New Hope council turns thumbs down on 5K race
Number of events has grown to 24 a year
At first glance, item 3C on Tuesday night's New Hope Borough Council agenda looked simple enough: Consideration of establishing a standard 5K race route in the borough.
By the time the matter was settled, though, it had become a touchstone of the council's approach to government. In essence, it said that when the interests of the residents conflict with the interests of commerce, the residents should prevail.
In some towns, maybe even most towns, that is a given. In a town that thrives on tourism, however, the answer is less obvious.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, Boss Events staged a 5K race called Run Now Wine Later, and according to the organizers, it was a huge success. Some 340 runners started near New Hope Solebury High School around 9 a.m. and raced through borough streets, finishing in the parking lot of the Bucks County Playhouse. There, they enjoyed a wine and food festival that lasted until around noon, then dispersed through the town, spending the rest of the day shopping and dining.
The runners raved about the event, and merchants had to be pleased with their business.
Evidently, though, some locals were unhappy. The race caused closure of several roads, including the two main thoroughfares, Bridge Street and Main Street, for about 45 minutes. "We hear some pretty nasty things from local motorists," Police Chief Michael Cummings said.
Also, Temple Kehilat Hanahar on West Mechanic Street complained that it was inaccessible during the race, delaying a scheduled service there.
In the big picture, though, snarled traffic is not the only problem; events require extra policing. Even though event organizers must cover officers' overtime pay, there is another numbers issue: New Hope's department comprises only nine full-timers, and the force is being stretched too thin.
"When I took over here four and a half years ago, we had five events," Cummins told the council Tuesday. "This year, we have 24. I've had to cancel days off and vacation days. Even with auxiliary officers, we just don't have adequate manpower."
In recent weeks, some council members studied the issue with Cummings and Pat McCloskey, a local race promoter. They determined that a 5K course that starts and ends near the high school and avoids South Main Street would alleviate the problem, and the motion to adopt it was heard Tuesday.
It looked like a common-sense solution and done deal, until the Run Now Wine Later organizers spoke up. They said the proposed course would not work for them, not only because of the issue of alcoholic beverages on school grounds but because runners would be unlikely to walk back into town for the wine and food festival.
"They'll just get in their cars and leave," race director Brian Barry said.
Left unsaid but understood was that if the race were forced to use that course, it would not be likely to return to New Hope next year, and local businesses would miss out on a nice bump.
The council discussed amending the motion to read that there could be exceptions to the rule, but President Claire Shaw said there was "no way to pick and choose fairly."
Shaw said although the council always must consider the needs of merchants, "My responsibility is to the residential community."
Councilman Nick Gialias acknowledged that residents are sometimes inconvenienced by events, but he said races, festivals and fairs "add to the dynamic nature of the town."
No one disagreed, but in the end, the motion carried. Although there clearly was ambivalence, no one vocalized a vote in opposition.
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