- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Erected in the dead of night, concrete barriers block the grand thoroughfare, dividing the heart of the city, east to west. Berlin circa 1961? No, Washington today.
The action taken on the morning of May 20, 1995 closing Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House represented the culmination of years of effort by the United States Secret Service to bar vehicular traffic from the portion of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets. Administrations of both political parties had declined to take such a drastic and highly symbolic step, but in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the president finally acceded to the Secret Service's request.
Even as the Secret Service was planning to close the avenue, others were working to revitalize Pennsylvania Avenue and to make it open and inviting for both residents and visitors. Cutting off Pennsylvania Avenue has disrupted traffic, caused economic loss to the District of Columbia and area businesses, and led to a divided downtown. The closing has also spawned a creeping fortification of the avenue between the White House and the Capitol with the placement of jersey barriers and bollards near public buildings and spaces.
The barricading of Pennsylvania Avenue without prior notice or consultation, coupled with the push for permanent closure, has aroused public passion and debate about who we are as a people and how we want to live. Do we surrender to the forces of terrorism and give up access to this country's most important symbol of freedom the White House? I don't think so, and neither do many Americans.
The good news is that we are about to have the public discussion of this issue that should have occurred five years ago. Earlier this year, the Federal City Council, a nonpartisan, nonprofit business-supported civic organization, assembled a task force and a team of nationally renowned consultants to reassess the closing of the avenue. The team consists of security experts, transportation consultants and the architects. The task force has developed a thoughtful and serious plan to reopen the avenue that has been endorsed by Mayor Anthony Williams, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and former Sen. Bob Dole.
The plan calls for narrowing the now-closed section of Pennsylvania Avenue to four traffic lanes and altering the present east-west alignment by gently curving to the north the portion of the avenue between Jackson Place and Madison Place. The "Jefferson Bow" is a design recommendation first suggested in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson. The net effect of these changes would be to add approximately 50 feet to the standoff distance between the White House and the reconfigured Pennsylvania Avenue.
Recognizing that there is a direct relationship between the size of a vehicle and the size of an explosive device that could be concealed within it, the proposal also calls for limiting the size of vehicles that would be permitted on this section of the avenue. Passenger vehicles and taxicabs would be permitted but trucks, buses and other large vehicles would be permanently barred. To achieve this objective, the proposal calls for manned security kiosks at both 15th Street and 17th Street for and new pedestrian bridges with vertical clearance of approximately 7 feet 6 inches, reaching across Pennsylvania Avenue from the eastern and western edges of Lafayette Park.
When you look at the barricades barring vehicular traffic from in front of the White House, they bring to mind another large concrete block that can be found nearby, on display in the Ronald Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. This slab of concrete, however, was formerly part of the Berlin Wall. President Reagan's remarks at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987, still resonate today: "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
Mr. Clinton, take down these barricades; open America's Main Street!

Richard A. Hauser served as deputy counsel to President Reagan from 1981-1986, and is the former chairman of the Pennsylvanian Avenue Development Corporation.

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