Greater Greater Washington

Park Service could route cyclists away from White House

E Street NW in front of the White House was closed to traffic after 9/11. While car traffic is banned, bicyclists face barriers to using it as well. A new plan by the National Park Service could push cyclists off the street entirely.


Proposed President's Park South Alternative 3. Image from NPS.

Back in early July, the NPS and the Secret Service held a public open house on the joint-agency President's Park South Project. This project will redesign the park immediately south of the White House, including E Street NW between 15th and 17th streets. E Street was closed after 9/11 and has never been reopened. Unlike Pennsylvania Avenue, which is also closed to car traffic, pedestrians can usually use E Street but not bicyclists, for whom the street is a barrier.

In 2011, the National Capital Planning Commission held a design competition for the park and selected five finalists, some of whom recommended putting bike lanes on E Street. But NCPC's chosen entry proposed keeping the street closed unless security threat conditions change in the future.

NCPC's contest was non-binding, but it "informed" the eventual design process. The four new alternatives NPS and the Secret Service presented at the July meeting are very different from the ones in the NCPC contest.

Alternative 1 is a no-build option. Alternatives 2 and 3 include a bicycle path along the southern edge of E Street, and Alternatives 4 and 5 route bicyclists around the existing perimeter streets, 15th Street, Constitution Avenue, and 17th Street. The latter two do this to create an expanded viewing area south of the existing fence, shown as the shaded purple area on the image below.

I think it would be a shame if this project didn't include a space for a bike path on E Street. I don't see why they can't expand the viewing area and include the bike path, as the two do not seem mutually exclusive. Isn't that what we have on the north side of the White House?

If you'd like to comment to that effect, public comments are being accepted until September 12th at the NPS website. Comment early and often.

A version of this was crossposted at the Washcycle.

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Committee for DC.  

Comments

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Any plan should have more access for everyone, except parking for White House Staff. It is atrocious that they use terror as an excuse to park.

by Jasper on Aug 29, 2013 3:03 pm • linkreport

E Street in front of the White House towards 15th Street has pretty much become an ugly Secret Service playground. Any type of design or order that could be brought to the place would be a step in the right direction. Right now it looks like the border area between North and South Korea. Bike lanes would go a long way towards fixing things.

by aaa on Aug 29, 2013 3:09 pm • linkreport

The gap in the 15th St Bike lane around the White House is equally irritating, because it's hard to squeeze a bike between the security barriers. The barriers by the Capitol are equally bad (and the Capitol Police seem to yell at cyclists for being on the sidewalk just as often as they yell at them to get off the sidewalks.)

by Andrew Schmadel on Aug 29, 2013 3:10 pm • linkreport

Any plan should have more access for everyone, except parking for White House Staff. It is atrocious that they use terror as an excuse to park.

+1. I don't buy the security-theatre basis for closing E street altogether (how about no trucks?). But it really does seem that the closure is being retained primarily to provide more parking for WH staff.

by ah on Aug 29, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

"If conditions ever change"

And they likely won't ever either. I can't really think if any terrorist attacks committed via bike (and if they were couldnt one just hop off their bike and walk towards what they're trying to blow up?). Meanwhile you can bike all you want across Pennsylvania an thats actually closer to the White House (and buildings where foreign dignitaries stay.

Granted now someone at secret service will see this and we'll next be eating about an attempt to close both E and Pennsylvania to bikes.

by drumz on Aug 29, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

The only chance we have of getting rid of these types of parking sewers is autonomous vehicles (or cheap, high quality livery service), and then people will demand enhanced laybys in front of their destination.

