Boston police, hoping to avoid a crush of spectators who would pack the final blocks of the Boston Marathon, disclosed a plan Wednesday for crowd control and security that includes closing bustling Newbury Street to cars and a “soft approach” by officers.
Commissioner William Evans said he envisions officers standing along Boylston Street, where the final stretch of the race runs, and politely asking spectators vying to get near the finish line to walk down another street to get there.
City officials said they are determined to make sure the streets that day do not resemble a police state.
“You’re not going to see guys out there with body armor on and long guns out there,” Evans said Wednesday evening at a meeting of Back Bay and Beacon Hill residents who gathered to hear city officials describe plans for the Marathon. “We don’t want to intimidate people. We want the Boston Marathon to be what it’s always been: a family event.”
Race organizers will also impose new restrictions on what the runners themselves can bring to the Marathon and also said they have set aside another location where friends and families can meet runners after they finish.
The idea behind the security plan is to ease the crowds that are expected to amass around Copley Square on April 21, when police are expecting record numbers of spectators to watch the Marathon one year after a terrorist attack that killed three people and injured more than 260 near the finish line.
Newbury Street will be closed from Arlington Street to Massachusetts Avenue, the first time Marathon officials have decided to shut the thoroughfare, infamous for being heavily clogged with cars, to traffic.
On Marathon Day, city officials say, Newbury Street will be a pedestrian walkway, an approach designed to lighten the crowds along Boylston Street. Police plan to place metal barriers, “no longer than a car’s length,” at Boylston Street where it intersects with some of the smaller side streets.
Evans said people will not be banned from entering Boylston Street from those side streets. However, people with backpacks and heavy bags will be searched.
If it is too crowded on Boylston Street, officers will direct them away, Evans said.
“We’re just going to shoo people away,” he said. “We don’t want it to be such a public safety hazard that we have total gridlock.”
Parts of Huntington Avenue, which runs parallel to Boylston, will also be closed to cars, opening the roadway to pedestrians.
Lighter crowds around Boylston Street will make it easier for bomb-sniffing dogs to scour the sidewalks and undercover officers to monitor the crowds, Evans said.
“I think we’re pretty confident with the plan we set up this year and that we’ll be on top of things,” he told the dozens of residents who came to the Boston Public Library to hear about the plans.
The main event is the race, but in the days leading up to it, the neighborhood is jammed with workers setting up bleachers and a grandstand. Shorter races are run, and tourists and runners from around the world begin to congregate.
More than 36,000 runners are registered to run the race, and police are expecting at least 1 million people to line the route to watch the race from Hopkinton to Boston.
Evans said people carrying large bags and backpacks will be searched not only around Boylston Street, but also in other sections of the race route along Kenmore Square, Audubon Circle, and Cleveland Circle.
Still, he said, there would be no metal wands used to scan spectators.
One woman asked Evans whether police planned to use drones to spy on the streets.
“No, absolutely not,” he said.
“I appreciate that,” she responded. “I didn’t want to close my curtains for three days.”
Runners were sent a mass e-mail Wednesday afternoon, a few hours before the public meeting, detailing the new restrictions they will face this year. Among the forbidden items will be containers that carry more than 1 liter, water packs worn on the back like Camelbacks, and heavy sports or military equipment.
They will have to keep their personal belongings in clear plastic bags that they will check under one of four large tents at Boston Common, said Eddie Jacobs, technical producer for the event.
Officials have designated a second area for families and friends of those who finish the race to meet after the runners reach the finish line, said Boston Police Superintendent Bernard O’Rourke.
In the past, runners and their loved ones mingled around Stuart Street near Boylston.
This year, O’Rourke said, the family meeting area has been spread to Boston Common, another strategy to help police thin the crowds.
Still, many of the residents who came to the meeting Wednesday night seemed more concerned with traffic and potential damage to grassy walkways than they did about security.
Margaret Pokorny, chairwoman of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall Committee, implored Evans to keep emergency vehicles and news trucks off the grassy paths, which have taken a beating during large events.
Evans assured her he would.
After the meeting, Pokorny chuckled at her request.
“These guys aren’t worried about the grass,” she said. “They’ve got other issues.”