Organizers of the 2003 Washington D.C. Marathon plan to hold it on Sunday morning, March 23, despite objections from some church groups which had asked that the race not be run again during a prime worship time.
But in the plans they submitted to city officials Friday, organizers altered the route so that participants will not pass by as many churches as they did in this spring's inaugural D.C. Marathon. The race's sponsor also emphasized that, unlike this year's marathon, the 2003 event will not take place on Palm Sunday.
Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, had asked that the race be moved to a time when it would not disrupt religious services.
"My organization believes that 26 miles of D.C. streets should not be closed during primary worship times, be it Jewish, Christian or others," Lynch said. "Rather, the city could look to Boston's example, which starts its marathon at noon on a state holiday."
Vicki Bendure, a spokeswoman for H2O Entertainment Group Inc. of Arlington, which organizes the D.C. Marathon, said most marathons are held on Sundays to accommodate out-of-town participants.
But the marathon "will never be on Palm Sunday again," Bendure added. The new route avoids the Logan Circle area and 13th Street NW, crossing it only once, at Massachusetts Avenue. As a result, participants will pass 13 churches, compared with 24 this year, Bendure said.
Bendure and Peter G. LaPorte, the District's emergency management director, stressed that the proposed route has not been formally approved. D.C. police and transportation officials have until Tuesday to raise concerns about traffic or other matters, LaPorte said.
"It was a good meeting in all aspects," LaPorte said of the session held with organizers Friday. "We asked [H2O officials] to look at their route, and they did. At first blush, they did a pretty good job at lessening the impact on major arteries as well as on churches."
The race, which drew 6,800 participants for its inaugural run, is heavily endorsed by city officials as a way to burnish Washington's image as a sports venue. "We want to be a major sporting city," LaPorte said.
Bendure said that H2O hopes to attract 10,000 to 12,000 participants next year and that 3,000 people have registered.
Some downtown churches were strongly affected by the first marathon, which coincided with opening ceremonies for the Cherry Blossom Festival, a major tourist attraction. Street closings along the route and traffic tie-ups prevented many worshipers from reaching Palm Sunday services, which start the holiest week of the Christian year.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who was criticized for not consulting the faith community when the event was organized, publicly apologized for the inconveniences to churchgoers.
The mayor's special adviser on religious affairs, the Rev. Carlton N. Pressley, attended Friday's meeting, which also included city police, fire and transportation officials. Pressley did not return telephone messages.
Bendure said the race will begin at 7:30 a.m., as it did last year, but on the western side of the Lincoln Memorial rather than in the middle of the Arlington Memorial Bridge. The closed streets will reopen by 1:30 p.m. at the latest, with many opening earlier. The bridge will reopen as soon as every participant has left the starting line.
H2O, which owed the D.C. police department $83,000 for its services during this year's race, has been paying that bill in installments, Bendure said. It has paid $50,000 and is to pay the final $33,000 by the end of December, she added.