RALEIGH — Race organizers are calling for city leaders to slow down on new road closure restrictions that could force some events to change locations or dates starting in 2016.
The Raleigh City Council will consider the new road race policy at its next meeting July 1. The goal is to cut the number of events impacting individual neighborhoods and business districts, particularly areas like Oakwood and Hillsborough Street, which sometimes get blocked multiple times a month.
Raleigh doesn’t allow new races to use an area if another event is shutting down the streets on the previous or following weekend. The policy change would apply that rule to existing races as well in 2016. Organizers would be asked to “work among themselves to change their dates or locations in order to conform to the new policy,” according to a recent memo from special events manager Derrick Remer.
If races can’t work out their scheduling conflicts, the policy doesn’t address who gets to keep their date and location. That worries Elizabeth Watson, director of the N.C. Victim Assistance Network, which holds a 5k awareness and fundraising run in April – on the weekend that follows the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.
The race coincides with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and it starts with a moment of silence at the Crime Victim Memorial Garden on East Lane Street. “There really isn’t any room to change it,” Watson said, adding that she doesn’t expect the much larger Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon to change its route either.
Watson said she’s also concerned by the city’s plans to increase application and permit fees, which for the NC VAN 5k would double to $200. The race would likely have to raise its registration fees, she said, making it unaffordable for some. “We have many family members of homicide victims who participate in honor of their loved ones who’ve been murdered,” she explained.
Lou Buonpane of the city manager’s office said the new fees are designed to cover the cost of processing event applications. This year, Raleigh established a three-person special events office to handle the growing demand for races, parades and street festivals.
Even with the city’s efforts to minimize traffic hassles associated with street closures, complaints from neighborhoods and businesses continue to roll in. When the Ironman Triathlon shut down Hillsborough Street for much of a recent Sunday, businesses there said sales dropped dramatically. And in Boylan Heights, residents were upset about Saturday’s WakeMed Scrub Run, which effectively blocked access to about half the neighborhood.
“It is totally and completely wrong for any race to block all the routes to a person’s home,” Boylan Heights resident Linda Caldwell wrote to the city council. “What scares me is that if I have another heart attack, there will be no way for an ambulance to reach me quickly.”
Some don’t think the new restrictions go far enough: The same locations could still be closed to traffic twice a month, provided the events don’t exceed the city’s 100-event cap.
“It continues to raise the question of whether the policy should allow any particular high frequency location to be closed down every other weekend of the year,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said last week.
New events approved
But the city council continues to approve new events in areas like Hillsborough Street. In March, it voted to OK the Sexy Schoolgirl 5K, which will shut down much of the street around lunchtime Aug. 9. Paula O’Neal of RunRaleigh Races takes issue with those approvals amid discussion of new restrictions that will affect long-running local races.
“By continuing to approve new races in the problem areas, the problems persist and are magnified,” O’Neal wrote to the city council. “The name of the Sexy Schoolgirl 5K is another issue ... I question the message that is being sent and endorsed by the City of Raleigh due to the increasing problem of rape and violence against girls in the schools and on college campuses.”
Buonpane said Sexy Schoolgirl followed the rules because no road closures are scheduled for surrounding weekends on Hillsborough. Councilman Wayne Maiorano responded that he shares O’Neal’s concern about the provocative title, but doesn’t recall voting for the event. The request was labeled as “Runnin Dirty LLC” on the city council’s March agenda.
O’Neal said race organizers need a chance to help shape the new restrictions. While the new policy was presented to the city council during their untelevised lunch meeting in May, Remer’s memo to race directors went out June 13 and noted that “final approval of the proposed changes” would take place July 1. Remer was out of the office for a week shortly after the notice was sent.
“I just think that 17 days notice is not fair,” O’Neal said.
Stephenson says he’ll ask that the issue get a hearing before a council committee in July before any final vote.
Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter