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Federal Panel Approves Plans for Pennsylvania Ave.

Photos: Courtesy Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) voted unanimously in June to select a landscape design by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates of New York City for a pedestrian adaptation of Pennsylvania Avenue directly in front of the White House.

The NPCC expects to present the plan to the President and Congress for approval this fall and have the landscape complete in time for the January 2005 Presidential inauguration.

Blocked with Jersey barriers and police cars, the avenue has not been open to vehicular traffic since President Clinton ordered it closed in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Van Valkenburgh’s design would turn the two-block-long stretch of the avenue into a plaza lined with elm trees and paved in granite in front of the Treasury and Old Executive Office buildings and a granular paving in front of the White House. Steel posts and guardhouses would protect the ends of the plaza. What was once a six-lane avenue would have only an access lane for emergency vehicles and potentially a tourist trolley. The plan allows for the street to be converted, through moveable street furniture, from a pedestrian plaza for tourists to a parade route for inaugurations and other major events. The NCPC approval acknowledges that Pennsylvania Avenue, formerly a busy thoroughfare, will not reopen to vehicular traffic in the foreseeable future.


“I have been to Washington a few times since September 11,” Van Valkenburgh says. “The feeling in Washington is that there has been a loss of civic dignity in this place between the White House and Lafayette Park. For our firm, what was most important was that we reclaimed that sense of dignity.”

The Van Valkenburgh plan was chosen in an invited competition with EDAW, Balmori Associates, and Peter Walker and Partners.

Kevin Lerner