This whole project missed the big opportunity to give space back to the public that was essentially illegally taken to provide free parking for WH staff (also illegal to provide free parking to employees here, see USC 26 Sec 132 (f) for details).

by Will on Aug 29, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

@ Will - not sure how 26 USC sec. 132 (f), which governs what a person can deduct from their gross income for income tax purposes, states that it's illegal to provide free parkign to employees.....

by JDC Esq on Aug 29, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

I'm just happy that they are making progress on this. The proposals came out in 2011. Here we are in 2013 finally choosing which one. China would have had the whole project done in a week

by Tyler on Aug 29, 2013 5:09 pm • linkreport

NPS link appears to be broken

by Lucre on Aug 29, 2013 5:14 pm • linkreport

Alt 3 or Alt 4 with access for bikes. Not sure why the plaza and bike access have to be separate.

by MLD on Aug 29, 2013 6:13 pm • linkreport

I mean 4 or 5.

by MLD on Aug 29, 2013 6:15 pm • linkreport

"I can't really think if any terrorist attacks committed via bike (and if they were couldnt one just hop off their bike and walk towards what they're trying to blow up?)."

Plenty of them, all over the world. There were suicide bike bombings during the Second Intifada, for instance. You don't worry about someone carrying the bomb on their person and getting off the bike. The bike frame itself is a sort of pipe bomb.

by Another Nick on Aug 29, 2013 10:53 pm • linkreport

Yeah, as one who used to get constant updates of any article with the word "bike" in it, I'll second Another Nick. Bikes are shockingly common bomb delivery devices.

by David C on Aug 29, 2013 11:36 pm • linkreport

You know what else are common bomb delivery devices?

People.

We won't be safe until we ban people from DC.

by JJJJ on Aug 30, 2013 4:53 am • linkreport

1. E St should be opened for all traffic. And remove the secret bikeshare station so it can be used by the general public.

2. There is signficant bike/pedestrian conflict on Pennsylvania Ave. It coud be managed a bit better. Given the volume of tourists trying to take pictures in front of the White House it is hard.

3. So I see the potential of a problem on E st, but I think there will be a lot less traffic on bikes. A painted bike lane on the south side will be enough. Bigger problem is just getting the bikes off the sidewalks there.

by charlie on Aug 30, 2013 7:46 am • linkreport

The shame is that the street remains closed to traffic. What is not surprising is that the USSS is never satisfied with a setback - they would love to close 15th and 17th between PA and Constitution.

by Dan Gamber on Aug 30, 2013 9:00 am • linkreport

I take it back then. But if you're going to allow people the. You're not really eliminating the risk.

by drumz on Aug 30, 2013 9:09 am • linkreport

The NPS site was down for much of yesterday, but back. I sent them a nastygram about even putting forward options 3 and 4. Telling cyclists "just use Constitution" is an insult -- literally "go play in traffic."

Designated or not, E Street will always be filled with snap-happy tourists. At least the crowds are a little thinner there than around the Washington Monument, which is the other route that I could take to avoid Constitution.

by Payton on Aug 30, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

It's important to remember that the "Security" rationale on the E St closure is to protect the President (and perhaps the White House and WH staff). The security procedures that have been put in place around the WH are not to protect tourists.

There is no justification to force bikes to travel up to 6 blocks out of their way by making all bikers travel around the perimeter of President's Park.

Preventing theoretical terrorist bike-bombs is 1) action against a theoretical generalized terror threat, 2) unpreventable-in-any-case (what no knapsack toting tourists allowed either?), 3) beyond the stated security goals to protect president and WH staff.

There is no way that bicycles could deliver the necessary payload to create the key threat of blowing up the WH. SUVs, could possibly deliver enough explosive power, so keeping E St closed to cars is within the security parameters. Keeping bikes off E St / bikepath is security theater or just anti-bike bias delivered under the guise of "security".

by old ellipse biker on Sep 1, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport

Blah blah blah "security" blah blah blah. These are just excuses.

Shut down all this "security". I don't see any reason to protect the White House at this point. The President is not a king and it is important that there is public access to him. It is comparatively unimportant whether he lives or dies, as we can always elect another one.

"You know what else are common bomb delivery devices?

People.

We won't be safe until we ban people from DC."

That's probably the plan of the fascists who have been running the government since 2000.

The funny part is, the people most likely to blow up the White House or kill the President are people who have security clearances and access passes -- I wouldn't let the criminal NSA director within 100 miles of DC, but they just let him waltz in.

by Nathanael on Sep 1, 2013 4:41 pm • linkreport

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