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The cost of virtue

Perhaps those who are congratulating themselves on their worthiness for participating in today’s Under Armour Baltimore Running Festival might consider for a moment how much additional gasoline was consumed and how much additional exhaust was expelled into the air by motorists trapped in the standstill traffic on York Road, Cold Spring Lane and other streets to accommodate the runners.
Posted by John McIntyre at 3:47 PM | | Comments (6)
        

Comments

As a spectator, I was confused by this. Obviously it's not possible to ensure that absolutely everybody knows that the running festival is going on and advise them not to drive, or to stay away from those particular streets, but the part that I don't get is why they all still had their cars running. It should have been pretty clear after the first minute or two that they weren't going to be going anywhere for some time. Yes, the fact that the runners were there obviously is the primary cause, but the runners don't deserve the blame for the lack of thought on the part of the majority of the motorists.

Are you referring to something in particular or are you just being crabby? I don't think I personally am able or interested to run a marathon but I understand the rush it must be to run 26 miles. I would much rather live in a town where people are able to enjoy themselves in their city. If I didn't want to make the sacrifice of sitting in traffic when a sporting event or festival is taking place, I'd live in a rural area.

And your perceived argument that these people are running because of some sort of virtue of protecting the environment, I imagine a majority of them are doing it for the rush and enjoyment.

That said I love your writing on language, usage, journalism and Cincinnati chili.

The map of the running route

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/traffic/bal-marathon2008route,0,5458112.htmlpage

shows that the race essentailly cuts off the center of the city for much of the day. The drive from my house in Northeast Baltimore to Bolton Hill for the Festival on the Hill -- another event for people who prefer to live in a city -- took more than an hour rather than the usual 20 minutes.

Much as the runners may have savored the rush, there was not much rush for mortorists backed up from 33rd Street past Cold Spring Lane.

I've been on both sides of this. My neighborhood (Butchers Hill, northeast of Fells Point) gets encircled by the marathon route, largely leaving us trapped for several hours. After the first time it happens to you, you learn how to plan for it on subsequent occasions.

This year I actually ran in the half-marathon. Ironically, I couldn't drive to the start area unless I went several hours early, since the full marathon (which starts at 8) blocks off streets needed to drive to the half-marathon (which starts at 9:45). So I walked the 2 miles or so to the start. Sure wish I'd thought to bring cash for a cab ride home afterwards, though. The 2 miles seemed much longer on wobbly legs that had just ran 13.1 miles on a hilly course.

Doesn't this start getting to be an argument about who or what has sufficient worthiness (virtue, perhaps) to be allowed to upset the normal flow of a city's traffic? Events that seriously block traffic around here include:

* Street fairs.
* Professional football and baseball games, arg.
* Parades through downtown.
* Concert events that attract 80,000 fans.
* Visiting American Presidents.

A person might argue that none of these events should be allowed to block traffic, yet all of them do. (Street fairs often occupy a nexus of streets for several days, in fact.) In my experience, races of the sort noted here take place on Sunday mornings, which should have the least impact on traffic.

Ultimately it's a question of who gets to use the city's streets, when, why, as authorized by whom. Presumably the race organizers went through an elaborate permitting process to be allowed to close streets for the duration. I imagine that there was opportunity for Jean Q. Citizen to voice an objection to whatever authority grants such permits.

The right for any of us to petition to be allowed to do such a thing is, I think, valuable enough to be worth the inconvenience that occasionally attends to others exercising that same right.

Not, of course, that I don't fulminate against the inconsiderate morons who closed off the street that I was trying to drive down. :-)

Mike raises a broader set of points than I was attempting to address. While my own irritation and sense of incovenience bled through the post, the central point was this: People participate in marathons to celebrate personal health and fitness, and to raise money for worthy causes. Fine. No objection. But the consequences of closing and obstructing traffic in a major area of the city -- including increased gasoline consumption and auto emissions -- do not seem to come into consideration.

I suppose that,say, closing off Druid Hill Park and allowing the runners to circle it in laps up to the 26-mile total might seem less heroic, but it would minimize disruption for non-runners and avoid some of the other negative byproducts.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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