How to strike a balance between security and access to the city’s monuments remains a concern five months after the September 11 attacks.
Last night, more than 100 people came out to hear a panel discussion sponsored by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) on how to design security for the monuments without sacrificing beauty.
Whether to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House remains at the top of many lists.
“Our goal should be to open Pennsylvania Avenue in a decade,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a longtime supporter of reopening the avenue, which was closed after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
“We should be heartened by the technology available and being developed. [The Secret Service] will be able to know what you are thinking, not to mention what you are going to do.”
Robert Hershey, an engineering and management consultant, told the panel he had done studies that indicated the glass windows in the White House, as well as the building itself, would survive almost any blast.
But a tour guild told the crowd last night at the National Building Museum that “Pennsylvania Avenue does not have be open to traffic.”
“No one is responsible for the circumstances we have now,” said Thomas Whitley, a member of the Guild of Professional Tour Guides. “I use Pennsylvania Avenue as it is now, and I think it has a great vista and a beautiful Lafayette Park.”
In addition to Mrs. Norton, the panelists included Richard Friedman, the NCPC security task force chairman, and Laurie Olin, a landscape architect whose firm designed the winning plans for the new security measures around the Washington Monument.
The NCPC announced plans last month for beautifying the city, as well as for handling the growing traffic crisis as a result of the Pennsylvania Avenue closure. One of the suggestions was to build a tunnel behind the White House approximately 1,860 feet long.
“Nobody likes tunnels, but you can’t cut one artery and then another then you don’t have a body,” Mr. Friedman said. The NCPC report found that with the tunnel, traffic congestion around the White House would be reduced by an estimated 21 percent during morning rush hour and 22 percent during evening rush hour.
Mr. Hershey, however, said that this solution would bring about more danger, in a time when the District, in light of September 11, is trying to make itself more secure.
“The tunnel is a new attractive target,” he said. “For the people inside the tunnel, it would be a concrete blast.”
The main concern for Mrs. Norton during the panel discussion was the continued closure of E Street NW near the White House. She called on residents and city workers to write letters to newspapers and federal officials imploring them to reopen the road.
The other issue for the panelists was how to create a safe environment for monuments, without taking away the beauty associated with them.
Mr. Olin said that the District and the government have to be prudent in their security measures and realize they cannot prevent every attack. “You can’t build habitable buildings designed for the worst-case” scenario, he said.