June 9, 2007

The Future of the New York Road Runners

I went to the Women's Mini 10K today as a volunteer. I saw a few running and blogger friends before the race and saw one after the race, who looked quite distressed, but admitted she'd put in a good effort. Given the heat and humidity, I think good, solid effort (rather than a new PR) are all that anyone could ask. (Except for the Mercury Master who proclaimed excitedly after crossing the finish line that she'd shaved 5 minutes off her 10K PR and that makes two weeks in a row she's set a personal best.)

Anyway, it was a good experience, volunteering. In the first half of the race, I stood at 86th street and, along with police, generally kept idiots from doing what idiots are wont to do. This was a great chance to see the very fastest runners just after the first mile of the race, once they've found their stride. The second half of the race, I stood in the finishing corral area and directed runners to go get their chips clipped, which frankly was not their first inclination - everyone wanted WATER. I don't blame them. Except the water was out the corrals and out the side. Bad placement, frankly. The water and food should have been immediately after the chip-clipping. Period.

Several people thanked me for volunteering. It was no big deal; I wasn't going to run in this humidity anyhow, even if I could have joined the race. But something has to be done about the layouts of the finish.

This brings me to the subject du jour: communicating with the higher-ups. It is generally the feeling that NYRR members have little or no input into the organization as a whole. For some time now, NYRR has been a social club on paper only, having transitioned to a corporate structure long ago, currently having as it's public figurehead Mary Wittenburg. (I saw Ms. Wittenburg speak today at the volunteer's brunch; her thank-you speech could have been much, much shorter, but it is her style to sort of ramble out her speeches. I hope she gets better at it.)

As a larger organization, there's a structure to the responsibilities and who executes them that is nearly impenetrable. This is not to say that it doesn't do what it does very well - few organizations run races so well - a particular achievement considering that NYRR stages 55 races per year, including one of the world's biggest marathons.

But, the average member has no clue how to drop a note in the suggestion box, so to speak. But there are board meetings and there are meetings members may attend and vote on whatever topics are up for such a vote.

My concerns about NYRR rank somewhat higher than finishing area layouts, sometimes. For instance, I am concerned about two things right now: a) that runners are perpetually in danger when running the streets and sidewalks of this city because drivers do not obey the existing laws, and b) that NYRR is about to re-incorporate.

NYRR incorporated as a not-for-profit in 1979, as a type A NFPC under section 201 of the NFP Law (or L-NPC 201 as it is noted in legal texts). This means it was incorporated as a social club, primarily. The NYRR board, in reflection of its many charitable activities, wants to re-incorporate as a Type B Corporation under section 201. This means it will formally shift from being a social club to being a charity, and the change includes dropping Club once and for all from the title of the organization.

I have mixed feelings about this move; more importantly, I have a vote. AND SO DO YOU IF YOU BELONG TO NYRR. My concerns are that this will give NYRR freer license to exclude actual members from any special consideration in race entries. It's hard enough to get into the Marathon, and the Half-Marathon has no way to get in for an average runner like me except by lottery. This is something I am deeply dissatisfied with. Another concern is that it may tip the organization more in the corporate direction like other Type Bs, including inflated salaries for their board members and executives. Race fees jumped enormously this year and I wonder how much of that is going into inflated salaries rather than race support or - to bring this back to the subject at hand - charitable activities.

On the other hand, we already conduct some very concrete charitable activities and perhaps this change will support that. The races will continue and that's the bottom line for me, personally, since those races motivate me to keep running.

One more concern is NYRR's abilities to get involved politically. I've done some research and Type B corporations are disallowed from "significant" lobbying activity and disallowed from political activity altogether, or they lose their tax-exempt status. But that same research seems to indicate that lobbying the City for better enforcement of existing laws is not within the scope of the "lobbying activity" or "political activity".

I want NYRR to step up to the plate and communicate with the City on more than just the logistics level. All of our dealings with City Hall, the police, and the MTA have to do with the Marathon and other races; I think its time to look at the day-to-day accommodation that runners in this city experience - or don't. This will fit in particularly well with the mission statement that NYRR exists in part to promote public health. It is a logical extension of that to increase pedestrian, runner, and bicyclist safety on our sidewalks and streets.

So I'd love to go to the NYRR meeting, and vote for the reincorporation. (Still mixed feelings, but this is probably a good thing in general for NYRR.) I'd also like to submit new business to the board and ask for the formation of a committee that can lobby for the enforcement of existing laws (Type B NFPs may be prohibited from lobbying for new laws or changes to the law unless they meet requirements under IRC 501(h), and NYRR may very well qualify.) and to publish an opinion in support of the Mayor's congestion pricing plan (which looks like it could easily get state approval).

As for stricter laws and actual changes to existing laws, I guess I'll have to form my own Type C corp and a political action committee; something I don't have a clue how to do. But I can go to City Council meetings..... :)

As for the NYRR members meeting this June 28th, I am, unfortunately, already out of state at that time and won't be able to attend, so I'll be voting by proxy. NYRR MEMBERS, PLEASE DON'T FORGET TO VOTE AS WELL. If you must vote by proxy, either for or against, download this pdf and mail it in.

I'd like to leave you with this little tangential thought concerning congestion pricing: go for it, go for it, go for it! Despite what I'm about to quote I hereby publicly state that I am willing to pay lower-Manhattan entry fees even for motorcycles if it will reduce the traffic on our overburdened streets! Still, I love this quote from Dr. Horodniceanu, who was traffic manager for the city once, from a New York Times blog article about congestion pricing in Manhattan:

Steven A. Schwimmer: i keep hearing about car charges and truck charges - what about motorcycle?

Dr. Horodniceanu: I do not believe the city should bother with charging motorcycles and scooters. At this point, there are relatively few of them and they’re not a significant problem. Many of them provide a delivery service that, in the past, was done by cars. In fact, we should start providing on-street parking for motorcycles and scooters, as London does.

Okay, how much do I love that? Not only does he recognize that 2-wheeled vehicles aren't worth charging because there aren't currently enough of them, but that they're a benefit to reducing congestion and should actually be encouraged. Yes, yes, and yes!


runliarun said...

Did you ever think about lobbying, militating, crusading for something? You have your facts together.

Little Blue PD said...

We all have to wonder what Bloomberg is really thinking of with this congestion pricing tax scheme. Maybe he mostly just wants a new tax. Just wrap it up in 'concern for the environment', and people can just demonize those who oppose it.

If he cares so much about traffic jams, congestion and air pollution, why does he let Park Avenue be blocked off? Why doesn't he do anything about that?

Pershing Square Restaurant blocks Park Avenue going South at 42nd St. for 12 hours a day/6 months of the year! This Causes Massive Congestion & Air Pollution!

But apparently it does not bother NYC's Nanny-in-Chief Mike "Congestion Pricing Tax" Bloomberg? Check out the map!


Check it out!


Little Blue PD