A police cruiser sits in wait as pedestrians walk into the road along a closed sidewalk on Wisconsin Avenue.
To keep pedestrians from walking in the street in front of the Apex Building in Bethesda, police officers are patrolling a closed sidewalk along Wisconsin Avenue.
The patrol was not organized by the Montgomery County police department. The project group demolishing the building has hired off-duty police officers to monitor the area out of concern for pedestrian safety, said Louise Pulizzi, a spokeswoman for Clark Construction Group, part of the project group.
Developer Carr Properties is preparing to demolish the building, at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., to make way for office and apartment towers, as well as a shell for a future Purple Line station.
The controversial sidewalk closure has sparked safety concerns since it was put in place in June. Officials questioned the need for a six-month closure. The State Highway Administration, which made the decision to let the developer close the sidewalk, briefly reopened it in late June after public pushback.
The sidewalk is closed on the southbound lane of the street and signs ask pedestrians to cross the six lanes of traffic to the other side of Wisconsin Avenue to proceed through the block. Many passersby, however, walk along the chain-link fence into the road.
One officer, sitting in a parked patrol car in a driveway space at the construction site Wednesday morning, stopped about 59 people in three hours, police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said. She said he gave people warnings and may have given one citation. She could not confirm if any citations had been given or if police plan to issue any.
Another officer sat in his patrol car in the same spot at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday but told Bethesda Beat that he was not giving citations or warnings, only informing people about the closed sidewalk by talking to them as they passed his car.
Police officers, even when off-duty, are authorized to give warnings and citations, or act in an official capacity, Baur said. It is typical for off-duty officers to be hired for traffic control, security for events or other purposes.
Officers have been hired to return to the site on weekdays during rush hour for the course of the construction period, Pulizzi said. She would not specify how often police officers would patrol the site, but said the police presence would be “ongoing.”
Pulizzi said the sidewalk would be closed for about three months during the demolition phase. After demolition is complete, the sidewalk closure will be re-evaluated, she said.
The patrol car parks in a driveway area in the middle of the closed sidewalk.
A pedestrian walks in the right lane of oncoming traffic. Credit: Joe Zimmermann