DC Roads Close for Obama
One of the side discussions over the Blair House brouhaha has been that having the Obamas stay at the Hay-Adams Hotel would pose a major inconvenience for those who drive through that part of the District of Columbia, as roads around the hotel would be closed for security reasons. With the hotel only three blocks from the offices of the Atlantic Council, I can personally vouch for that much.
Here’s what DC’s NBC station has to say:
Drivers complained of gridlock on I Street, a major east-west thoroughfare through downtown D.C., on Monday, due to street closures in the area. City officials advised advised motorists to stay away from the area for the next 10 days, saying there isn’t much they can do to ease the congestion until the Obamas move out of the hotel.
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has put the following limitations into effect, starting at 1 a.m. on Sunday, January 4 until midnight on January 15:
• 16th Street, NW, between I Street and H Street, will be closed to vehicular traffic and parking will be restricted.
• Connecticut Avenue, NW, between I Street and H Street, will be closed to vehicular traffic and parking will be restricted.
• H Street, NW, between 17th Street and Vermont Avenue, will be closed to vehicular traffic and parking will be restricted.
• Parking will be restricted on I Street, NW, between 14th and 17th Streets.
This is a massive and ridiculous inconvenience to protect against a theoretical threat.
I don’t blame President Bush (or whoever it was that decided to deny the Obamas early entry into Blair House) for this. Nor do I blame President-elect Obama, even though he could have surely started his kids a couple days later in their fancy private school if he cared about us plebes. No, I blame Bill Clinton.
I’m being mostly tongue-in-cheek but it is true that, after decades of the Secret Service begging to shut down the part of Pennsylvania Avenue nearest the White House to traffic, Clinton finally acceded to their wishes in 1995 following the Oklahoma City bombing. While the action was almost universally derided as a ridiculous overreaction, achieving a modest gain in the safety of the First Family in exchange for a massive inconvenience for DC residents, workers, and tourists, the precedent was set.
Now, there’s seemingly no concern at all for the burdens security puts on ordinary folks, so long as the Big Shots are protected. So, when Obama was at home in Chicago running his transition from there, streets were closed around his neighborhood. At the same time, streets were closed around his transition headquarters in southeast DC even though he wasn’t there personally!
- D Street, NW between 5th and 6th is closed to vehicular traffic and parking is restricted.
- Northbound 6th Street St, NW, between Indiana Avenue and E Street, is reduced to one lane of traffic. The other 2 northbound lanes are blocked off.
- Indiana Avenue, NW, between 5th and 6th Streets, has been temporarily converted to accommodate two-way traffic until the traffic restrictions are lifted on D Street.
- No parking is allowed on the west side of 5th Street, NW, between Indiana Avenue and E Street.
- No parking is allowed in the curb lane on the south side of E Street, NW, between 5th and 6th Streets.
- The east side of 6th Street is closed to pedestrian traffic.
Now, they’re closing down the busiest part of working DC to protect his hotel.
And it gets better: In an unprecedented move, they’re shutting the city down entirely for the inauguration.
The U.S. Secret Service and regional transportation officials unveiled a plan yesterday to ban personal vehicles from all Potomac River bridge crossings from Virginia into the District and from interstates 395 and 66 inside the Capital Beltway on Inauguration Day.
The plan would also cordon off a large section of downtown Washington from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. to help manage the unprecedented crowds expected.
Some bridges and main thoroughfares with access to the city will remain open, including New York Avenue and the Sousa, Whitney Young and Benning Road bridges. But Northern Virginia drivers will be able to reach the District only from the Beltway in Maryland, and officials are urging people not to attempt to drive into the city.
The bottom line, officials said, is to keep the Mall, the Capitol and the parade route clear of traffic. Even people who live in the District or can get in from Maryland or Virginia can’t get anywhere near the inaugural events or the surrounding downtown area by car. Walking, biking and mass transit — which is expected to be jammed — will provide the only access.
I attended the last inauguration (an experience I would not recommend to others) and we managed to drive in from Virginia with only minor inconvenience. Yes, the roads around the parade route were closed. But cars could certainly get in and around the city.
The Inauguration Day closures are less annoying than the ones for the transition office and the Hay-Adams, since it’s just a single day and it’s a major national civic occasion. Besides, federal workers in the National Capital Region get a paid holiday every four years and most offices (including those of the Atlantic Council) follow suit out of practicality. But the daily closures to protect against theoretical dangers to one citizen are outrageous.
It’s long past time to quit treating presidents like kings. Yes, there are people who would do them harm and it’s a major national trauma when one gets killed. So, provide them with bodyguards and armored limousines and take caution when selecting their routes and releasing their schedules. But don’t shut down half a city for their benefit.