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Why We Should Reopen E Street

2003 The Washington Post Company
by Dan Tangherlini
March 31, 2003

The recent "tractor man" incident on the Mall, which led to the temporary closing of Constitution Avenue and caused massive traffic jams, left many people wondering about the damage a real terrorist might inflict on the city. The Post and others suggested that more aggressive action should have been taken to terminate the incident sooner [editorial, March 22].

Although I do not second-guess the actions of the U.S. Park Police and other federal authorities, this incident demonstrates that security does not necessarily come as a result of closing streets -- especially major arteries.

Constitution Avenue carries more than 40,000 vehicles every weekday and serves as a funnel for the 14th Street, Theodore Roosevelt and Memorial bridges. With its closing, 40,000 cars and trucks had nowhere to go. The closing of Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street to vehicular traffic near the White House has removed needed alternatives.

A paralyzed city is an unsafe city. If a building along Constitution Avenue had been threatened or attacked, evacuation and emergency response would have been extremely difficult.

When the U.S. Secret Service and other federal agencies look at the buildings for which they are responsible, their impulse seems to be to close the streets near these structures, including the State Department, the Capitol and the White House. This not only harms the economic and cultural life of our city, it also reduces mobility for those who need to use our roads -- including fire, rescue and law enforcement personnel.

There is an immediate, if partial, solution to the east-west mobility problem: Reopen E Street south of the White House.

Not long ago, E Street was reconfigured with $1.7 million in federal funds and reopened to cars. It was closed again after Sept. 11, 2001.

An E Street open only to cars would add much-needed capacity to Washington's overburdened streets, and it certainly would have made the recent closing of Constitution Avenue less problematic.


D.C. Department of Transportation


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