On Monday I attended the Austin City Councils’ Street Event Closure Task Force meeting. I wrote much of this post during the meeting, but decided that reflection was called for. It seems others would have done well to do the same.
I learned about the taskforce from a widely circulated email, that must have gone to almost every runner, cyclist and triathlete in Austin, and probably a lot wider afield. You can see a copy of the email here on Brandon Marshs’ Get out and do something blog. The problem is something near 100 people turned up to speak, and as per city rules, only the first 10 to register got to speak. The rest left frustrated, not understanding the process, and not understanding what to do next.
What’s clear is that the city is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to events. They need events, we need them. Events(not just races, triathlons and crits’) form a core than binds and attracts many people to downtown Austin. The current rules, and city staffs ability to implement them, is a wash. 60-days, 30-ways, waivers, Police costs, road closures, City council overrides - these are all a fact of life for the events than run downtown.
The city has a process for coming up with new rules and processes; the task force is part of that. However, mob rule doesn’t work, unless applied at the time a decision needs to be made. Monday’s performance wasted an opportunity to get some valuable input from the stakeholders, not just a reason for people to speak passionately about their introduction to running.
Lobbying works. You might not like it, but it does. Witness members of the task force, many are effectively lobbyists for special interests groups. Lobbying has only become a dirty word since the bribery and payola cases from the 80’s and 90’s. My fellow Austinites had better get used to this. If we waste the next 4-5 meetings of the task force, each arriving increasingly earlier to sign-up and speak for their allotted 3-minutes. We need to elect a spokesperson, we need to have solutions to offer, not just complaints, and opposition.
I attended with a tongue in both cheeks, a foot in each running shoe, and splitting my time between T1 in Bouldin Creeek, and T2, a downtown race course for an event I want to take part in. Having been an organizer of some 10-domestic events in the UK, and part of the team for two major international triathlons, I can assure the neighborhoods that a race organizer that doesn’t care about them won’t be a race organizer next year. I can tell the runners and triathletes the same.
All parties need to recognize that the only solution IS compromise. We have to work together. On Monday, there was much discussion about events clashing on the same w/e and the problem this causes, for example closing all possible roads leading to a Church or business. Nothing was said about the week-in, week-out closure of the same roads for different events.
One solution postured is having a set of graduation courses away from downtown. Imagine, for four of eight weekends in April/May next year, the city will grant permission to close the access road you need to drive down to Ladybird Lake for your run, or to go meet with your cycling group to ride. It’s disruptive, it effects your planning, it breaks your routine. That’s how the Churches, businesses and public feel about your events. No matter how much that downtown 5k changed your life, you had no more right to run in it downtown, than a business does to have it customers come and buy that life changing couch(ask me about mine from Your Living Room!)
Sports participants need to also accept that the neighborhoods and business suffer in non-obvious ways. You’d never consider urinating on someones lawn first thing on Sunday, yet it regularly happens; you’d never throw your used gel packets on the ground when you get back to the car, but it regularly happens; no one minds as you discard your old top on S1st during the marathon, but we do; you always go to downtown restaurants after the race to refuel, but in reality, it doesn’t happen much, everyone else gets in their car and goes home.
This years Bat Fest will go ahead, despite the protestation of my neighborhood. We got no notice that the Bat Fest would be moved from South Congress to South 1st for this year only. Nor did any of the businesses or others affected. How can you plan around that? It’s not unreasonable to ask what is going on down at City Hall and demand change.
A few of the speakers on Monday were excellent. But while others might have made you feel good, they didn’t contribute much to the hard job the task force has to do. The time for mob rule, if needed, is at the end of the process. Let’s let the Task Force make their recommendations to city council. Then, Task Force chair Paul Carrozza can get the public meeting that he desperately wanted to placate race organizer and fellow task force member John Connley, whose email drew in the mob.
At that time we will know what is proposed. Under city rules, everyone that signs-up, should get to speak. The best part, is that you can sign-up to speak and donate your minutes to a spokesperson. So, get your thinking caps on.
What good ideas could help the city run events, find ways to enable our fellow citizens go about their lives and routines without undue disruption from us. These are the ideas the task force needs. Next meeting should be August 25, location and time TBC. I’ll be the guy in the sleeping bag outside the day before. If you really have something to add, come along.
If mob rule is needed, then it will be when the time comes to vote. Your council member needs to know how you feel about the final recommendations, given the low voter turn out at city council elections, a decent size group against any specific city resolution or process change ought to be able to gain the support of the council member. This will be especially true when it comes to the council vote of the outcome of the task force.