Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) wants us to think that he's doing us a favor by barring local authorities from reviewing proposed cell phone towers on federal property such as Rock Creek Park [letters, July 15]. Citing public safety concerns, Sen. Daschle asserts that cyclists and other park users "strongly endorse the proposal to build the antennas." Far from it. The Washington Area Bicyclists Association, representing 3,600 bicyclists, twice has testified against construction of cell phone towers in sensitive areas of Rock Creek Park. So have other park users, including hikers and birders, who want to preserve the park's natural character. In fact, nearly all the testimony of park users at recent hearings was against the towers.
For those of us who brave traffic on two wheels, one of the greatest dangers is a motorist talking on or dialing a phone. Statistics show that using a cell phone increases the likelihood of an accident more than fourfold -- making cell phone use while driving even more hazardous than driving while intoxicated. Rock Creek Park already is burdened with excessive high-speed commuter traffic on weekdays. The last thing we need is more motorists talking on the phone as they drive on the park's narrow, windy roads -- which are shared by cyclists and other recreational users.
If Sen. Daschle is truly concerned about the safety of park users, he should not overrule the carefully considered local decision to prevent construction of Bell Atlantic's proposed cell phone towers in Rock Creek Park.
Rock Creek Park Committee
Washington Area Bicyclist Association
In response to the July 21 editorial "Cell Phone Sellout": This is a safety issue. It's that simple. Many exercisers use Rock Creek Park, as do families, tourists and elderly folks. More and more, citizens are advised to carry a cell phone for safety reasons. Unaware that the phones won't work, people use Rock Creek Park at their own peril, thinking that they have a link to quick help.
In 1995 the U.S. Park Police asked me to serve on its Wireless Telecommunications Committee, because they knew my concern for outdoors exercisers' safety. The U.S. Park Police knew then that communication in Rock Creek Park was faulty. The committee's meetings, which were chaired by the U.S. Park Police, included representatives from Cellular One, Bell Atlantic and the National Park Service.
To document the inadequacy of cell phone coverage -- even to simply call 911 or #77 -- they asked me to organize a test. Throughout the month of July 1996, using volunteer bicycle commuters and runners, and Cellular One and Bell Atlantic cell phones, calls to 911 or #77 were made twice a day from the Mount Vernon Trail and in Rock Creek Park. All of the calls from the Mount Vernon Trail went through; none did from Rock Creek Park. Four years later, the U.S. Park Police continue to cite their need for adequate telecommunications.
The Park Police are chillingly aware that if they had to set up a command post in Rock Creek Park because of a major catastrophe or accident, their transmitting equipment would not work. Their research cites 3,150 criminal and safety incidents in Rock Creek Park from Jan. 1, 1995, to June 30, 1998, and states that cellular service is an effective and essential law enforcement tool. Without reliable cellular communications, public safety is jeopardized.
HENLEY F. GABEAU
Road Runners Club of America