As the demand for road races and street festivals continues to grow, a new review process will launch this summer to better control the inevitable traffic hassles and inconveniences.
The Raleigh City Council got a look at the plan Tuesday. The city will continue an overall cap of 100 road-closing events per year, but longtime events will lose their exemption from the new rules by 2016. That change is designed to address areas like Hillsborough Street that still see road closures on back-to-back weekends.
“The Cameron Park neighborhood gets hit constantly, and that’s because a lot of these events get grandfathered in,” said Derrick Remer, who leads the city’s new events planning office. “By holding those policies in place to every event, I think that will spread the events out more.”
Under the new policies, races couldn’t traverse the same areas of Raleigh on successive weekends. But several council members said that could still bring too many road closures. “If I lived in Oakwood and had my street shut down every other weekend, I’d go ballistic,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said.
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Some suggested higher fees for popular race courses to encourage organizers to consider other parts of the city. Stephenson said the revenue could be invested back in the affected areas. “Are we going to give some benefits back to those neighborhoods that get constantly shut down?” he asked.
The new policy does include higher fees for event applications, but Remer said the change is minor and applies equally to all events.
“We’re still in that area of ‘we want people to come downtown,’” he said. “We don’t want to burden them.”
With the cap, though, some races and events will likely get shut out. Councilman Thomas Crowder said he’d like to give a priority to local charity races over out-of-town, for-profit events. But Remer says that would pose a challenge.
“Even the for-profits have some sort of charitable component to them,” he said. “It’s tough to say ‘this one is better than this one,’ because you’re comparing cancer to autism.”
The new planning process also moves approvals from the Downtown Raleigh Alliance to the city’s new three-person events office. One of the office’s main goals is to improve communication with affected residents and business owners.
“It’s not the events that’s the most upsetting part – it’s that they just don’t know about it,” Remer said.
The events planning staff will be empowered to make minor tweaks to address any concerns. Rather than having to wait for the next city council meetings, the events staff can handle approvals and changes for reserved parking, amplified sound and alcohol sales.
As an example, Remer pointed to a complaint during the recent Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon from Kings and Garland restaurant on Martin Street. The race organizer had placed portable toilets in front of the business, and Remer’s office had the toilets moved out of scent range from the business.
“It’s those kind of last-minute things we need to address on an individual basis,” he said.
For broader concerns about street closures, the city will establish a citizens advisory board made up of business owners, event organizers, church representatives and residents. The board won’t be reviewing individual applications.
The council will vote on the new policy in the coming weeks.