The National Park Service is proposing increased security at the Mall's memorials, seeking to permanently close a 70-space parking lot at the Jefferson Memorial and add anti-vehicle barriers east of the Lincoln Memorial, facing the Reflecting Pool.
Park officials say the changes are needed to secure the historic structures against the threat of car or truck bombs and will be unobtrusive. But historic preservation groups say the Park Service is limiting or altering the public's experience of the very monuments it is trying to protect.
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The proposed changes require approval from the National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the encroachment of concrete-and-steel fortifications around the capital's best-known symbols of democracy has produced mounting complaints of overkill.
Critics say that the new proposals are more steps toward sterilizing a city whose landmarks and layout were intended to inspire. The permanent closing of the Jefferson Memorial parking lot would discourage local and nighttime visitors, and the addition of bollards near the Lincoln Memorial would tamper with the iconic vista looking out to the Washington Monument, preservationists said.
The Park Service is on track "to nearly eliminate the experience" of visiting the Jefferson Memorial's lighted dome at night, said George H.F. Oberlander, board member of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall and former associate executive director of the National Capital Planning Commission.
A preliminary Park Service plan would shift parking a half-mile away to three existing lots, on the other side of the 14th Street Bridge and Metro and CSX train overpasses. The memorial parking lot has been temporarily sealed from vehicles for about two years, with concrete jersey barriers set 300 feet from the structure.
At the Lincoln Memorial, the Park Service has already won approval to erect a 35-inch-high wall in a 270-degree circle to the north, west and south of the temple-like building to preserve a roughly 150-foot anti-vehicle perimeter. Authorities now would like to close the loop with bollards on the eastern side.
Preservationists say that the barrier designs proposed so far would mar a site of historic gatherings, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech of 1963.
Park Service leaders say the objections are premature and no final decisions have been made. They are in talks over plans for both memorials with the coalition, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City. The talks are required under historic preservation laws governing the Mall.
Steven Lorinzetti, resource manager for the Park Service's Mall area, which oversees both sites, said the agency is considering requests to add a few parking spaces on East Basin Drive near the Jefferson Memorial and is "fine-tuning" changes around the Lincoln Memorial. Added security was dictated by a blast study conducted in 2002 by Applied Research Associates Inc. of Albuquerque, he said.
Vikki Keys, Mall area superintendent, added that Park Service and District transportation planners have worked for years to get Mall visitors out of their cars and onto other forms of transportation to reduce traffic congestion. She noted that there is no public parking lot at the Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt memorials and that the lot at the Washington Monument is also closed.
She said the Park Service is taking public comment for a long-range transportation study anticipating the 2008 expiration of its contract with Landmark Services Inc. of Washington, the operator of the Tourmobile system since 1969. Officials envision further steps to discourage driving to the Mall as part of future contracting.
Of the existing situation at the Jefferson Memorial, Lorinzetti added: "I don't feel that a seven- to 10-minute walk is that strenuous. . . . There's not nearly enough parking for everyone who wants to see the museums and monuments on the Mall. Even if you come on Metro, you can have a good seven-minute walk."
Opponents say anti-vehicle security costing millions of dollars ignores the fact that that approach would not stop several individuals carrying backpack bombs from toppling the two structures.
Coalition founder Judy Scott Feldman said: "We perfectly understand the need to secure our monuments and our public buildings. . . . But as Senator Patrick Moynihan said, we can rebuild our monuments.
"The beauty of these great monuments and what they mean to us as symbols of our open society requires us to put public access number one. Otherwise, the monuments will die."