Targeting the bridge blockers

Targeting the Bridge-Blockers

Good for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). It appears he is ready to propose increasing the penalty against demonstrators who block District bridges. He is outraged after a Sept. 20 "protest" by a group that blocked the inbound Theodore Roosevelt Bridge during morning rush hour, stranding 100,000 motorists.

The demonstrators had no permit for that action. They simply pulled a bus across the lanes of traffic, got on top of it and chained themselves to objects to protest something that bothered them. Several were arrested, paid a $50 fine each and went on their way. They've blocked traffic before.

"We can't have the government of the United States shut down when a group doesn't like something," Davis said in an interview with Dr. Gridlock. He noted that many of those stuck in traffic for as long as three hours Sept. 20 were federal government workers, including at least one Cabinet secretary.

"This is almost an act of insurrection," Davis said. "And we can have federal intervention.

"Right now, these actions are not costing anyone. We can change the D.C. Code, or this could become a federal offense," Davis said. "We can pass a law taking authority away from the city and upping the fines to $1,000. We could advocate putting people in jail, but the city doesn't have the capacity. We're looking at a number of options."

Davis, the head of the House Government Oversight subcommittee on the District, held a hearing Friday to get input from city and state officials. Representatives of the Virginia State Police and the American Automobile Association said traffic was brought to a standstill about 8 a.m., clogging inbound Interstate 66, Routes 50 and 110 and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Along with missing work, they testified, people may have been stuck in ambulances or may have missed important appointments at hospitals in the city.

Inspector Rodney Monroe, head of the D.C. police unit that deals with demonstrations, said city officials are reviewing the penalties and are considering stiffening them.

The demonstrators, whom Dr. Gridlock is not identifying to avoid giving them even more publicity, did not accept Davis's invitation to testify at his hearing.

Not surprising. They don't do hearings; they do bridges. The bus, by the way, is registered to a leader of the group who lives in Maryland. The bus had expired tags. Apparently, these people think adhering to the law is just for the rest of us.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) spoke for at least 10 minutes Friday on her perception of the virtues and the cause of the demonstrators. She said that she did not condone their tactics on the bridge but added that "they are my friends." However, since Norton spoke so long about the demonstrators' cause, I was left confused as to whether she supports law-abiders trying to get to work or the law-breakers trying to stop them.

Mayor Marion Barry, according to Fox Television News (WTTG-Channel 5), said he is not in favor of increasing the fine against traffic-blocking demonstrators. He noted that most of those inconvenienced were from Virginia, according to the television station. A spokesman for the mayor declined to comment to The Washington Post.

That stance is not surprising, since the mayor himself has been involved in an illegal bridge-blocking demonstration for his own purposes.

Here's where things could lead if such outrageous behavior continues: Businesses, weary of the high downtown parking fees, lack of parking, traffic congestion, kamikaze bicycle commuters, lack of city services and now bridge-blockers keeping their employees and customers away, move to the suburbs, where none of that exists and where rents are much cheaper.

Then the demonstrators can block the outbound lanes of bridges in the morning, trapping D.C. residents in gridlock. Maybe then His Honor will perceive that something unfair is going on.

"Clearly there is a federal interest here, and the message to the city is, `Either you take care of this problem or we will,' " Davis said.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who also attended Davis's hearing, sided with Davis, saying bridge-blocking demonstrations are "intolerable."

Davis said he is looking at other options now, including more hearings. He sounds to me like he is determined to come to the aid of commuters and correct a situation that clearly is wrong.

It may not be smooth sailing. Although he certainly is committed, there are others sympathetic to the demonstrators. Davis could use your support. If you are against this kind of deliberate gridlock, write:

U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III
415 Cannon Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515