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Democratic gubernatorial hopeful latest with plan to crack down on dirt bikers

Dirt bike riders, often traveling in groups, have become a thorny problem for officials in Philadelphia, Baltimore and some other cities. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A Democratic candidate for governor wants more police enforcement and a dedicated park to deal with illegal dirt bikes on Baltimore’s streets.

The announcement by Rushern Baker III is the latest in a series of initiatives focused on Baltimore. The former Prince George’s County executive released an eight-point plan specifically focused on illegal dirt bike use in the state’s largest city.

Baker made the announcement in an area of Southwest Baltimore he said is struggling to deal with the economic and public safety challenges associated with illegal dirt bikes.

“People across the city are tired of being held prisoners in their own homes,” said Baker. “The revitalization of neighborhoods like Pigtown will never be fulfilled if people are unwilling to leave their cars for fear of being struck or even refuse to open their windows due to deafening noise. This lawless behavior disrupts communities, hurts local businesses and threatens innocent lives. It has to end.”

The visit Thursday is one of a number of initiatives Baker has announced recently that are focused on Baltimore.

The former county executive’s campaign is also running ads in the Baltimore area vowing to reduce the numbers of murders in the city.

Dirt bike riding in Baltimore is illegal. The city is not alone nationally in its struggle to deal with the activity in recent years.

The activity in Baltimore has been the subject of a 2013 documentary and a 2020 movie. And while some see it as a legitimate form of recreation, others view it as a nuisance at best and a public safety issue at worst.

Two years ago, videos online showed riders speeding through Fells Point on a busy spring evening. Riders popped wheelies as a city police car could be seen trailing behind. Earlier this year bikers blocked off a crowded intersection near downtown to showcase their exploits, leaving motorists backed up and helpless to move.

Baker said his dirt bike plan would include the use of Maryland State Police to patrol corridors used by riders. The effort he said would include enforcement and community engagement.

The plan also calls for traffic-calming measures including speed bumps, roundabouts, reducing the width of traffic lanes, diagonal parking and extended sidewalks and landscape medians. Baker said he would establish a task force chaired by the head of the state police and Department of Transportation.

The candidate also said he would order a study of the use of timed road closures. Those closures in select business districts and neighborhoods would be accessible at times only to pedestrians, bicyclists and those with disabilities, he said.

Baker said he would authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority to work with state and city leaders to identify potential sites for a dirt bike track.

“This is a sensible and cost-effective approach that combines what I call the “three Es’ – enforcement, engineering and engagement,”said Baker. “Our strategies can be applied successfully in other communities that are dealing with the same problem, and they also recognize that enthusiasts should have a place where they can ride safely without disrupting or risking the lives of other people.”

Such a track is not a new idea. Five years ago, then-Mayor Catherine Pugh and other city officials considered and then abandoned the idea of a permanent dirt bike track.

In March, B-360, a Baltimore nonprofit that uses dirt bikes to provide science and technology education to students, announced  an effort to build a facility in Baltimore. As envisioned, the site would encompass as much as 20 acres and include areas for riding as well as a building for instruction.

Leaders of the program said in March they’ve worked with over 8,000 students.