Heavy traffic expected as Freddie Gray hearings begin; city prepares for protests

Heavy traffic expected as Freddie Gray hearings begin

Motorists and downtown workers should expect heavy traffic, possible road closures and bus delays Wednesday as the first hearing in the death of Freddie Gray opens at the Baltimore courthouse, transportation officials said Tuesday.

Despite traffic concerns, events planned for Wednesday, such as the American Legion convention and an Orioles game, are set to go on as usual.

"Our downtown constituents are fully aware of what's taking place tomorrow, but they are not making any unusual preparations," said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership. "We are expecting peaceful protests tomorrow, and that's something that downtown can certainly accommodate."

The Maryland Transit Administration said local buses could be delayed. City transportation officials warned of heavy traffic expected downtown, as well as parking restrictions near the courthouse. Motorists are encouraged to avoid Calvert Street south of Lexington Street.

Parking will be restricted along parts of Guilford Avenue and Calvert, Lexington and Fayette streets, according to the department. Temporary traffic stops and road closures also could be put in place.

Since the citywide unrest on April 27, police and transit officials have faced criticism over decisions to stop bus and metro service to Mondawmin Mall, where many high school students catch and transfer to buses to go home from school.

Chuck Brown, an MTA spokesman, said that as of Tuesday evening, the agency had "no plans whatsoever" for bus service to be disrupted for school students in the city or in the area of Mondawmin Mall.

"We're just going to have to wait and see what tomorrow brings," he said. The agency's 24/7 operations center will be fully staffed to handle any changes that must be implemented, he said.

Gray, 25, died April 19 after suffering a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody. His death sparked widespread protests against police brutality and rioting broke out on the day of his funeral.

At the hearing Wednesday, Judge Barry Williams is set to hear arguments over whether to dismiss the case against the six officers charged in Gray's death or recuse Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby. He also will hear arguments over whether the officers, who have pleaded not guilty, will be tried separately or together.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration has been in regular communication with state officials, including law enforcement agencies, deputies of Gov. Larry Hogan and business leaders, spokesman Howard Libit said.

Top city officials also met with dozens of business representatives this week to answer their questions about preparedness efforts.

Hogan, who is undergoing chemotherapy at the University of Maryland Medical System Hospital, met with leaders of agencies including the state police, National Guard and Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

"We discussed our planning and preparations to prevent further unrest in Baltimore City," a post on Hogan's Facebook page stated.

Hogan spokeswoman Erin Montgomery declined to comment on specifics of the meeting.

Baltimore police have canceled leave to ensure enough officers are available.

"We're prepared, and we hope we're prepared for nothing," police spokesman T.J. Smith said Tuesday. "We're doing what any responsible agency should do. Having hindsight, we're learning from the past."

Downtown employers, including BGE, Legg Mason, T. Rowe Price and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, said they would be keeping tabs on the situation.

Wednesday will be considered a regular workday for city employees with no plans for liberal leave, Libit said.

"If there are demonstrations, the mayor fully expects them to be peaceful in the tradition of the many years of demonstrations and other protests held in the city," Libit said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell, Kevin Rector, Yvonne Wenger and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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