D.C.mayor says Secret Service street closures paralyzing downtown traffic

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray is demanding that the Secret Service change protocols for visiting dignitaries to alleviate what he says led to “significant portions of downtown Washington being paralyzed by traffic” in the past five days.

From the mayor of a city accustomed to sharing living space with the president and maneuvering around frequent motorcades, the letter on Tuesday was stern in tone, calling prolonged road closures near the White House and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center a show of disrespect to D.C. residents. Police said motorists were stuck in traffic jams of up to two hours as they tried to traverse downtown streets.

Gray (D) singled out the prolonged closure of the southbound lanes of 14th Street between G Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, near the Willard Hotel, two blocks from the White House. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stayed at the hotel during his visit for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which drew thousands of people to the convention center. Netanyahu delivered the keynote address Tuesday morning, the last day of the conference.

The Secret Service said in a statement that it will review the closures and will meet with District officials to discuss ways to improve how streets are closed. The statement said the Secret Service “makes every effort to minimize traffic disruptions when implementing security plans."

The closures for AIPAC came after an already busy weekend for touring dignitaries. Last week, President Obama visited the St. Regis Hotel near Farragut North, shutting down parts of K and L streets NW and sidewalks between 15th and 17th streets NW, causing gridlock during the evening rush hour. On Tuesday morning, streets around Rock Creek Park were closed for a motorcade, with police cars blocking entrances and a helicopter flying overhead.

In his letter to Secret Service Director Julia A. Pierson, Gray said he was outraged by the closure of 14th Street, noting that it is a gateway to Virginia. He acknowledged that Blair House, on the other side of the White House and typically used for visiting heads of state, is closed for renovation but said using a hotel away from major thoroughfares would be a welcome alternative.

“I appreciate that important dignitaries visiting the nation’s capital and the White House must be afforded every courtesy and protections available by the United States government and local jurisdictions,” Gray wrote. He said in the letter that the closure of 14th Street creates “gridlock in and around the area that will cause tremendous inconvenience to tens of thousands of District workers and visitors especially during rush hour. To treat the District with such disrespect is simply unacceptable.”

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Gray, said residents are accustomed to motorcades, which tend to be brief, but he said authorities “cannot unilaterally close a major thoroughfare for three days without input from the District.”

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