Rock 'n' Roll Marathon back for next 4 years; organizers to review logistics

ccampbell@newsobserver.comApril 14, 2014 

— The biggest road race in Raleigh history – and the extensive series of roadblocks it required – drew mixed reviews from city residents Monday.

Some drivers said they were stuck in traffic for an hour because of Sunday’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon, while others said plenty of advance notice about detours helped them navigate and get to church on time.

But one thing was clear – we get to do this all over again for the next four years. The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau has a five-year contract with Competitor Group, the for-profit company that organizes the races in dozens of cities.

The contract guarantees marathons on the second Sunday in April – including another event on Palm Sunday in 2017.

City officials say they’ll address any logistical problems from Sunday as they plan for next year’s marathon.

Beth Gaines, pastor at Fairmont United Methodist Church, said she’s hoping future marathons won’t run past her sanctuary’s front doors on Clark Avenue. Fairmont was completely circled by Sunday’s race course, and Rock ’n’ Roll agreed to two crossings where police allowed cars to pass whenever they saw a break in the runners.

With 12,500 runners coming down Clark, that didn’t work out as well as planned.

“The runners were so thick, they were shoulder to shoulder for nearly an hour,” Gaines said. “From 8:30 to 9:30, you could not cross.”

Fortunately, Fairmont had already dropped its usual 9:45 a.m. Sunday school classes to hold an outdoor “Jerusalem marketplace.” The congregation was invited to drop by between 10 and noon.

“We all eventually got there,” Gaines said. “Had we had a typical Sunday morning planned, that would not have happened.”

Fairmont’s neighbors, West Raleigh Presbyterian and Pullen Memorial Baptist, moved or rescheduled their services to avoid delays.

Stuck in Oakwood

Much of the Oakwood neighborhood also was surrounded by a steady stream of runners. Residents reported getting stuck for more than an hour at the two course crossing points on Glascock Street – the only way in and out of the neighborhood. Some others in Oakwood stayed home and took to Twitter to complain of loud rock music and cheering that awakened them at 7 a.m.

Backups were also reported on Western Boulevard, where some families found it impossible to reach the kid-friendly attractions of Pullen Park. And runners experienced traffic, too, as they clogged South Saunders Street ahead of the 7 a.m. start, delaying the event for 10 minutes.

But with clear detour routes in place, downtown churches fared better. Chris Chapman, pastor of First Baptist Church on Salisbury Street, said he saw the usual attendance numbers for Palm Sunday after sending notices to his congregation for weeks in advance.

“I think everybody who made an effort got here and things went very well,” he said. “All in all, people seemed to be able to park where they normally do.”

Credit to organizers

Chapman credited Rock ’n’ Roll organizers for tweaking the marathon route after outcry from churches complaining that they would lose access for Palm Sunday services.

Scott Dupree, director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, declined to comment on the race logistics Monday, citing the deaths of two runners during the event. “Out of respect for the families, I don’t think it’s appropriate to review the event at this time,” he said.

The Sports Alliance, a subsidiary of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, arranged the contract with Rock ’n’ Roll. It has touted a projected $2 million in visitor spending for the event, though a final economic impact report won’t be complete for about six weeks.

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

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