While thousands of athletes and spectators reveled Saturday in Santa Rosa’s newly reunified Old Courthouse Square during the inaugural running of an Ironman triathlon, many residents fumed over road closures that turned everyday trips into prolonged hassles.
Despite an unprecedented effort by city officials to prepare residents and businesses for the impending impact on Santa Rosa traffic, motorists found themselves trapped by an array of closures and travel restrictions that started at 8 a.m. on a sunny weekend morning.
Many hassles occurred along the Third Street corridor west of Highway 101 but also along the Ironman’s 56-mile bicycle leg from Lake Sonoma through vineyards south of Healdsburg, ending at Courthouse Square.
“It was crazy,” said Nancy Dotti of Santa Rosa, who said it took 90 minutes to return home from shopping at the farmers market at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building.
Unable to get back to her home off Fulton Road, Dotti said she ultimately parked at a shopping center on Stony Point Road and walked home.
Robbie Cream said it took almost an hour to get from Highway 12 to his home on West Third Street — usually done in five minutes — with his wife and an unhappy baby in the car.
“Ridiculous,” he said, asserting that Courthouse Square is a poor location for such an event “when people are hustling and bustling all day long.”
Arthur Hills said he was stuck on Third Street for 45 minutes creeping six blocks east to Stony Point Road en route to lunch.
“It’s never been like this before,” Hills said. Run the Ironman route through East Santa Rosa, he suggested, “and see how they like it.”
For residents, as well as city officials and Ironman organizers who jointly planned it, Saturday’s event was like opening night for a stage play.
Windsor High School was the hub of the event, held for years under the Vineman banner until Ironman purchased it in 2015 and relocated the event to Courthouse Square this year, marking the start of a five-year, 10-race contract with the city.
The Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce estimated Saturday’s 70.3-mile race, combined with the full 140.6-mile Ironman in July, would bring $14 million in spending to Sonoma County.
Some critics said the city was in it for the money, overlooking the social impact on residents from an event that attracted about 2,800 endurance athletes from 41 states and 26 nations.
Raissa de la Rosa, the city’s economic development manager, said sold-out hotels and busy restaurants during the race week generated “a phenomenal infusion into our local economy over a short period of time.”
The accompanying tax revenue helps pay for city and county services, she said.
“It’s unfortunate that there were some people who were dramatically affected,” de la Rosa said, noting that city officials are already engaged in an assessment of the event.
“We still have to look at lessons learned,” she said.
Race director Dave Reid acknowledged there were “some issues along the route,” attributing them largely to the change in venue.
“It’s a new event,” he said, noting that residents will, over time, make adjustments to deal with it. More public education will likely lead to less discomfort, he said.