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Another Inconvenience Added to Living in Nation’s Capital

May 23, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The only traffic jams around the White House Monday morning were between tourists and TV crews vying for the best view of surrounding streets now permanently closed.

But by evening, capital commuters faced the new gridlock gauntlet from the decision over the weekend to shut down two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue to motor vehicles.

``It’s really heavy out there, especially on 15th street,″ said Lt. Bruce Cunningham, spokesman for the U.S. Park Service that controls the area around the White House. ``It’s basically gridlock, much worse than normal.″

Joseph Simpson, who’s driven a taxi in Washington for 49 years, agreed that evening rush-hour traffic on streets perpendicular to Pennsylvania Avenue was ``worse than usual.″

``It’s not much of a problem for me,″ said Simpson, who is 70. ``But some of the younger guys are probably sitting in their cars and screaming.″

Like Simpson, most residents took yet another inconvenience of living in the nation’s capital in stride.

``I normally would’ve driven today, but I decided to walk instead,″ said Howard Mortman, who works for a trade organization three blocks from the White House and lives about three miles away.

``I guess I’ll have to start using Metro more, or walk on nice days,″ Mortman said. ``It’s part of living in D.C. I can’t get by trash picked up and there are rats in the streets. So it’s just another inconvenience.″

Predicted nightmare traffic tie-ups in the morning had turned into a commuter’s dream as motorists stayed away from routes around 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It didn’t hurt that federal employees were given an extra hour to get to work. And Metropolitan Police officers directed traffic.

``It was fine,″ Jackie Hall, a World Bank worker, said of her 45-minute commute from Silver Spring, Md. ``I think it will get worse, though.

``I’m all for this, but talk to me after I get tied up in traffic for a few days. Maybe I’ll change my mind.″

Many continued to take advantage of the closed street, blocked over the weekend by concrete barriers and huge concrete flowerpots, allowing walkers and skaters access to what will become a pedestrian mall.

``Today I got off the Metro a stop early just so I could walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,″ said Jan Flack, who works in a law firm. ``I couldn’t believe it. It was empty. I was the only one walking right down the yellow lines.

``I’m saddened to see that it has come to this, though,″ she added. ``I guess it’s necessary, but it’s a sad commentary on our times.″

Closing Pennsylvania Avenue from 15th to 17th streets and making E Street behind the White House one way, came at the urging of the Treasury Department after the Secret Service convinced President Clinton it was a necessary security measure.

District of Columbia officials predicted traffic tie-ups and complained that the federal government should help the financially strapped district pay for new signs and signals.

``We just can’t swallow those costs ourselves,″ said Johnny Allem, spokesman for Mayor Marion Barry.

The Secret Service had been trying to close off the avenue to motor traffic since last year when a plane crashed into the South Lawn and a man peppered the building with gunfire _ two incidents that didn’t involve cars. The fatal Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building last month also apparently played a role in the decision as fears of domestic terrorism increase.

``The greatest symbol of democracy in the free world is the White House and what we’ve done is, we’ve made it secure for the visitors, the occupants and the people who work there as well,″ Treasury Undersecretary Ron Noble said on ABC’s ``Good Morning America.″

Secret Service Director Eljay Bowron told NBC’s ``Today″ show: ``I don’t think it would have been appropriate to wait until after there was an explosion on Pennsylvania Avenue to take this step.″

Officials say 26,000 automobiles normally travel the closed stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue daily, and another 23,000 run up and down E Street on the south side of the White House.

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