- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

The National Capital Planning Commission yesterday unanimously approved a $21 million design concept calling for mature trees, stone benches, a pedestrian walkway and retractable and fixed bollards to replace temporary security measures on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.
"It's largely a landscape plan," said Richard L. Friedman, a commissioner and chairman of the Interagency Security Task Force. "This is deceptively simple. It's an elegant solution so people will feel well and safe."
The new pedestrian plaza, between 15th and 17th streets NW, is meant to offer security while retaining the avenue's historic atmosphere. Officials hope to begin construction in November 2003 and to have the project completed in time for the 2005 inaugural parade.
The Commission on Fine Arts will vote later this month on the design by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the firm selected in the summer from four of the country's top landscape-architecture firms. An environmental study on the project is due for release in April.
Preliminary and final phases of the project also will have to go before the planning commission for a vote. Officials hope to hold the preliminary vote in June and the final in September.
While pleased with approval of the design and the new area for pedestrians, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, both Democrats, aren't backing down from their calls to have the street open for vehicles. The plan approved yesterday leaves open the possibility the street can reopen.
"We don't want people to confuse the mayor's support for the NCPC's plan with him backing down on the hope that one day Pennsylvania Avenue will be open to vehicles," said Tony Bullock, the mayor's communications director.
Doxie A. McCoy, communications director for Mrs. Norton, said, "She agrees with the design because it leaves the door open for it reopening [to traffic]."
A few citizens who spoke at yesterday's planning commission meeting agreed, but Mr. Friedman said security concerns are too high to realistically consider reopening the street now.
The two-block area of Pennsylvania Avenue hasn't had vehicular traffic since the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Under the new plan, concrete planters and temporary security shacks that have sprung up over the years would yield to a pedestrian area featuring benches and light fixtures.
There would be security checkpoints at 15th and 17th streets and a route for a planned shuttle-bus system.
Trees with high limbs and maintaining open space will keep the area appealing to visitors, Mr. Friedman said.
Congress has allocated $6.1 million for planning, design and initial phases of construction. Another $15 million was allotted to the project in President Bush's 2004 budget.
Mr. Friedman said modifications can be made to the plan when legitimate concerns surface.

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