Raleigh’s road races have overrun downtown

June 26, 2014 

Foot races, they used to be called, and that was the terms applied when children gathered on a playground.

But from informal recreation, they’ve grown to organized, highly competitive, sometimes fundraising “events,” involving thousands of people and a portion of a city staff devoted to processing applications from organizers and helping to design routes.

Raleigh has a cap of 100 races a year, and frankly, that’s starting to sound like the absolute maximum the city should allow. It may even be a little high.

And though the races typically benefit utterly worthwhile causes, they require the closing of streets, often in the downtown area and sometimes in other neighborhoods, and there is no question that such closings hurt businesses and when residential neighborhoods are involved, clog traffic.

Runners would say, no doubt, too bad and let the businesses and the residents join in the fun. And businesses and those residents likely don’t mind a little inconvenience once in a while for a cause.

But Raleigh’s not the city it was when these sorts of events started. Downtown now thrives on weekends with multiple events and new and revitalized businesses. Neighborhoods, thanks to more dense development, aren’t all full of wide streets and light populations.

The city has some rules, but it feels like this should be an evolutionary process. The same locations can be used for events, and traffic can be closed twice a month, for example. That’s too much. And the city needs to tighten its approval of new races if those new races meet current guidelines. More limits may be needed.

Some complain the city’s fees for events are too high. But those fees are designed, in part to compensate the city for its own expenses. Fees also discourage organizers who may require the closing of too many streets for a relatively small event.

City officials have to find a balance here, and if that means fewer events, so be it. There is a point where rules have to change in consideration of the well-being of neighborhoods and residents. And even though such changes might make some race organizers unhappy, city council members have to do their duty.

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