How Capitol Hill is balancing extraordinary security, everyday life

Capitol Hill security dogwalker
When security needs impact everyday life: Residents on Capitol Hill now have 7-foot-high fence in their neighborhood as preparations proceed for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Days after the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol, and days before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, residents, business owners and visitors on Capitol Hill are experiencing the ups and downs of proximity to “The People’s House.”

Within hours of the Jan. 6 insurrection, a 7-foot-high “non-scalable” fence was erected around the grounds of the Capitol.

By Tuesday, the heavy steel fences line federal property extending several blocks away from the Capitol to Columbus Circle, across the street from Union Station.

Some neighbors expressed concern that despite the extra security the fences may provide, day-to-day living is being affected now and perhaps forever.

One neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous because of his job, said he fears the fences around congressional office buildings are here to stay: “My personal feeling is it’s never coming down, and that’s depressing to my neighbors and I.”

“The Capitol grounds are our front lawn. We’ve also lost the only safe passage as cyclists and pedestrians between the neighborhood and the (National) Mall,” he said.

This section of security fence near Union Station makes it difficult for pedestrians to use crosswalks. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Across from Union Station, the security fence straddling the sidewalk makes it difficult for a pedestrian to safely use a crosswalk to cross the street.

Neighbors walking dogs, and tourists, in the neighborhood behind the Capitol and U.S. Supreme Court have less — or no — sidewalk to navigate.

The national special security event period, authorized by the Department of Homeland Security, might mean security will get even tighter when it begins Wednesday. The designation allows the U.S. Secret Service, FBI and Federal Emergency Management Agency to secure certain areas that might be targets.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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