What do you mean, the bridges are closed today?

What do you mean, the bridges are closed today?

Marathon Weekend in NYC: Transportation nightmare, or runners dream?
By Stephanie Melka

Anyone who lives or works in New York City has probably noticed the multiple orange construction signs that have gone up in the past few weeks. These signs are warning commuters of street closings this Sunday, November 4th. What makes these different from your typical road sign, however, is they are indicating closure of 26.2 miles of roads, highways, and bridges tracing through all five boroughs of the city. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s marathon time.

The first Sunday in November is known to many as “Marathon Sunday” — a time of year when 38,000 runners descend on New York City to, well, run a marathon. Some marathons confine runners to the outskirts of the city, closing down less-traveled roads for us to take over. New York takes runners through all five boroughs, over some very heavily traveled roads and bridges. The marathon starts in Staten Island and goes over the Verrazano Bridge, the nation’s longest suspension bridge, into Brooklyn. By closing the bridge, the marathon effectively cuts off the only road connecting Staten Island to the rest of the five boroughs for six hours. Take that, forgotten borough.

Next, marathoners run nearly eight miles along 4th Avenue, a road that normally has three lanes of traffic in either direction. Parallel to this one block over is the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which remains open during the marathon but 10 miles of exits are closed to traffic. I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but the trend remains the same. Traffic is diverted, rerouted, or stopped across the whole city. This article explains the logistics and process behind this sort of event, and to think, that’s just the starting line.

Up until 1976, the marathon used to be run within the confines of Central Park, with marathoners retracing their steps over the same loop four to five times. (As a side note, on Saturday, Nov 3rd, 120 men will run approximately the same course in the US Olympic trials, an event I highly recommend you watch if at all possible. If you’ve ever wondered how Olympic contenders make it onto the team, this is your chance to find out.) Logistically, this is a much easier event to organize. Road closures are kept to a minimum. Fewer first aid stops and water stations are needed, since the runners pass by the same ones many times. However, this type of course doesn’t allow for what makes the New York marathon such a unique event.

Thirty eight thousand people will be running the NY marathon this year, representing all fifty states and many countries. Ironically, this is a small number when compared to the 90,000 people who applied for entry. Last year, just under 38,000 people crossed the finish line, making it the largest marathon ever. This volume of athletes equates to even more spectators, about two million each year. Thousands more volunteer to staff first aid stations, hand out water, direct runners at the start and finish areas, or hand out finisher’s medals. Total prize money of over $600,000 attracts some world class athletes. Records are made and broken here.

So today, on your commute home from work, take another look at those orange signs. Instead of grumbling to yourself about how it ruins your typical Sunday morning, think of people like me, one of 38,000 who will be running a marathon in just a few days. Better yet, come out and watch part of the marathon on Sunday, and support those of us who have trained for months for this one event. To you, these road closures are a source of frustration. But to us, they represent one thing: “What was I thinking?”

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