Streets around downtown and Hillsborough Street could see fewer road races under controversial new restrictions that drew support from Raleigh City Council members Tuesday.
A council committee voted unanimously to lower the annual race cap from 100 events to 95 – just a few more than the 91 already on the calendar. The plan would also ban existing races from closing streets in the same neighborhoods on back-to-back weekends, forcing some races to change dates or locations.
No additional races would be allowed in neighborhoods around downtown and Hillsborough Street: Mordecai, Oakwood, Boylan Heights, University Park and Cameron Park. Businesses and residents there have complained that frequent roadblocks make it difficult to get around and hurt shops and restaurants.
“It seems like we need some flexibility in terms of the access to the streets, or take it somewhere else,” said Arthur Gordon, who owns the Irregardless Cafe on Morgan Street.
Sunday morning races often block Hillsborough Street, which creates a hurdle for restaurant customers. Brunch is usually one of the busiest meals for the Irregardless. “It drops the volume of my business by almost a third,” Gordon said.
The new policy would still allow up to two street closures a month along Hillsborough and other popular race routes. But many race organizers think the rules are too restrictive because many established charity runs will have to compete for prime dates and courses.
“Having a random drawing, if it cannot be negotiated with the respective race directors, is a poor solution for established races,” Paula O’Neal, of RunRaleigh Races, wrote to the council. “I know some of these races are in high-impact areas, but has there even been any research about specific complaints? The majority of complaints about road races were targeted at the Color Run and Rock & Roll Raleigh.”
The University Park neighborhood, which borders Hillsborough, recently surveyed 165 of its residents. Almost 80 percent said they’ve been affected by race-related traffic hassles, but only 47 percent said the area currently has too many races.
Kara Strang organizes the annual Walk to Defeat ALS in April, and her event would lose its date under the policy because it takes place the weekend before the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon. “The other option is you could bump the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon to another route,” she said.
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said that’s not possible because the marathon has a multi-year contract with Raleigh.
Local race organizers want similar contracts to guarantee dates and locations. They say it would help attract sponsors, but city special events coordinator Derrick Remer said contracts are only justified by “significant economic development impacts of major national events.”
Other aspects of the new policy have also drawn outcry from race directors. They say increased fees – ranging from $200 to $350 per event – would take a chunk out of charity fundraisers. Remer said the fees would cover about half the $125,000 annual cost of running the city’s new special events office.
The policy does offer a reduced fee of $50 for small neighborhood events. Remer said smaller races could also be directed to new 5k courses being developed at the N.C. Museum of Art park and Walnut Creek Park.
The city will also drop the requirement that residents along race routes get notified by first-class mail. The postcard notices can come through bulk mail, which is cheaper. “We don’t care how they get there as long as they get there two weeks in advance,” Remer said.
The full City Council will take a final vote on the new race policy at its next meeting Sept. 2. Councilman Wayne Maiorano said the restrictions will inevitably create some heartburn as Raleigh balances the growing popularity of races with the concerns of neighbors and businesses.
“There’s going to be a little pain in the process as we learn to change and adapt,” he said.