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City approves Austin Marathon route months in advance

Friday, October 19, 2018 by Ryan Thornton

Next year will mark the 28th year of the Austin Marathon. Since the marathon’s inception in 1992, the route has undergone a few dramatic changes and several minor changes as planners have tried to please runners, spectators, city government and communities along the route. But with such a long course in an already congested city, event organizers are seeking city help to maximize damage control.

Dan Carroll, operations director for the Austin Marathon, on Thursday asked City Council to waive a timeline requirement that mandates that route planners formally address any community feedback up to 60 days prior to the event.

“This is not enough time for us to react, due to the sheer size of the Austin Marathon and the process involved, to change and certify the course,” said Carroll.

In order to best prepare the city for the impact of the event, Carroll asked Council to allow the Austin Marathon to move forward with the proposed route immediately by waiving the requirement, which is applied when a route has been in use fewer than 10 years. The current route is only coming up on its second year.

In 2018, the route underwent its first significant change since 2007. Previously stretching up north to Anderson Lane, it now turns east at West 45th and Guadalupe streets to feature roughly seven miles of course east of Interstate 35, through Districts 1 and 3. Carroll, who inherited direction of the Austin Marathon when his company High Five Events acquired previous race director Conley Sports in 2015, cited improved overall mobility, eased burden on the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and improved participant experience as reasons for the 2018 route change.

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East of I-35, though, where the event had not made a strong presence in over a decade, the race was an unwelcome shock to many.

Most of the feedback following the marathon came from churches located along or near the new route through East Austin.

Senior Pastor Joseph C. Parker of David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in East Austin opposed the street closures imposed by the route. A signed letter by Parker says the closures “interfere with the owner’s freedom of worship and religious expression on Sunday.”

Parker’s church is located in District 1 on Chestnut Avenue, where the new route was initially going to run. After many conversations involving Parker, Carroll and District 1 Council Member Ora Houston, the planned route was pushed west to Chicon Street. This solution, however, did not resolve the issue according to Parker and other church leaders in the area.

“People who have been displaced come back into town, they worship together, and then they go back and do their work in the real world,” said Houston, highlighting the importance of Sunday worship for many District 1 residents.

The inconvenience caused by street closures even a few blocks away, according to Houston, will prevent residents from attending Sunday worship services.

“They just won’t go because they’re not going to put up with the traffic and the headaches and the detours,” she said.

Carroll, however, stood by the proposed route and the work done to minimize community impact.

“We believe, especially in District 1, that all the churches that have been brought up do have access,” he said.

In contrast to Houston’s concerns, Council Member Delia Garza emphasized the opportunity to businesses and other organizations along the route to raise money and connect with the community. She also stated that Houston’s suggestion to relocate the race to the Circuit of the Americas would not solve anything. “Your phone would stop ringing, and my phone would start ringing,” she said.

Carroll respectfully answered the Council members’ questions and defended his efforts to engage the community and take their concerns seriously.

“Will detours exist and will delays be incurred for some of those individuals trying to reach businesses and places of worship? Absolutely. That’s why we’re trying to meet with as many as we can to help them understand what those alternative routes are available to them and make sure that we can assist as much as possible, communicating those detour routes so that everyone can get to where they need to go during the race,” he said.

Mayor Steve Adler said the Austin Marathon was very important for the city and has proven to be worth the temporary inconvenience it may cause.

“You can’t do a race like this without having some impact,” he said, addressing Carroll. “My understanding is that you’ve minimized that to the fullest extent possible.”

The waiver was granted 7-2, with Council Member Ellen Troxclair and Houston voting no and Council Member Alison Alter abstaining.

Approximately 15,000 runners will cross the starting line at 7 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. As runners advance, streets will gradually open behind them, with all streets expected to be open by 6 p.m.

Photo by Charlie Llewellin made available through a Creative Commons license.

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