Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon changes course to help downtown Raleigh churches

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJanuary 11, 2014 

— City leaders on Tuesday approved a new route for April’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon that aims to avoid churches observing Palm Sunday, as well as 24-hour facilities in West Raleigh.

The change follows outcry that the original race course – approved by the City Council in October – could make it hard for the faithful to attend church services on an important holy day.

The new route makes downtown churches more accessible by shifting runners two blocks south to West Hargett Street, steering clear of the houses of worship clustered around the state Capitol.

Ed McLeod, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said he’s hopeful the changes will minimize traffic hassles for his congregation.

“I felt like they’re going to try to make this as user-friendly for local churches as they can,” he said. “With this much notice, we can do a pretty good job of getting the word out.”

The biggest change, however, is on the western end of the course, where race organizers are dropping a loop near Umstead State Park that would have blocked off a hospice center, a veterinary emergency room and nine residential neighborhoods.

Instead of looping through Reedy Creek, Trenton and Trinity roads, runners will head out Edwards Mill Road to a turn-around point on Reedy Creek. The change maintains access to 24-hour operations such as the state medical examiner’s office, the Ramada Inn, N.C. State University’s veterinary medicine complex and the N.C. National Guard headquarters.

For the thousands of runners participating, the change means they’ll pass the same scenery twice. But course designer Ted Metellus said that’s not necessarily a bad thing: runners passing each other on an out-and-back stretch often exchange high-fives and encouragement. And they’ll spend more time on the marathon’s rural component.

“One of the most beautiful sections of the course is that Reedy Creek section,” Metellus said.

Road access issues

Even with the changes, Rock ’n’ Roll will still bring the most extensive street closures in Raleigh history. The local City of Oaks Marathon uses greenway trails for much of its route.

But the Rock ’n’ Roll race organizers stress that streets won’t be shut down for six hours straight, and they’re making arrangements for cars to cross the course at specific locations and to maintain access to homes and businesses.

Whenever there’s a break in runners, police will allow cars to cross on thoroughfares such as downtown’s McDowell Street. Wider streets such as Western Boulevard will keep a few lanes open for car traffic. Residents along the route will have ways to enter and exit their homes, Metellus said.

“On the tail end of the day, there’ll be large breaks (between runners) along the route,” he added.

What about the rock?

With the race route now locked down, organizers are now trying to identify sites where 40 local and regional rock bands will perform along the course. Councilman Thomas Crowder said Tuesday that he’s concerned early morning concerts could disrupt church services or sleeping residents.

Race director Alan Culpepper assured the council that won’t happen. “We’re not going to stick a band in front of a church or in front of a house that’s going to get blasted at 7:30 in the morning,” he said.

Organizers will work with police and property owners to find suitable locations, but that process doesn’t require approval from the City Council. Organizers are recruiting local bands until Feb. 21 and will announce the lineup afterward.

While the event has attracted criticism from local running groups who say Rock ’n’ Roll is getting special treatment, the controversy hasn’t hurt registration numbers. By Tuesday, 8,500 runners had signed up – well beyond the 7,500 participants estimated when the race was announced last year.

About 24 percent of runners are coming from outside North Carolina, which will create tourism impact spending of more than $2 million.

“Those numbers are making everybody happy,” Rock ’n’ Roll spokesman Dan Cruz said.

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

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