Street in Front of WH Opens to Pedestrians

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Pennsylvania Avenue (search) is once again open for pedestrians to stroll past the White House -- but not for drivers.

First lady Laura Bush (search) reopened a newly designed stretch of the street on Tuesday, two blocks that were closed 14 months ago to replace some of the uglier security measures with more attractive ones.

Gone are the Jersey barriers. In their place are bollards that are retractable for authorized vehicles. The $18.3 million project also includes granite benches, pavement similar to Buckingham Palace and a route for a possible downtown transit system.

The street remains closed to traffic, as it has been since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

"I've watched from those windows for the last year as this has happened," Mrs. Bush said. "I'm proud that this stretch of the avenue of the people has been designed for the people."

She said that she and the president look forward to continuing the tradition of walking down the street near the White House after his second inauguration in January.

District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams (search) joined Mrs. Bush for the opening.

"I look at (the street) as a local mayor, and I say, 'Well there's no potholes on it,"' Williams said, adding that he plans to ride his bicycle down the street.

But the city is pushing to reopen the stretch of road to cars and trucks "as the next logical step," said Williams' spokesman Chris Bender.

"It's a major vehicular artery for the city," Bender said. "As much as we are the nation's capital we are a city."

Architect Michael Van Valkenburgh redesigned the street as a pedestrian plaza complete with granite walkways. He said it was also designed to reopen to vehicles in the future.

Barney, the first family's Scottish Terrier, greeted passers-by at the White House fence when the avenue was reopened.

"This is great if we can get this close to Barney," said John Cullinan, a tourist from Ireland.