Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
For a letter that at first blush sounds like it’s saying “the Mall should be more of a high-speed freeway for my chauffeured SUV to the Capitol,” Senator Jim Webb’s letter to Mayor Fenty and the National Park Service is actually quite reasonable.
Webb is frustrated that illegally-parked tour buses on the Mall create traffic congestion, and writes, “While it is clearly in our mutual interest to promote local tourism and an appreciation for the National Capital Region, the severe traffic congestion associated with these sites must be significantly reduced.”
Fortunately, Webb comes up with fairly sensible proposals: greater enforcement of parking regulations, designated bus parking areas, and even increased use of Metro to get to and from the Mall.
Mike DeBonis points out that DC very much would like to designate a tour bus parking area, but didn’t get a federal grant to set one up in the Mount Vernon Triangle area. DeBonis also suggests that perhaps if the Park Service allowed a Circulator bus, more tourists could ride it, and cites our “typically exhaustive” coverage of this issue. (Thanks!)
It’s good that a federal lawmaker is taking an interest in this issue because the decisions about the Mall are almost entirely made by the National Park Service and very little by the DC government.
The disappointing element of Webb’s letter is that it’s clear he’s primarily thinking about the experience of those who drive through the Mall. The Mall provides a beautiful drive along Independence Avenue, but that same area is horrible for pedestrians. Walking from the Washington Monument to the Tidal Basin gives the distinct impression that you’re an unwelcome guest in a freeway median.
NPS responds to the pressures from Congress, which sets its budget, and many members of Congress are driven through the Mall to work. Their influence also contributes to NPS’s focus on making its parkways, like the GW Parkway, “safer” for drivers by straightening and widening curves, which ironically only makes drivers go faster and creates a new need to straighten more curves for “safety.”
I often choose to drive through the Mall and GW Parkway when going between DC and Virginia because its roads are often less crowded than other roads, and have fewer lights. But I strongly avoid going to the Mall on foot. This isn’t how our parks should be.
All in all, however, Webb should be commended for suggesting entirely reasonable solutions to a congestion issue: better enforcement of existing laws, and alternatives including transit.