid the
traffic there, and some retail businesses have suffered in sales,
according to business leaders.
A Treasury spokesman, Howard
Schloss, said the report followed federal environmental law, "which
does not include such detailed economic impact analysis."
President Clinton shut down the
two blocks of Pennsylvania between 15tk and 17th streets NW, along
with portions of State Place, South Execuffve Avenue, Madison
Place and E Street, to protect the White
House from a vehicle bomb. Since then, the closed part of the
avenue has become a pedestrian mall. Traffic has been rerouted.
Although yesterday's report said
about 26,000 cars were diverted onto streets near Pennsylvania
Avenue, it said precise comparisons cannot be made in the degree
of tie-ups in the area because there is no information about congestion
levels before the closing Anecdotally, commuters, cabdrivers,
shoppers and delivery workers say it takes 15 minutes or longer
now to travel across downtown.
'We don't dispute the fact there
has been an increase in traffic," Schloss said. The Treasury
Department reviewed White House security and initially recommended
the street closings.
The report tracked heavy increases
in traffic on Constitution Avenue; H. I and K streets; and 14th,
18th and 19~ streets. But the level of congestionhow long
you have to wait to get through an intersectionis based
on data other than traffic counts.
Local business and political
leaders said there's nothing scientific about what's happened
to downtown traffic.
"I find it incredible they
can't substantiate that traffic problems have been created,"
said Thomas W. Wilbur, president of the District of Columbia Building
Industry Association. "The fact is, we would have no trouble
getting a long list of people who would testify on an anecdotal
basis that it is considerably worse."
Noting that the report lists
15 recommendations for improving traffic operations in the area
near the White House, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D D.C.) said,
"You can't make recommendations about what to do to improve
something if you don't know what it is you're trying to improve."
The report did determine that
the District government, already having financial problems, is
losing about $98,000 a year in revenue from 49 metered parking
spaces that were removed. In addiction, the city's Metrobus costs
rose about $314,000 a year be" cause rerouted buses must
travel longer distances.
The report identified about 40
potential new locations for parking meters to make up the lost
revenue but was silent on ways the city might recover the higher
Metrobus costs. Local political leaders have contended the city
should be fully reimbursed for al financial effects. Schloss said
reimbursement to Metro still is under review.
Despite the administration's
help in locating new metered spaces, Norton said the General Services
Administration is weighing a separate plan to rob the city of
additional parking revenue. Under that proposal, up to 700 parking
spaces at as many as 80 public and private buildings
in the District would ~ be taken in an attempt to provide better
l security around offices used by federal workers.
"As you put more parking
meters in place, you have the GSA saying, 'Let's take more out,'"
If implemented, the GSA plan
would have a far more devastating impact on the city's economy
and traffic patterns than the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue,
local officials say. GSA officials have said they do not expect
to recommend closing off the full 700 spaces.
In other areas, the report was
predictable: Vehicle-less Pennsylvania Avenue is quieter, while
H and I streets are noisier. The concrete barriers put up to keep
vehicles out have an "adverse visual impact." Adjacent
historic buildings are crumbling because they're old, not from
the vibrations in the street caused by more buses.
Washington Post Staff Writer