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Mayor says city 'reaching out' to dirt bikers after weekend confrontation with police

.@MayorSRB wants to have 'frank conversation' with dirt bike riders

After Baltimore police in riot gear cleared hundreds of dirt bike riders and onlookers from Reisterstown Road near Druid Hill Park over the weekend, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said city officials are "reaching out" to dirt bikers for a meeting.

"It’s been a challenging issue in Baltimore for years," Rawlings-Blake told reporters at City Hall Wednesday. "This year has been a challenge. We’ve already lost one person to a dirt bike accident and a child was critically injured by a dirt bike."

In May, Allison Blanding, 24, the mother of a young girl, was killed when she was stuck by a dirt bike on Wabash Ave. In June, a 5-year-old boy was hospitalized after being struck by dirt bike in Cherry Hill.

On Sunday, police said a large crowd of dirt bikers became unruly and threw rocks at officers.

A dirt bike was seized and some cars were towed, but no one was injured and no arrests were made, police said. The police Foxtrot helicopter circled overhead, ordering people to leave the area and officers  in body armor held shields. The crowd dispersed without incident.

One officer was placed on administrative duty after a photo of him allegedly pointing his gun at a group of people circulated online.

Rawlings-Blake said a fight triggered the large police response.

"This past Sunday, the dirt bike gathering turned into a fight among the participants," the mayor said. "It certainly raises concern for me. We’ve done outreach to some in that community to see if there’s a way for us to sit down and search for some solutions." 

On Monday, Councilman William "Pete" Welch, who represents West Baltimore, called on city officials to develop a plan that is agreed to by the police, recreation and parks officials, dirt bike riders, and community members.

The plan would include the "creation of a world class dirt bike park in the city that is a safe space for dirt bike riders to enjoy their hobby without interference from law enforcement," Welch's resolution states.

Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday she has concerns about whether it's wise to build a dirt-bike park.

"The challenge of a dirt-bike park is there are no guarantees that if you build this park, they will come," she said. "The thrill of riding up or down [the street] may or may not be the same as riding in a dirt bike park."

Some have suggested the city block off a portion of Route 40 in West Baltimore -- the so-called "Highway to Nowhere" -- on Sundays, when it is lightly used, for dirt bike riders.

The mayor said she wasn't sure about that idea.

"For every suggestion, it does not come without costs," Rawlings-Blake said. "You know how dangerous dirt bike riding is. If we say, 'Let’s close down the 'Highway to Nowhere' and let them do whatever they want on Sundays,' what happens when there’s an accident? I think there’s a lot of great sounding ideas. I think the solutions are much more difficult to reach."

The mayor said she hoped to have a "frank conversation" with dirt bike riders as soon as possible.

"We are reaching out to some of the organizers," she said.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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