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These Are the Arguments That Convinced NYC to Cancel the Marathon

The decision to keep the race on, less than a week after Hurricane Sandy knocked out much of the city’s power and transportation, is garnering criticism for Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Road Runners who organized the event

smithsonian.com

UPDATE: Reuters reported late Friday afternoon that the New York City Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, has been canceled.

This Sunday, 50,000 people are scheduled to run 26.2 miles in the New York City Marathon. The decision to keep the race on, less than a week after Hurrican Sandy knocked out much of the city’s power and transportation, is garnering criticism for Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Road Runners who organized the events.

The arguments against having the marathon go something like this, according to a petition circulating on Change.org:

  • Urgent civil services such as police, fire, EMS, ambulances and rescue personnel will be diverted away from areas where they are truly needed and towards the Marathon. With huge areas of Manhattan as well as Queens still without power, all police and fire should be ready to assist in the case of a catastrophic emergency, not pre-occupied with a road race.
  • At a time when major arteries such as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and Holland Tunnel are still closed, it is unthinkable to close down the Verrazano Bridge and Queensboro Bridge, not to mention huge swaths of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Anyone who has tried to get around the city knows how difficult it has been. Although the race is on a Sunday, crucial services such as ambulances will likely be delayed with no alternative routes, resulting in loss of life.
  • In the best of times, the Marathon puts a huge strain on the city’s resources but is worth it as it is a huge positive in so many ways. This year it is unwelcome, unnecessary and a burden.
  • The ripple effects will be felt by the City’s neighbors in Long Island and New Jersey, where millions have no power and are dealing with loss of life and significant property. Any additional stressors should be avoided.
  • Many residents who lost their homes or their power who are staying in hotels will be kicked out of their hotel rooms in order to make room for out of town runners. Out of town runners will find incredible logistical problems that await them, if they can even find flights that will bring them in to the City as scheduled.
  • The majority of locals runners are in no state to push their bodies in these times of stress. People are dealing with staying alive, staying warm, getting to work and finding food and gasoline. The Mayor and Mary Wittenberg are forcing people to choose between their health and fighting against their athletic and personal drive (and in many instances, running the Marathon for a charity or in memory of a loved one).
  • On a lesser note, it will be extremely difficult for runners to pick their race number with limited MTA service and numerous significant problems around the area, as well as to make arrangements for the day of the race.

The New York Post noted that generators and food trucks were being used to set up the marathon and prepare for the runners, rather than provide for the people in Lower Manhattan and Staten Island without power or food. The paper writes:

But they belong elsewhere. Bloomberg, or Gov. Cuomo, must simply demand that they be hauled off to where they are needed. Let the lawyers sort it out later. Would Rudy Giuliani have put up with such nonsense? Not for a second — he’d have made his move and dared the Roadrunners to object.

They never would — because lives are at stake. As is the organization’s reputation.

Staten Island, the starting point of the marathon, has been especially hit by the hurricane. At least 19 of the 41 deaths from the storm in the area came from that borough. The island’s residents also feels as though they’re being ignored. New York Magazine writes:

Those left in the wake are ready to start rebuilding, but they need a hand. “The city is not really doing anything,” one woman told the Staten Island Advance. “We need the federal government to come here and give us fuel and the generators,” to aid with the cleanup. “If you make the people normal again, we can help ourselves.”

Some runners are organizing to subvert the event. Penny Krakoff says she will use the race ferry that takes people to the Staten Island starting point to get to the island and then break from the race to deliver supplies. Another group plans to start the run and also break away to deliver help to victims. Their Facebook page shows the damage that Sandy has done to locations on the marathon route.

But other runners are arguing that the marathon should still happen. They argue that the marathon is a sign of resilience and New Yorkerism:

I may not have been born here, but I’m a New Yorker through and through. It’s in my soul, and I’m never leaving this glorious place because to me, it truly is the Greatest City In the World.  And our Marathon, the New York Marathon, is more than just a race. It’s more than just 26.2 miles of running. It’s more than the millions of spectators, more than the thousands of volunteers, more than the block parties in Bay Ridge, Park Slope, Bed Stuy, Long Island City, the Upper East Side and the South Bronx…

It’s a symbol of solidarity for our city.

Don’t take that away from us.

They also remind people that the marathon brings in something like 300 million dollars each year. The New York Times writes:

Bloomberg, aware that the marathon generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the city, has repeatedly said the race will go on. He did not expect the Police Department to be overly burdened because the race is on a Sunday, when street traffic is limited. Many parts of the city, including Lower Manhattan, are expected to have their power back, freeing other workers.

“The city is a city where we have to go on,” Bloomberg said at a news conference Thursday.

A big problem, many say, with the arguments here are that they focus on Manhattan. One runner writes of her visit to Manhattan:

Everyone I saw was doing fine. No one is desperate or destitute in Manhattan, which is where destination marathoners will stay and spend their time once they get here. The power is only out below 30-something…34th, by the looks of it (the Empire State Building was light up pumpkin orange for Halloween, just like normal).

But while the power in Manhattan is out, it’s not nearly the biggest issue. Places in Staten Island, the Rockaways and New Jersey were completely washed away. Bodies are still being discovered in the storm water, and thousands are still without power. The New York Times explains why Staten Island was hit so hard:

That the borough was the scene for so much loss of life had a lot to do with the storm’s path and the island’s own evolution, and what happened was not entirely a surprise to Staten Islanders like Dr. William J. Fritz, the interim president of the CUNY College of Staten Island, and Dr. Alan I. Benimoff, a geology lecturer there.

Dr. Benimoff said Staten Island was in the wrong place at the wrong time for a storm that scored a perpendicular hit on the New Jersey coast. “That put Staten Island in the bull’s eye” for the surge, he said. “The water didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

Even in Manhattan, some families are rooting through dumpsters for food. So while the city might be faring better, some of boroughs are doing better than others. And the race beginning in Staten Island has residents questioning Bloomberg’s priorities. But, despite all the talk, the race will go on. As will the rescue efforts.

More from Smithsonian.com:

 Why Running in Mud Is a Really Bad Idea
The 1904 Olympic Marathon May Have Been the Strangest Ever

About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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