Complaints prompt changes for Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon route

ccampbell@newsobserver.comDecember 12, 2013 

— Downtown churches weren’t the only facilities that had a problem with the route the Raleigh City Council approved for the first Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon next Palm Sunday.

The planned route for the April 13 race would close streets from Raleigh to Cary for hours, and several busy facilities in West Raleigh would see their entrances completely blocked.

Families wouldn’t be able to visit loved ones at Hospice of Wake County. Pet owners wouldn’t be able to bring injured animals to N.C. State’s veterinary emergency room. And residents of nine neighborhoods near Umstead State Park would be turned back at their subdivision gates.

The outcry from the numerous groups affected is prompting organizers of the national race event to change the route. Rock ’n’ Roll will return to the City Council in January to approve the new route.

“These changes will allow for better access to downtown churches and opens up previously restricted access to the following: nine residential neighborhoods, Hospice of Wake County, the State Medical Examiner’s Office, the Ramada Inn, NCSU Vet School and the N.C. National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters,” city events coordinator Derrick Remer said.

“They realized they could get the same amount of mileage and see the same landmarks without restricting access to some of the operations.”

The biggest changes come on the western end of the marathon route. The race was going to make a loop from the State Fairgrounds up Blue Ridge Road, out Reedy Creek Road to the edge of Umstead Park, then back toward PNC Arena via Trenton and Trinity roads.

But the plan didn’t sit well with 24-hour facilities along the route that would lose all access points to their parking lots.

“Because we’re 24-7, you see families needing to access this at all times, but you also have medical transport that needs to bring patients to our facility or from our facility,” said Cooper Linton at Hospice of Wake County.

Linton said he likes the new route much better because nearly all roads around Hospice would stay open.

The veterinary complex would still see some of its entrances blocked, but the new route would allow its primary entrance on Blue Ridge Road to remain open.

“I commend anything that keeps an access open,” hospital administrator Jim Brawley said. “We expressed our concern, and hopefully that’s one of the reasons they are making the change.”

The new route would give runners an out-and-back course at the western end of town instead of a loop. They would go from Hillsborough Street up Edwards Mill Road, turn on Reedy Creek Road and then turn around before reaching any neighborhoods.

At the downtown end of the race, organizers are making a minor tweak aimed at moving the event a bit farther from churches observing Palm Sunday. Instead of entering downtown on Hillsborough Street – past the front door of Church of the Good Shepherd – runners will come down Morgan Street, one block south.

Still, churchgoers could still have trouble because many north-south streets through downtown, including busy McDowell and Dawson, will be blocked where they cross Morgan Street.

Next year won’t be the only time Rock ’n’ Roll creates traffic concerns on Palm Sunday. Remer notes in his email to the City Council that the event will fall on the religious holiday again in 2017.

Raleigh has a five-year contract to host Rock ’n’ Roll, a for-profit event that offers live rock bands along the marathon route and is held in 30 cities worldwide. It’s expected to bring 7,500 runners and $2 million in tourism spending to the city. Local race organizers have complained that the event has received special treatment from city officials, getting a “postcard route” typically denied to homegrown races.

Remer said there’s no specific policy preventing races from blocking access to neighborhoods or 24-hour emergency operations. “That might be something that we look at,” he said, noting the city’s ongoing review of race procedures.

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

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