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Police presence, parking at issue as Roland Park readies biggest ciclovia

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Roland Park is looking forward to its fifth and biggest ciclovia on Saturday, May 5..

But community leaders have misgivings about the high number of police and traffic officers that will be safeguarding the ciclovia, and about restrictions on neighborhood parking during the four-hour event.

The first four ciclovias ( a Spanish term for "bike path") closed Roland Avenue to southbound traffic for a few hours, so that the public could use the street for walking, jogging, bicycling and other fun.

This Saturday's event, from noon to 4 p.m., will be the first to extend beyond Roland Avenue. The ciclovia will run about three miles, from Roland Park to Druid Hill Park.

Dubbed Ciclovia V — "from Park to Park: where no ciclovia has gone before," it is also the first to involve multiple communities, including Wyman Park, Hampden and Remington.

The ciclovia will have a strong Baltimore City police presence, with more manpower than in the past because of the longer route. It will also force residents who live on the route to move their cars, by orders of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation, said Phil Spevak, president of the Roland Park Civic League, which is co-sponsoring the ciclovia.

There's a difference of opinion between community leaders and police over how much police presence is too much.

And, community leaders in Roland Park had to scramble to arrange places where residents can park to avoid possible parking tickets or towing, and to get the word out to all affected residents, Spevak said.

Too many police?

The event will have 20 police officers, two sergeants and a lieutenant covering 20 of the 26 intersections between Roland Park and Druid Hill Park, said Maj. Sabrina Tapp-Harper, commander of the Baltimore City Police Department's Northern District.

Another six officers from the city Department of Transportation will cover the other six intersections, Tapp-Harper said.

Spevak said he thinks the police presence is too high and that the civic league, which is co-sponsoring the ciclovia along with Keswick Multi-Care Center and the organizing group Bmore Streets for People can staff the ciclovia more with volunteers, at least at barricaded minor intersections.

From the community's perspective, the impact of the police presence is mostly financial, because it will cost sponsors $6,100 to $6,500 to pay police, the lion's share of the $7,500 cost of the event.

If organizers can't bring down the costs for police, they may be dependent on financial sponsors for future ciclovias — "a higher hurdle," Spevak said.

He believes such a high cost is unnecessary and that the city police department, which is insisting on that level of protection, is treating the event as it would a parade, when it's really just "turning the streets into a park."

Spevak said he's not "second-guessing" police, but hopes that organizers can change the "mindset" of police department officials as the event evolves.

He said he believes, based on research on such events in other cities, that, "You can police these events safely with a lower police presence."

But he added, "Everyone wants the event to be safe, of course."

Safety is the key, said Baltimore City Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, defending the department's decision to deploy that much manpower.

"At the end of the day, we don't look at dollars and cents," Guglielmi said. "We want to make sure people don't get hurt. It's not like you're closing an alley."

Tapp-Harper said volunteers would be nice, but officers with enforcement power are needed for traffic control at 26 corners from Roland Park to Druid Hill Park.

"We have to make sure the intersections are covered for everyone," she said.

Potential parking problems

Of more immediate concern is a ban on parking.

Spevak said police have told residents to move their cars by 10 a.m., and the Department of Transportation says 9 a.m. He said he's still not sure which is correct.

"I think the safest thing for folks to do is get their cars off the road the night before," Spevak said.

Spevak said the civic league and Bmore Streets for People are rushing to spread the word before the ciclovia starts. Volunteers handed out fliers to all residences on the route, as recently as Thursday, Spevak said

"I was handing out fliers last night," he said.

Organizers also arranged for residents to park for free in the south parking lot of the Rotunda mall, the parking lot at Johns Hopkins University's office building on Keswick Road (formerly the Zurich building), and the parking lot at The Castle, a retail and office center in the old Northern District police station on Keswick Road, Spevak said.

Spevak said the civic league asked the city to allow residents to keep their cars on the street, but that city officials said no.

Spevak said he also alerted community group presidents in the area. He said some residents have expressed concern about not being able to grocery shop during the event, but that he asked them, "Is that important enough to not have this event?"

Spevak said people who have questions about parking should email civic league member Rita Walters at ritawalters@gmail.com or Rob Bennett of Bmore Streets for People, at robdesign@gmail.com.

Healthy lifestyles

Spevak stressed that the debate over police presence is secondary to the excitement that the ciclovia is expanded to communities that have not had one before or ever seen one. He said organizers hope eventually that it will become a monthly or even weekly event around the city.

A ciclovia is a way of promoting healthy lifestyles and alternative forms of transportation.

"It's a way for the whole community to be healthier," Spevak said.

This week's ciclovia will include bike tuning and a bike safety rodeo, among other activities. MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakeis expected to be on hand at the Roland Park Shopping Center at noon.

In conjunction with the ciclovia, Friends of the Roland Water Tower will host another Tunes @ the Tower festival from noon to 3 p.m., with live music, food and bike decorating. City and state officials expected to be on hand include several City Council members and State Del. Shawn Tarrant, who helped win General Assembly approval of a $250,000 bond bill for restoration of the tower.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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