Thursday, July 18, 2024

The first Cambridge Half Marathon begin in East Cambridge on Nov. 13, 2016. (Photo: Cambridge Fire Department via Facebook)

The Twitter account of the Cambridge Half Marathon bears a gloomy message – “RIP Cambridge Half (2016-2017) … due to permit issues.” But CambridgeSide, the mall that sponsors the event, says the run is being resurrected next year.

“In 2019, we anticipate the Cambridge Half Marathon again being a part of CambridgeSide’s exciting race lineup,” publicists for the East Cambridge mall said in an email.

First, though, comes its permitted replacement for the year: The CambridgeSide 10K Classic, being run Nov. 18 in what the mall calls “a tour around East Cambridge and Central Square, running through Harvard Square with scenic views of MIT and Harvard University on a flat 10K course.”

The Cambridge Half Marathon was “postponed” this year during planning for a new course, CambridgeSide said. Organizers Cambridge 5k was on its its third route in as many years since the 2016 launch of the 13.1-mile run.

That run drew what sources have described as a handful of complaints that has put obstacles in its path ever since. A request for the number of complaints received about the marathon in both years it’s been run was sent to Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, and city spokesman Lee Gianetti on Oct. 17; the city never responded, which is a violation of the state’s public records law.

Inaugural run

The first race, in 2016, came with a warning it was the first event of its size in the city and would “result in significant traffic delays.”

City advisories warned of road closings throughout a five-hour run on Nov. 13, 2016 – but with reopenings as runners passed and access being blocked for no more than three hours on any one stretch of road.

The city seemed to love the event, which went through North Cambridge and parts of Belmont. The Cambridge Fire Department offered congratulations to runners and organizers: “The first Cambridge Half Marathon was successfully completed today. There was a great turnout of nearly 5,000 runners with perfect running conditions. Thanks to everyone who made it happen – quite an accomplishment in this world-class city.”

The run organizers are also big donators to city charities, vice mayor Jan Devereux noted after conversations with the organization’s Ed O’Connor. “Cambridge Camping got $35,000 from them last year,” she said. “Cambridge 5K is the single-largest donor to Cambridge Family & Youth Services.” (The organization’s website says the races meant more than $100,000 in donations last year among five city charities.) It’s charitable donations began in its inaugural year, though.

Changed path

But after a few complaints were received by people inconvenienced in 2016, Barr said, the next year’s run, now grown to around 8,000 registrants, was sent on a different path that ventured instead into Watertown and stuck close to the river, even crossing over the Charles for a significant stretch on paths in Boston. It was down to three hours, with traffic delays expected for only an hour in Kendall Square, Central Square, Riverside and Cambridgeport – from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m.

It was run Nov. 19, 2017, under a pall, though, as city councillor E. Denise Simmons, whom Barr said had forwarded complaints to him for the previous year’s event, won passage of an order intended to limit the events and prevent people from finding roads closed, especially on Sundays as people head to church. City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said the number of races on city streets would be capped at 17 a year “and if we lose one of the 17, there will be a question of whether we let someone substitute in.”

Last year’s half-marathon was largely on state property, and the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation resisted a repeat for 2018, so the “organizers had to look at other options,” Barr said.

Attempt at 2018

A proposal to again run mostly on Cambridge streets, with a small section of the course again in Belmont, was turned down. “We determined that we cannot accommodate the race occurring mainly on Cambridge streets because of the resources required and the disruption to local neighborhoods. We indicated that we are not comfortable with a race that has more than five course-miles on Cambridge streets,” Barr said.

“Our revised road race policy and the policy order from councillor Simmons arose from the same set of concerns about road races,” Barr said. “I don’t think either one caused the other one.”

From the state’s perspective, it faced a route proposal for 2018 that would have needed sign-offs from officials in Cambridge, Boston, Watertown, the state Department of Transportation and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, DCR and public safety personnel, said Troy Wall, director of communications for the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The route raised concerns from public safety officials, medical personnel and DCR staff about impacts on traffic, inaccessibility to state parkland for nonparticipants and route conditions for runners such as uneven surfaces and narrow paths.

But the state did not decline a request to host the run, just asked for a different proposed route, Wall said. After Boston said it could not accommodate the its part of the route, “the DCR was informed that the organizers were going to regroup and figure out next steps,” Wall said. “The agency did not receive any new proposed routes from event organizers in writing.”

O’Connor declined to comment for this story, and the route for a 2019 half-marathon hasn’t been made public.