Ronald Reagan Boulevard

Henry Bonilla wants to rename D.C.’s 16th Street “Ronald Reagan Boulevard.” He appears to be alone in this desire.

A Roadblock for Reagan (WaPo, B1)

A Republican congressman from South Texas has proposed renaming 16th Street NW as Ronald Reagan Boulevard. Rep. Henry Bonilla, co-chairman of the 2000 and 2004 Republican national conventions, quietly introduced the 106-word resolution before Congress adjourned for summer recess July 28. As word has spread in the nation’s capital, neighborhood Web logs in the overwhelmingly Democratic city have crackled with disbelief, and elected D.C. leaders yesterday joined in protest. The Republican chairman of a key House committee also criticized the idea.

“Regardless of your political affiliation, most people agree that Ronald Reagan was an American icon,” Bonilla, a former TV news broadcaster elected in 1992, said in a written statement yesterday. “He was a president of national significance and for that reason he deserves an honor in the nation’s capital.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) objected, saying that renaming the historic north-south route that leads to the White House would mar the elegant street plan laid out by French engineer Pierre L’Enfant in 1791 — and cost the city $1 million to alter maps and signs. “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard of a plan that made so little sense,” Williams said. “Changing the unique and beautifully mapped street system in Washington would mean undoing . . . a design that has inspired millions of people from around the world.”

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee with jurisdiction over Bonilla’s legislation, called it “ridiculous” and said he would put it in the “appropriate file,” according to a report on radio station WTOP’s Web site that was distributed by Davis aides. Davis noted that Congress has renamed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and dedicated the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. “If Congressman Bonilla wants to name anything else, he has to look at his own district in San Antonio,” Davis said.

Washington’s streets are laid out in a traditional grid, with broad diagonal avenues radiating from circles and squares. Generally, the avenues are named after the states; east-west streets are named after the letters of the alphabet; and north-south streets are numbered. In 1986, Congress renamed a portion of 15th Street SW by the National Holocaust Museum after Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II.

Navigating Washington is difficult enough with adding yet more streets that don’t follow the number/letter convention. Anyone who has any business driving a car who is on 23rd Street has a pretty good idea how to find 16th Street. Ditto E Street from M Street. Not so much Ronald Reagan Boulevard from Constitution Avenue.

Aside from that, as much as I admire Ronald Reagan and as much disdain as I have for the job D.C. has done of governing itself, I can scarcely think of a matter more within the purview of home rule and less the business of Congress than this one. Naming international airports and federal buildings is one thing; local streets, another.

The bloggers who have weighed in on this, from Left to Right, seem to agree.

Matt Yglesias:

Officially, I agree that renaming West 16th Street in Washington, DC after Ronald Reagan is a stupid idea. Nevertheless, the fact remains that DC’s street system could use some rejiggering. [Redacted discussion of the history of the grid layout and why it no longer works] Changing it, of course, would be a ridiculous pain and cause all sorts of confusion so we’re probably better off leaving well enough alone. But if congress does want to insist on changing the DC grid, that’s what they should be changing.

Josh Marshall:

. . . Davis realizes what a ridiculous idea this is. And so that’s probably the end of it.

Sullivan guestblogger Frank:

First, they came for my airport, and I said nothing. Now, they̢۪re trying to rename my main thoroughfare, 16th Street. The bastards want to make it Ronald Reagan Boulevard. I have much grudging respect for the Gipper. But the District of Columbia was one the few places to thoroughly reject Reagan̢۪s reelection. They won̢۪t let that drop. It̢۪s seems they̢۪ll keep forcing the Great Leader̢۪s name on us until we recant our decision in the 1984 election.

John Podhoretz:

[I]t’s a really dumb idea. 16th Street is a major Washington thoroughfare and has been one for nearly two centuries. Renaming something so very familiar is an act of government high-handedness, as the New York City example of renaming 6th Avenue “Avenue of the Americas” demonstrates. It’s been 60 years, and nobody calls it Avenue of the Americas, and nobody ever will (except for real estate reasons). I’m all for honoring Ronald Reagan, but not this way — not in a way that would embarrass Reagan himself.

Indeed, NYC has had the sense to keep (reinstitute?) the 6th Avenue signage with “Avenue of the Americas” a mere appendage.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Reagan needs a major street in every town.

  2. Brian J. says:

    How many things do we have to name for him before he’s actually a saint?

  3. Ugh says:

    The only truly great tribute to a President of the United States is the Lincoln Memorial. Perfect in every way.

  4. I agree that people are getting carried away with naming things after Reagan, and I still see him as the best President of my lifetime — probably the last 100 or more years.

    It would be better to wait twenty or so years after his death before we go naming more things after him. Perhaps he could get a nice memorial in DC if his legacy holds up, which I think it will.