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OPEN UP THE NATION'S CAPITAL



Published: Thu, November 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



OPEN UP THE NATION'S CAPITAL

Washington Post: Bad enough that the number of visitors to Washington has plummeted since Sept. 11, with predictable effects on the hospitality and tourism industries. Adding insult is the image encountered by visitors who do come: A jumble of mismatched security barriers, closed streets and ugly fortifications, put up piecemeal without coordination among federal, local and private entities. Add to that the congestion created by the still-closed Pennsylvania Avenue and the newly shut E Street, and you have a business-harming snarl plus a message of fear and insecurity.

Obviously, safety measures taken against an enemy whose future strategies are unknown will and should remain a priority for years to come. But local economic health and local morale demand prompt attention to whatever can be fixed, or at least mitigated, in this dreadful situation. That means, first and foremost, closer scrutiny of the rationales for street closings and a quick reopening of E Street, which the Secret Service itself has said lies outside the required security perimeter for the White House.

Planters: A report on security and urban design from the federally chartered National Capital Planning Commission offers other useful steps. It proposes that security measures in the monumental core of the city be drawn from a common vocabulary of security -- enhancing benches, planters, bollards and other barriers. Besides making the city look less under siege, such coordination could actually make it safer.

The report plays down what in our view is the central step that would bespeak openness and confidence: reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, now closed nearly seven years. Instead, it recommends that the avenue stay closed for now; that alternative ways of unsnarling traffic be studied, from running some sort of "hardened" traffic tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue to recalibrating traffic lights; that a "circulator" bus for tourists and residents be created to allow people to ride the Pennsylvania Avenue route; and that the rest of the now-closed area be beautified and made more accessible to pedestrians, but in ways that would allow a full reopening of the avenue if security technologies improved enough to allow it.

A carefully designed tunnel might be the right solution if -- a giant if -- the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue were ever ruled permanently unworkable. But the prospect of better security technology is real, and preserving the option of a full reopening of America's Main Street should be planners' strongest priority. In the meantime, the White House, or Congress if necessary, should reopen E Street and embrace the commission's design proposals. The meticulous planning that made Washington a graceful capital ought not be undone by an onslaught of unplanned security measures.




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