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KC Marathon steps up efforts to limit frustrations for drivers, residents

Updated: 2013-10-04T03:55:37Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

Sarah Dee has certainly heard from residents and businesses complaining that the Kansas City Marathon creates a lot of frustration, and that’s a polite way of putting it.

“‘Inconvenience’ is a nice word for what they use,” said Dee, events director for the Kansas City Sports Commission, which manages the event, sponsored by Waddell & Reed.

And this year, the marathon is on pace to attract a record number of nearly 12,000 runners to the heart of the city on Saturday, Oct. 19.

But Dee and other race organizers say they have stepped up their efforts to limit disruptions and traffic tie-ups stretching from downtown past Brookside on the 26.2-mile route.

Residents resent it when they are trying to run errands on a Saturday morning. Businesses worry about employees getting to work on time and whether customers will be able to get to their establishments.

Dee and other organizers say they are moving heaven and earth this year to improve communication and minimize motorists’ difficulties. Among their strategies:

•  Mail. In mid-September, the Sports Commission sent out a mailer to 60,000 residents and businesses listed in the ZIP codes surrounding the race. It shows the date, route and approximate times when roads will be closed because the bulk of runners will be hitting those mile markers. The race starts at 7 a.m., and should conclude about 1 p.m., with the bulk of the activity between 7 and 10:30 a.m. More information is available at www.kcmarathon.org.

•  Email blasts. The Sports Commission has sent two emails and will send another to hundreds of businesses, apartment managers and others to remind them about the race, road closures and other pertinent information.

•  Calls and visits. Dee says she and her staff return every phone call raising concerns and they met earlier this summer with businesses and some neighborhood groups to try to address their angst. They also have communicated extensively with the Area Transportation Authority, whose bus routes are affected by the race.

“We understand this is a burden, but understand, too, that this is just one day a year,” Dee said.

•  Police and volunteers. More than 1,800 volunteers and 135 off-duty police officers are lined up to help the race run smoothly and to guide people around the route. Dee said that with a run this size there will always be glitches, but the Sports Commission takes pains to educate course monitors and officers on how to direct motorists. That’s especially important this year, with all the construction going on downtown, including the new Main Street Bridge over Interstate-670, which required a slight route adjustment.

Kansas City Police Officer Ray Powell said most off-duty officers helping with the race have done it before and will work diligently to get motorists across the route when there are gaps in runners.

•  A race time limit. In a new development this year, runners hoping to complete the full marathon who do not reach a designated spot close to the eighth mile within the first two hours will be directed to the half-marathon course, so stragglers won’t tie up traffic unnecessarily throughout the full route. Only about 2,000 to 2,500 runners will do the entire marathon, so the bulk of the runners should be through within about three hours.

Dee hopes challenges and concerns won’t obscure the fact that the marathon is increasing in popularity and becoming a regional and even national draw.

Registration so far is at a record of just under 11,000, up from 9,226 in 2011 and 9,832 last year. Online registration concludes Oct. 13, but they also anticipate day-of registrations. Based on prior year experience, Dee predicts close to 12,000 participants, with 38 percent from out of town — so far representing every state except South Carolina.

She also expects about 12,000 spectators, most clustered at the start/finish area near Crown Center but also scattered throughout the route.

“The Kansas City Sports Commission has been marketing and promoting this nationally and regionally in ways we’ve never done before,” she said. They tout it as one of the Midwest’s most beautiful courses and are already talking up the 2014 race at regional sports expos.

Downtown Council President Bill Dietrich said there are always congestion concerns but he believes that overall, the marathon’s benefits outweigh the frustrations for the non-running public.

“It brings all sorts of new people to our city,” he said. “The marathon is one of the better organized traditions in Kansas City.”

Lindsay Tatro, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said she’s heard from residents concerned, not so much about the marathon but about the plethora of races now concentrated in downtown.

“We’ve heard residents upset because they can’t get in and out of their homes,” she said. Nevertheless, she said she has received both the mailing and the emails about the marathon and thinks the city is doing a better job communicating about all the races affecting Kansas City.

That’s partly due to Jenny Chronister and David Steffano of the Evenergy firm, who were hired by the city early this year to help coordinate the complex schedule of races that affect so many neighborhoods and entertainment districts.

So far, Chronister has permitted 49 races and expects a total of 60 by the end of the year, with more than 135,000 participants. That’s about the same as last year. While some races need to enhance their communication, Chronister praised the Sports Commission’s marathon outreach.

“I think they’re doing a great job,” she said.

Some of the biggest concerns about the marathon have come from neighborhoods like Brookside and Waldo, but Steffano points out that only about 20 percent of runners do the entire course through those neighborhoods, leaving plenty of opportunities for motorists to get through.

“There will be a lot of natural breaks in the traffic,” on the route’s second half, he said. “People thought, ‘Oh wow, how am I going to deal with 12,000 runners at mile marker 14?’ Well, they won’t,” he said.

Dee’s advice for anyone who knows they’ll have to cross the route on race day: Allow an extra 15 to 20 minutes and realize that a few roads will be closed, specifically Grand Boulevard between 18th and 22nd streets and Pershing from Main to McGee, for several hours on Saturday morning.

Dee remains sympathetic to people who fret about the marathon, but says the record participation shows the event is worth doing.

“This is growing because people want to come to Kansas City, and they want to be part of a positive community event,” she said.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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