Letter to the Editor

Underground parking for the Mall?

The March 31 editorial “One fix for three problems,” on creating parking under the Mall, reminded me of a bit of history. A little more than a century ago, the Mall was beset with problems, no financial resources to deal with them and, worst of all, no vision as to how to solve them. The Army Corps of Engineers had dredged the Potomac waterfront, leaving an undeveloped strip of earth separating the city from the river. As new states were established all the way to the Pacific, the federal bureaucracy grew, needing office space to service it. Washington’s main railroad line crossed the Mall, with the station in the middle. The monument to George Washington was completed at more than 500 feet in height but with no landscape plan to tie it into the city.

Sen. James McMillan (R-Mich.) gathered a group of talented design professionals and asked it to suggest a way forward. Its solution: Prepare a new park plan for the city. We know it today as the McMillan Plan of 1901. It took us a century to build it out, but it gave us the world-renowned Mall.

The impact of the programs discussed in the editorial can be no less significant than were those of the McMillan Plan. The 21st century is poised to confront environmental problems no less critical than the urbanization problems of the 20th.

As the editorial noted, the final problem always seems to be political. Once again, it is Congress’s job to assemble a talented design group — the makings of which seem to be already started — and get to work on writing the script for a public-private partnership. As was demonstrated in 1901, money is not the ultimate problem. Vision is.

W. Kent Cooper, Washington

The writer is a vice chairman of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall.

Parking under the Mall is a creative idea that merits consideration. It would take advantage of the city’s underground resources to get cars and buses off the streets to make way for pedestrians, cyclists and mass transit.

The District should apply this same logic to new development throughout the city. Instead of the mayor’s current proposal to let developers make all the decisions about how much parking to provide in key areas — including offering no parking at all — he should require them to provide adequate parking for the vehicles they inevitably will generate, with exceptions in special circumstances. Residents and local businesses don’t want more spillover parking on our residential and commercial streets. Lax development rules now will create parking shortages for which there is no later fix.

Meg Maguire, Washington

The writer is secretary for the Committee of 100 on the Federal City.

The editorial said that an energetic and civic-minded nonprofit organization called National Coalition to Save Our Mall “is promoting what sounds like a pretty sensible idea: build parking under the Mall.” Don’t forget that underground public parking at the National Air and Space Museum was discontinued in 1986 because of terrorism concerns. Is technology or some other means now available that could detect and stop a car carrying a load of explosives before it got into the garage?

Barry Mendelsohn, Ashburn

 
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