IT'S BEEN OUR observation that most shoppers would rather spend 20 minutes cruising the mall parking lot in search of a close-in space than four minutes walking to the store from a slightly more distant one. All the more reason, then, in this obesity-obsessed nation, why it should be regarded as a fine thing when large numbers of people decide to hike half a mile or more on a Sunday afternoon, even if it is only en route to a mostly sedentary three hours of mass entertainment.

In Prince George's County, however, walking has been made an illegal act if one commits it while attempting to approach FedEx Field to see the Washington Redskins play. Barricades and security guards prevent people who park in places other than the official Redskins lots from using the sidewalks on the only practical route leading to FedEx. It's a matter of public safety, the county says -- busy intersection, lots of traffic, all those people walking right next to the road. Some of the fans who prefer to park off premises and walk think that it may be more a matter of the $25 per vehicle the Redskins can get from people who park in authorized lots rather than, say, on the free lot of a nearby shopping center. The no-pedestrians policy is the work of a "coordinating group," which includes representatives of the county, the Redskins, the stadium and residents.

Last December a circuit judge ordered an end to the pedestrian ban because it had been imposed without the required public notice or participation. In the spring the county readopted the policy, a decision that is being appealed by some of the fans. "Post-9/11 we're no longer an open society," said Vernon Herron, chairman of the panel. "These measures are absolutely critical for the safety of all who are in that stadium."

Oh, come on, folks. Prince George's is a large, rapidly growing county that very much wants to be in the big time. Its most well-known structure -- famous throughout the land and the NFL -- is FedEx Field. This is a landmark. It is not the kind of place that you make it impossible to walk to. If it really is unsafe for pedestrians approaching FedEx, then it's the county's job, with perhaps a little financial help from the Redskins, to make it safe -- just as jurisdictions throughout this urban region are attempting to do for pedestrians everywhere. It was a big mistake not to build the Redskins' new home next to a Metro station. Don't compound it by taking away the sidewalks too.