Marathoners streamed into the Baltimore Convention Center on Thursday to pick up their race packets as Blue Angels practicing their formations screamed overhead — the first signs of what officials expect to be a busy, crowded, chaotic weekend in the city.
The Baltimore Running Festival and the U.S. Navy Fleet Week and Air Show are expected to bring tens of thousands of visitors downtown. They'll arrive Saturday to find many streets closed for the marathon, creating a traffic mess that transportation officials are asking drivers to avoid by taking public transit — or, if they're not attending the events, staying away altogether.
Department of Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes described the logistics of balancing the various events with one word: "challenging."
"Plan to travel wisely," she said. "If you don't have to be downtown, please try to avoid the area and take alternate routes in and around the footprint."
The marathon route encircles downtown, closing streets across the city for much of Saturday morning. The race, which begins at 8 a.m., goes around the harbor from Locust Point to Patterson Park, so runners will pass within view of the giant gray-hulled Navy warships docked in the port for public tours.
About 23,000 runners are signed up for the Baltimore Marathon, Half-Marathon and other races, said race director Lee Corrigan.
Another 2,500 people — sailors from the U.S. and other navies — are arriving in Baltimore aboard dozens of ships this week that, in turn, are expected to draw thousands more visitors into the city for tours.
Then there are the Blue Angels. The Navy's elite flight demonstration team will perform Saturday and Sunday from noon until 3 p.m., drawing crowds to rooftop decks and outdoor spaces, such as Fort McHenry, that have open views of the harbor.
Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith said the onslaught of crowds presents a unique challenge to police and other agencies charged with keeping residents and visitors safe.
"We have to approach it differently," he said, "because of the amount of people you expect."
Police, transportation officials and event organizers have been meeting for months to discuss how best to manage a weekend packed with people and events.
"We want to make sure everyone's on the same sheet of music," Smith said.
The Police Department will watch over the city with a private company's aerial surveillance plane — which caused a stir recently when it was revealed to have been used for eight months without the knowledge of the public or even the mayor.
The police will also use mobile command centers, and uniformed and plainclothes officers will be deployed in abundance throughout the weekend, Smith said.
Police are working with the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies.
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency has increased staffing for the weekend, spokesman Chas Eby said, and will be monitoring both the city and county police departments' needs as they arise.
"If they need anything to make their jobs easier or better equip them, we can coordinate that and get it to them," Eby said.
Corrigan, the race director, said organizers realize how much congestion the various events will create, and plan to clean up the marathon route close behind the last runner to open the closed roads as quickly as possible.
He expects most of downtown to be reopened by noon.
"There's a lot of people who tend to panic when it hits marathon day," Corrigan said, "but they don't realize we clean it up as we go."
He said the running festival contributes $40 million to the local economy and said it nets more than $1 million for participating charities.
Bob Olsen, 45, CEO of Compass Cybersecurity, signed up for the relay with a few of his employees. He plans to attend the Fleet Week festivities both Saturday and Sunday.
"It's going to be cool," Olsen said, "and crazy."
With roads closed and parking restricted, the runners won't be the only ones getting exercise this weekend, joked Matt Flora. The 25-year-old Fells Point resident, who works at Compass and is on Olsen's relay team, plans to leave his car at home.
"It's going to be crazy, but it's going to be fun if you're not driving," he said.
Jerry Werner, 72, who lives on Andre Street in Locust Point, just blocks from Fort McHenry, said he and his neighbors like the festivities but hate the parking restrictions on Fort Avenue.
"It's horrible," Werner said. "You can't park on the avenue, you can't park on the back road. You're locked in the neighborhood the whole weekend. If you move your car, you might not get a parking spot at all when you get back."
Still, Werner expects to watch the Blue Angels from his son's rooftop deck down the road.
"We're committed to stay home," he said.
Walter H. Jubb III, a Baltimore firefighter who lives down the street, had a brighter outlook, although he acknowledged that his off-street parking pad and garage — a rarity in a block of row homes — allows him the privilege of coming and going without worrying about parking.