Last month, the D.C. Council called an emergency session to designate a stretch of city roadway as “Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.” The rush was to make sure the honorary designation was in place for the Aug. 28 dedication of the new national memorial to the civil rights leader.
But while MLK Drive might pass in front of its namesake memorial in the eyes of the law, it appears there will be no way for passersby to know that. The National Park Service controls the stretch of Independence Avenue in question, west of 15th Street SW, and it will not be posting signs with the designation — a purely symbolic honor that does not change the long-standing official names of the thoroughfares it traverses.
John Lisle, a spokesman for the District Department of Transportation, said the city has had “discussions” with the Park Service about posting temporary signs. But the bottom line, says NPS spokesman Bill Line, is that the District government has no control over Park Service property. Conversely, he points out, the Park Service can’t tell the District what signs to erect on its public space.
“They’re respecting our rules and regulations,” Line said. “It’s federal property versus city property . . . just as we wouldn’t allow the state of California to name a road in Yosemite National Park.”
Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) is “disappointed” by the Park Service’s position, said his spokeswoman, Karen Sibert. She said Brown is contacting Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) for assistance.
Lisle said the Transportation Department will “put up the signs where we can put up the signs.”
The council’s designation stretches from the mouth of the current Martin Luther King Avenue SE, in historic Anacostia, west across the 11th Street Bridge, the Southeast/Southwest Freeway, onto Maine Avenue SW and Independence Avenue, terminating south of the Lincoln Memorial.
UPDATE, 5:30 P.M.: Kim Atterbury, a spokeswoman for Norton, said her office has been in touch with the Park Service. Atterbury notes: “This is not a home rule issue because it is federal land, and therefore, the city, as in other state and local jurisdictions, cannot unilaterally name a street on federal land. That does not mean there are not other solutions to this issue. We are working with the National Park Service and the city to find a satisfactory solution.”
Line said there is an administrative process to name roadways on Park Service land: The NPS superintendent proposes a name, which then can be approved by the interior secretary.