Raleigh mulls changes to 100-event cap for road races

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 12, 2013 

— The city’s 100-event cap on road races and parades isn’t cutting back on the number of street closures along Hillsborough Street and other popular routes, but it is limiting new races elsewhere in Raleigh.

A City Council committee again addressed the topic Tuesday as the road closure controversies mount. It agreed to consider more tweaks to the city’s race policy, which already has been updated once this year.

Drivers and residents are complaining of frequent weekend roadblocks, while race organizers are concerned that some events – like next year’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon – get special treatment.

“I really think we need to look at the numbers and where these events are being held,” Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said. “That’s a question I get all the time: ‘Why are these races all in my neighborhood?’”

Assistant City Manager Dan Howe explained that races remain concentrated around downtown, Hillsborough Street and Cameron Village because the policy “grandfathers” all existing events. It also isn’t applied to national events like Rock ’n’ Roll.

The city quickly reached the 100-race limit. That meant officials recently rejected a small 5k race in Brier Creek, an area far from the city center where street closures are a rarity.

“If there’s a weekend in December that a race wants to be in Brier Creek, I don’t see that there’s a negative impact,” said Paula O’Neal, who organizes several annual races. “There are a lot of viable locations in Raleigh that are not used.”

More than inconvenience

But Howe said that inconveniencing drivers isn’t the only factor to consider. Adding more events would create more work for the police department, which handles paperwork and staffing for street closures.

“Right now we’re pretty maxed out at 100,” he said.

Council members did agree to make one exception to the cap Tuesday. They approved a USO benefit race organized by Sola Coffee through several neighborhoods off Lead Mine Road. Councilman Randy Stagner backed the event; he lives nearby and frequents the coffee shop.

Other potential new races, however, will have to wait until the city tweaks its policy. That troubles Jim Micheels, co-founder of the City of Oaks Marathon.

“It doesn’t sound like there’s equity,” he said. “What would be the process for other races to come?”

Starting next year, race applications will go through a special events office that the council voted last week to create. The office will include three new staff members to coordinate approvals and logistics at a cost of $225,000.

Communication is key

The office already has its own website to inform residents about street closures – something the Downtown Raleigh Alliance has been doing by email. The site ( bit.ly/1fzOvWW) went live Tuesday and explains the approval process for various events.

But not everyone will check the website, so Baldwin asked city staffers to improve mail notifications for street closures immediately. Race organizers currently send out letters to affected residents, but the envelopes likely don’t garner enough attention. The council committee voted to mandate postcards instead.

“People aren’t opening up the letters,” Baldwin said. “I’m guilty of that myself.”

Also Tuesday, the committee voted to require route changes for the controversial Color Run, which dyed historic homes in the Oakwood neighborhood with colorful starches in September.

But despite the recent string of race-related controversies, David Diaz, president of Downtown Raleigh Alliance, said the city’s current policy isn’t bad.

“I think the system is, by and large, working pretty well,” he said. “The controversies we’ve had have been very, very few.”

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

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