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White House Area Closures Prompt Access, Safety Concerns

Norton is concerned about bicyclist and pedestrian access around the White House. (Photo courtesy of Norton's office)

The White House is undergoing some security changes to deter fence jumpers, but one member of Congress is concerned the construction is restricting bicyclists and pedestrians who traverse the area.  

The fence construction and other security concerns have prompted closures of areas surrounding the White House, particularly barring bicyclists from portions of the Pennsylvania Avenue plaza. A recent false alarm about a shooter at the Washington Navy Yard also led to the temporary closure of Lafayette Park north of the complex. The closures prompted Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to raise concerns with the National Park Service and the Secret Service, and request a meeting to discuss what can be done. "I understand that particular threats to the White House may warrant temporary closures to Pennsylvania Avenue and Lafayette Park, but these closures should not be lengthy or without reason," Norton wrote in a July 9 letter to National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and Secret Service Director Joseph P. Clancy.  

On Monday, Norton's office said that meeting with NPS and Secret Service officials was still being set up. Brian Leary, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said the agency "is in contact with Congresswoman Norton’s office." And NPS spokeswoman Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said, "The National Park Service is working with the United States Secret Service to address the congresswoman's questions."  

As the agencies work to answer her questions, Norton attempted to convey that the closures adversely affect the scores of residents and tourists who visit the White House.  

"The plaza is also a space where pedestrians and bicyclists can cross the city without the dangers associated with sharing the roadway with cars," Norton wrote. She wrote that the closures were forcing cyclists and pedestrians onto the busy streets surrounding the White House.  

Norton heard from constituents who were frustrated by the closures, but the first group to contact her office was the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, a nonprofit that advocates for safe cycling.  

WABA spokesman Colin Browne explained in a phone interview that the park and plaza north of the White House provide a key connection between the northwest and southwest areas of the city, specifically between the 15th Street protected bike lanes and the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes.  

“When it’s open, it’s by far the safest and [most] low-stress way to get through that part of town,” Browne said. He noted that when it's closed, there is not a preferable alternative route, given that the surrounding streets are often congested, it is illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk and the area includes a number of one-way roads.  

Norton wrote in her letter that another part of the problem was a "lack of information provided to residents and visitors alerting them to the closures and alternative routes."  

"Considering the importance of this pedestrian and bike thoroughfare, workers, residents, and tourists need advance notice of alternative routes in the event that access to the Pennsylvania Avenue plaza and Lafayette Park area is cut off," Norton wrote.  

Browne, who is optimistic there will be a resolution, said advance notice about the closures is only part of the solution.  

“We are [optimistic] but there are a couple of different ways that it could happen," Brown said. "I think realistically you can’t ask the Secret Service to not protect the White House as they deem necessary. But given that area is a known problem, there are ways a safe, low-stress detour could be implemented either temporarily or permanently with a protected bike lane."  

 

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