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Rick's Corner

Duniway Congestion (or what to do when the track is full of kids)

You don’t have to have spent much time in serious speed training to discover that come spring, your favorite high-school track is suddenly full of kids—or even shut down for a track meet.

Although the Lizards’ training field at Duniway Park has never been shut down for a meet as long as I’ve been there, it too can be pulled into service for such uses, even though it’s a city park and not associated with a school.

In Portland, the process by which this is done is called a special use permit, and it’s pretty much the same process by which anything from races to concerts and art shows rent space elsewhere.

At Duniway, one group that has a long-standing special use permit is St. Mary’s Academy, which, having no track of its own reserves room for high school training. Another group with a permit is Girls on the Run, which trains grade school girls to complete the Starlight Run 5K.

Superficially, these permits are very simple. St. Mary’s has lanes 1-6 reserved from 3-6 pm, weekdays, throughout the high school season. Girls on the Run holds lanes 7 and 8 from 5:00 to 6:30.

When you dig deeper, though the complexities are…complex. A list of rules posted at the track, for example, requires permit holders to keep lanes 7 and 8 open to the public. Obviously, St. Mary’s can do that. But what can Girls on the Run do?

There’s also a rule against more than one special use permit at a time in any given park…though another rule allows the city to override this rule if it thinks it’s okay to do so. And there’s special category of special-use permit called a “tent permit” which may actually be what Girls on the Run has. As of this
writing, it’s not clear to me that anyone really understands how all of this fits together. Regardless of how it happened, however, Duniway is double-booked.

That said, this situation has persisted for years, largely because all the traditional users talk to each other and arrange ways to keep out of each other’s way—and because St. Mary’s reserved a lot more time than it actually needs.

This year, however, that’s been a bit more difficult because (among other things) a record turnout of 80 girls for track and field has caused St. Mary’s practices to become longer.

The single best way to handle this is by courtesy. Historically, St. Mary’s and Girls on the Run have been very accommodating about sharing their space, even though they’re not obliged to do so.

Here’s how we do it:

1. If St. Mary’s is finished with their practice, the inside six lanes are open. Historically (other than a couple of events on the infield) they have only rarely finished later than 5:30.

2. If you’re not sure whether St. Mary’s is finished, they probably aren’t. If I’m there, talk to me. If you’ve arrived ahead of me, politely ask their head coach if the lanes you want are free—but don’t bug him if he looks busy. Remember, he’s got 80 kids to deal with.

3. If in doubt, warm up off the track. The “upper” chip track is a particularly good place to go.

4. Girls on the Run has offered to share its space any time we need it. But remember, that’s only lanes 7 and 8. If you’re wanting to warm up with a big chatty group (which is a lot of fun) there won’t be enough space there. And if you do use it, be careful not to spill into lane 6 unless St. Mary’s says that’s ok.

Those sound like a bunch of “rules,” but there’s basically only one: be respectful. And one of the things I like about being associated with this group is that most of you find that very, very easy.

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