Raleigh could add staff to oversee road races, street closures

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 5, 2013 

  • By the numbers

    Here’s a look at Raleigh’s 2013 events that involve street closings:

    • 100 road races.

    • 22 parades and walks.

    • 251 demonstrations and pickets.

    • 1.33 million estimated participants.

— City Council members are considering hiring three new staff members to oversee hundreds of annual races, festivals and other events that close Raleigh streets.

The council is trying to balance the demand for more outdoor events with gripes from residents, businesses and churches that often hit weekend roadblocks. Better coordination and communication, they said, is key to keeping everyone happy.

Earlier this year, the city capped road races at 100 events per year. It has since been putting additional race requests on a waiting list. But complaints from those inconvenienced continue to mount, prompting the council’s second policy review this year.

“There’s high demand and there’s a lot of people asking us to change our policy to allow more of these races,” assistant city manager Dan Howe said.

Currently, no city department or agency is responsible for making events run smoothly, Howe told the council Tuesday.

“Without any single point of contact, it’s difficult to know who to call and what to do when a problem crops up,” he said, pointing to the recent Color Run that led to towed cars and dyed powder on homes.

That’s where a new special events office within city hall could help. Howe proposed hiring two event coordinators and an administrative assistant at a cost of $225,000. They’d process permit applications, oversee city services involved, such as police and trash pick-up, and be on call to address complaints during the festivities.

The work is currently handled by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, but the agency says it’s stretched too thin and lacks the authority of city government.

Increased event fees

To pay for the new hires, the city would increase event fees to generate between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. New City Manager Ruffin Hall would need to find the remaining funds, and the positions likely won’t be created until a new budget takes effect in July.

In the meantime, the council approved a short-term solution Tuesday. That plan calls for an emergency management staffer to oversee the events until next summer. He will work on improving application materials and communication guidelines to make sure event organizers keep neighbors informed.

“There are more things we can do to make sure residents are aware of what’s going on,” Howe said.

That includes creating an online calendar of road closures and possibly a reverse 911 phone call to affected residents. Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said improved communication must be a top priority. “I don’t think that can wait,” she said.

‘Overutilized routes’

Council members also wondered whether the citywide 100-race cap is the best approach. Councilman Randy Stagner has noted that the cap is preventing a USO benefit race at North Raleigh’s Sola Coffee – where street closings are a rarity – while Councilman Russ Stephenson said Hillsborough Street neighbors bear the brunt of the hassles.

“There are clearly overutilized routes,” Stephenson said. “Those people don’t feel that it’s fair.”

A council committee will meet soon to discuss how to improve communication, as well as how to spread the festivities throughout the city.

“I think we should lower (the cap) rather than increase it,” Councilman John Odom said.

“Or bring them up to beautiful North Raleigh,” Stagner added.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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