City Denies Permit for Portland Marathon, Imperiling a 45-Year Tradition

For more than six months, Portland Police Bureau officials have been asking to meet with race organizer to come up with a new route that would require less overtime.

Portland Marathon runner (nprpdx / Flickr)

The Portland Marathon is in danger of being cancelled after city officials denied the October race a permit last week, citing a strain on police overtime hours.

The marathon, which has a 26.2-mile route stretching from the South Waterfront to the St. Johns Bridge, is currently scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. But the decision by the city imperils the 45-year tradition.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation rejected a permit for the race on Friday, June 9. The race organizers have five business days to appeal.

The race is organized by a nonprofit, Portland Marathon Inc. Last year, about 6,000 people ran in the race, and another 3,000 people ran in the half-marathon.

The Portland Police Bureau has been warning race organizers for more than six months that the route needs to change to reduce police officer overtime.

The city has been working to reduce overtime for police officers, citing staffing shortages. Part of that effort is limiting to 33 the number of police officers and sergeants assigned to private events.

The city says this year's route, the same as last year's, would require 80 officers.

In October, a letter obtained by WW shows, the police bureau asked Portland Marathon organizers to meet to discuss how to change the race's route to cut down on police time.

The city says the marathon organizers have yet to respond to their questions.

"For more than six months, the marathon organizers did not respond to the letters from the Police Bureau from October 2016 or reminders from PBOT in January of this year," says PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera.

"Those letters informed marathon organizers that we have fewer police officers available for special events this year and requested a meeting to consider options for a new route that could still meet the event's needs and the community's public safety needs."

According to Rivera, other city events—such as the Bridge Pedal and Shamrock Run—have adjusted their routes as part of limiting the need for police overtime.

Marathon officials tell WW that they are appealing to City Hall to keep their planned race route.

"We actually have been meeting and working with higher levels in the city," says race director Les Smith, "to be sure we preserve our traditional, iconic downtown course for the 5000+ out of town runners from all 50 states and over 20 countries. Of course, we will go through the various appeal steps as we await the matter to clear up."

In the days before last year's race, Portland Fire & Rescue nearly called off the race over the lack of an adequate medical plan, The Oregonian reported. And the race itself was marred by dysfunction. The first place trophy for the 26.2 mile race was awarded to the wrong person. Runners got lost and ran farther than already grueling event requires, The Oregonian reported.

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