WASHINGTON — Residents, who live near and around the Walter E. Washington Convention Center where President Obama’s two-day Nuclear Security Summit was held April 12-13 are accusing local and federal agencies of poor planning.
For two days, changes to public transportation routes, pedestrian walkways and school schedules transformed a bustling stretch of life into chaos.
A friend spotted Afework Tesgaye, 53 and physically disabled, helplessly walking down 7th Street in China Town and gave him a lift to the restaurant where he enjoys dinning. The nearest train stop to Mr. Tesgaye’s destination was the 7th Street Convention Center Metrorail Station at Mount Vernon Square, but it was closed because of the summit.
Joanna Young, 40 and a grandmother, was angry that Center City Public Charter School (Shaw Campus) where her granddaughter attends school was closed for two days. Even the principal of the school was not aware that his school would be closed until late Friday evening during a meeting at the convention center. (Business owners and community leaders were permitted to attend the meeting but not area residents.) Then the principal spent all weekend long scrambling to call parents and let them know that the school would be closed Monday and Tuesday during the summit.
Nadine Gee, 74, whose grandchildren’s school was not closed, but she had to take them to school the long way around the secured perimeter by foot.
For these residents of the Shaw section of the District, the foul up was due to bad communication of the local and federal agencies to area residents about the security perimeter plans that would have helped them to be better prepared.
Greg Odell, president and CEO of the Washington Convention and Sports Authority, agreed that officials should have communicated better with residents.
“There is obviously going to be some impact when we have events like this,” Odell said. “But we wanted to make sure that we minimize those impacts the best we could.”
Just days before the start of the summit Odell met with the Secret Service, State Department and White House officials to request that the Secret Service help conduct the meeting with community leaders which involved churches, building managers and local business. The local and federal officials asked that the community leaders to disseminate information about the security perimeter and get question answered on how best to minimize the summit’s impact on residents.
“Part of it was there was just no dissemination of information, Odell said.
Gee said she tried to attend the meeting, but she was turned away. “They said it wasn’t for residents. So we really didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “The ANC leaders didn’t have a meeting to tell the residents what happened in that meeting.”
There was more than enough blame to go around.
Then there were the Metro buses that were rerouted, but Metro did not post signs telling riders where to catch buses. Riders also had long waits. One Metro bus driver who did not want to be identified said, “It’s gonna be rough out here for the next couple of day. They had us waiting.”
“It’s nothing on these poles telling us where the bus stop is going to be,” Gee said. “We don’t know where to catch a bus. So it’s not really organized when it comes to the neighborhood.”
Businesses in the area said they did fairly well because of the thousands of Secret Service agents, military and metropolitan police officers who patronized their establishments. Some of the delegates to the summit used the business as well, said Andre Helou, 28, manager of the Marrakesh restaurant that was expecting a party of 50 for dinner Monday night.
That was not true for all businesses such as Midas that voluntarily closed early on Monday because the military police would only allow one car at a time to enter the shop for service.
“I’m glad to see this happening,” said Young, “but they needed to have communicated a lot more.”