Running Before You Can Walk

01 Nov

south ferry subway station

Most likely it will be some time before the full effect of Hurricane Sandy is known. It’s been over 48 hours since the hurricane hit and what we do know is that it was as bad as predicted. What could not be predicted was the unprecedented damage to infrastructure. Residents of Zone A (which includes all five boroughs) have not been allowed to return to their homes. Power is still off below 34th street in Manhattan and across all boroughs. NYC schools will be closed all week. The subways will start running (in a limited fashion) this morning while some stations are still being pumped out. There are sections of New York City (and certainly New Jersey) that are simply gone. Hospitals are still being evacuated. Human lives have been lost.

Yet the decision has been made to hold a marathon across these five boroughs in 72 hours. The NYC marathon is a huge event and brings money, tourists and international attention to the city. It draws resources, particularly those of first responders and congests traffic and walkways. No doubt many of the runners had flown in (to train on American soil) before the hurricane hit. The airports are slowly opening again, so perhaps the remaining can still get here. Those hotels not filled with evacuees, hospital, city and media staff are probably open. But for the love of decency is this really the time to have such a spectacle?

The runners start their journey on Staten Island which might just be the hardest hit area of the city. The ferry is still not running and the south ferry subway station is probably still under water. Even if they all can get there, should they? People have lost everything and are living (in the cold) without power or telephones. How will they feel seeing police and firefighters shepherding elite (and amateur) runners past their devastated homes? Will there be thousands of spectators offering cups of water to runners throughout the boroughs? Where will the water come from? Will it be trucked in and labeled “for runners only?”

High Occupancy Vehicle rules are in effect for the bridges and tunnels into Manhattan. Drivers (perhaps without access to electricity and/or information) will be turned away if there are not 3 people in the car. This restriction is necessary as without full subway service it is next to impossible to move through the streets of Manhattan. (The reason the President of the United States did not just bop on over from his visit with New Jersey is that he would have had to been airlifted into Manhattan. There are no spare traffic lanes for emergency vehicles let alone a motorcade.) But by all means, bring in more people and close streets for the runners.

The runners finish in Central Park, no doubt that section was given first priority in the clean-up efforts. Scaffolding and bleachers need to be built for the marathon. Parks employees and firefighters are needed to create that structure. It has been suggested (by non-city dwellers) that the marathon is a “sign of recovery” or a “welcome diversion.” Perhaps from a bird’s eye view this is the case. But down here in the decimated nest it feels terribly insensitive and disrespectful.


Posted by on November 1, 2012 in Cultural Critique


Tags: , , , ,

6 responses to “Running Before You Can Walk

  1. Andy Crocker (@abcrocker)

    November 2, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    It occurs to me, a native of the Great State of Louisiana (another storm-prone area) that “return to normalcy” includes electricity, food and gasoline….then public spectacles.

    • brendatobias

      November 2, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      I think that deafening sound is all of the tri-state area saying “AMEN”

  2. Jen Pippin

    November 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Well – cancelled. Nice. There goes all that money. I’m still happy to say my sister is staying anyway – to do whatever she can. All this after I found out that even one of my friends who lost her entire house, their car, everything, out on Long Island, had decided she was going to run anyway. This really sucks for people like her who said it was the only bright thing to look forward to in an otherwise nightmarish-looking future. Such a shame no matter HOW you view it, I would say.

    • brendatobias

      November 2, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      The decision to cancel came about an hour after the PBA issued a press release regarding their opposition to the marathon being held on Sunday. This was after sanitation workers and firefighters expressed their concern earlier in the day. It’s unfortunate that the decision was not made earlier in the week and saved people the trip/expense. Canceling earlier also might have provided an opportunity to use the Javitz Center as a staging area (vs a registration area) and perhaps found creative clean-up and rescue efforts with ING and Road Runner volunteers and employees.

  3. Jen Pippin

    November 2, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I’ll say to you the same thing I said to someone else about this. Being from Florida and having lived thru many hurricanes and having seen my parents house destroyed completely during Charlie a few years ago, YES – distraction, however fleeting, from the destruction and pain would have been welcome and we would have been the first ones out on the street in front of their house, clearing the way for the runners if we’d been lucky enough to have such a prestigious race coming thru our little ole ‘burg of a town! And if you have been listening to the commentary on the event – they have cancelled everything associated with the race weekend except the marathon. If it speeds up recovery in some areas, preparing for the race, why would you fault that? I bet the people along those routes won’t. And they are using outside resources so as NOT to pull so many city workers from the recovery efforts. Yes, there will still be some that are needed, but not nearly the number they would normally use. Think of all the revenue this will attract for your city. My sister, who has been training and training and saving every dime for quite a while to have the honor of running this race, is staying a few extra days with family who lives on the coast of NJ (and were very narrowly spared), just so she can assist with recovery in any way she can. DO you seriously think there aren’t many of these runners who plan to do the same? Would you turn that help away too? I’ve lived thru this same kind of thing personally, so my perspective is NOT from a birds eye view. I understand this is something “new” for you up there, but trust me, it makes it easier when you see life starting to inch back to some sort of normalcy as soon as possible in the wake of something catastrophic like this. Take it as a positive step forward.

    • brendatobias

      November 2, 2012 at 11:35 am

      I agree that a return to normalcy is greatly anticipated. But a marathon is not normal & is taking much needed resources from communities still without power, heat, food & water.


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