Festivals and the like are typically regarded as events that unite the community through fair food, music, art, sports and an overall good time. But what about the people who live right by all the commotion? How do the festival’s noise, influx of people and cars, closed streets and the other inconveniences impact residents nearby?
Lots of advance planning
When groups decide to sponsor a community event in Seattle, they go through the Special Events Committee under the city’s Office of Economic Development. The committee acts as a “funnel” that event organizers work through, explained program manager and committee chair Chris Swenson.
Each year, groups must reapply for their permits and applications. Large events typically need at least 90 days, but for big, annual events, planners begin meeting with the office as soon as that year’s event is done, and the real planning begins about six months in advance.
Not all events are considered big; the main factor for that designation is neighborhood impact, Swenson said.
Most events need a traffic-control plan and street-use permit through the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). If an event is in a park, it will need a permit from Seattle Parks and Recreation. Sometimes, the fire marshal will need to issue a permit for special activities. And often, events need noise-variance permits.
Fees and permit costs are set based on a city ordinance that scales based on the number of attendees and whether there’s an event cost.
The Special Events Committee has about 25 people from different departments and agencies. The committee vets applications before they are reviewed for approval. Multi-day events face more scrutiny as they typically impact the neighborhood more, Swenson said.
Seattle has a somewhat unique situation because it is landlocked — with no room to put events in the suburbs — and it only has a few good weather months each year, Swenson said. Of the 400 events the committee approves each year, about 300 take place during the summer months. Because of this, more and more of the neighborhood complaints it’s receiving are more focused on “neighborhood fatigue” versus specific traffic impacts or noise complaints.
In the last year, the Special Events Committee has been working on better ways to notify residents of upcoming events. The amount of notification depends on the amount of neighborhood impact. Some cases require direct notification and sign-offs, while most include media notification, canvassing and working with local groups to get the word out. When there are traffic impacts, SDOT includes them in its media releases.
For traffic impacts, SDOT reviews the events to see what the impact will be on the neighborhood. This includes the influx of traffic and the residents who will be displaced by parked cars.
In some cases organizers are required to shuttle attendees into the neighborhood because it can’t handle large numbers of cars. New traffic options like light rail will be considered in future planning. Alternative transit, like public transportation and biking, are usually encouraged.
The Shore Run/Walk is a fundraising event for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center held every summer for the last 37 years. This year’s event, which took place on June 8, brought 3,000 total spectators and participants to the area.
The route has pretty much stayed the same over the years, running from Seward Park over to Madison Park for the 10K (6.2 miles) run/walk, and Leschi Park to Madison Park for the 5K (3 miles) — both running mostly along Lake Washington Boulevard.
Jeff Orswell, president of Orswell Events, plans and manages the Shore Run/Walk. He said planning begins about six to eight months in advance, with the submission of the necessary permits for park use, road closure, tents and sound systems.
To manage the influx of people arriving for the event, the Seattle Police Department and volunteer course marshals direct traffic entering the neighborhoods during the race.
Because the route has stayed the same for so many years, residents in the area are familiar with the event and everything that comes with it; nevertheless, Orswell mails event notifications to residents and businesses along the course and up to two blocks off of it.
Orswell said he receives about two or three phone calls a year from residents who are mostly concerned about the traffic-control plan: “It’s been the same sign in the same spot in the same intersection [every year], and it’s only when someone makes a mistake or for some reason it changes, a resident will contact us.”
Outgoing Madison Park Community Council president Gene Brandzel said the only downside of the Shore Run is it occupies the whole area by the beach for a good part of the morning and the early afternoon. The event begins setting up the day before, at different start and finish locations. Roads close at 7:30 a.m. the day of the event and reopen immediately after the final participant crosses the finish line, as late as 9:30 a.m.
However, “I think that the community is generally proud that the Shore Run is centered here and the community is participating in a wonderful cause,” Brandzel said.
Alice Lanczos has lived near the Shore Run and other events in Madison Park for more than 40 years. She said that she is not affected by the commotion, aside from having fewer parking spaces, which has become much more of an issue recently.
“I would not say that it is a huge detriment to have the festivals,” she said. “I think those types of things add to the community.”
Orswell said he recognizes that special events like the Shore Run/Walk make for inconvenient road closures: “We try really hard on our end to try to minimize our impact on residents and neighborhoods as much as possible, and we work with the city to do so. We are grateful and appreciative of people’s support and recognizing that this event is here to raise money for good causes.”
Madison Valley will host its third-annual Bastille Bash on July 12, from 3 to 8 p.m. To promote the neighborhood as a European village, the event features French-inspired food, wine tasting, live music, dancing, mimes, street actors and more.
More than 3,000 people converge on Madison Valley to commemorate the storming of the Bastille, which started the French Revolution. The Bastille Bash takes over East Madison Street, from Street from 27th to 30th avenues East.
Planning begins in the fall, to make arrangements and logistical preparation with local businesses and the city. The set-up begins mid-morning the day of the event, which includes setting up booths, wine gardens and entertainment stages.
The Bastille Bash planning committee notifies residents and business owners via the neighborhood website and social media sites, as well as advertisements in local newspapers and magazines. The city also requires that event organizers distribute paper notifications to residents, which are sent out a few days before the festival.
During the event, the main street does not completely close to vehicle traffic. Several side streets are closed from 1 to 9 p.m., and there is limited parking along Madison Street.
Madison Valley Community Council president Lindy Wishard said, “Ultimately, we would like to close East Madison Street itself, but we are not quite there yet.”
Both Wishard and event publicist Lauren Fior said that traffic and parking have not been significant issues over the last two years. Parking is available in the Washington Park Arboretum, near the soccer field and in the residential area to the south of Madison Street. Still, Fior recommends that people either carpool or use alternative transportation to the event.
For the most part, the festival has been really well-received, Fior said: “It’s a really great way for [people] to come together…and also just have something that is special for that area.”
For the sixth consecutive year, the Central Area Senior Center (500 30th Ave. S.) will host a Seafair community party to watch the hydroplane races and Blue Angels, on Aug. 3. About 150 to 200 people are anticipated at this year’s Seafair Patio Party.
Interim director Dian Ferguson immediately started planning for the event when she took over on May 1. She coordinated with the Leschi and Madrona community councils, local businesses and nonprofit organizations and continues to hold weekly planning meetings.
One issue that the planning committee has focused on is traffic and parking. To manage the influx of people and the resulting parking issues, the center will use a shuttle system: People will be encouraged to park at designated local churches and then either walk or shuttle to the center.
To notify the residents and community members of the Patio Party, Ferguson advertises in local papers and online on the center’s website and sends out flyers and email alerts to the center’s large mailing list.
Mary Fields, chair of the planning committee, said that the party is a great alternative from being on the beach to watch the Seafair races. “It’s an activity you can bring your kids to, to enjoy the Blue Angels and to interact with people in the community.”
To comment on this story, write to MPTimes@nwlink.com.