Although marathons and races in The Woodlands attract large numbers of residents and visitors alike, the street closures and heavy traffic that accompany the events are met with mixed reviews from business owners and residents.
On May 16 the Ironman North American Championship race returns to The Woodlands with nearly 3,000 competitors and about 18,000 visitors from around the country and the world expected for the event.
The finish line will be in the Waterway Square district, according to race course maps.
“This subject [of street closures] has come up over and over again from residents,” township director Mike Bass said. “[The township is] still trying to find a solution. The issue is that there are multiple events happening all in the same area.”
The Woodlands hosts six major marathons and races each year. Events range from the Ironman triathlon and The Woodlands Marathon to the Memorial Hermann 10 For Texas race and the Muddy Trails Bash.
The township is responsible for organizing all of the marathons and races that are held in the community, with the exception of Ironman and The Woodlands Marathon, in which the township acts as a sponsor, said John Powers, assistant general manager of community services for the township.
Powers said race preparations are an extensive process that combines the efforts of local law enforcement, the Montgomery County Precinct 3 commissioner’s office and the township.
“The race director lays out the course, and it is reviewed by law enforcement and the county engineer,” Powers said. “That’s how lane closures are approved, and we provide input on those decisions.”
Willy Fowlkes, a race director for The Woodlands Marathon, said when planning road closures and traffic plans, officials try to determine how they can make road closures as convenient as possible for drivers and residents in and around The Woodlands, especially with major races.
The Woodlands Marathon is the biggest marathon in Montgomery County, with 7,500 to 8,500 participants annually.
“Being a resident myself, I look at the residential and commuter impact,” Fowlkes said. “We try to be very organized and try to provide people [with] information about where they need to go.”
The main thoroughfares in The Woodlands affected by the larger races such as Ironman, The Woodlands Marathon and the Memorial Hermann 10 For Texas race are Lake Woodlands Drive, Woodlands Parkway, Waterway Avenue and roads around Market Street, according to several of the race course maps.
The Waterway Square district is a start and end point for The Woodlands Marathon as well as the finishing line for Ironman.
Although Waterway Square and surrounding areas experience heavy traffic and street closures due to racing events, some business owners said the ongoing events help with business rather than stifle it.
Howard Klekmen, manager of the franchise sandwich shop Which Wich in Waterway Square, said the marathons and races bring an increase in business.
“It brings more people in here, we’re more than happy with the races,” Klekmen said. “There’s been no problem in the past five years, and I think [business has] been running fine.”
Powers said races and marathons that take place in The Woodlands bring in significant economic revenue. In economic analyses study completed four years ago, the township determined the Ironman race brought in $14 million in estimated revenue.
That amount included hotel night stays and retail and restaurant sales. The Woodlands Marathon brought in $6 million as well, according to the township.
Although economic impact studies will not be conducted by the township for this year’s races and marathons, Powers said the township is planning to conduct more analyses on next year’s events for a better determination on the economic impact on the community.
Glenn Johnson, manager of América’s restaurant on Waterway Avenue, said although races like the Ironman can cause traffic delays due to street closures, they still act as a positive influence on business.
“During Ironman we absolutely see an increase in customers,” Johnson said. “While the street closures are not ideal, the business sales supersede that.”
However, other business owners located along Lake Woodlands Drive and Woodlands Parkway disagree.
Daniel Romero, owner of Elite Beauty on Lake Woodlands Drive, said when races occur in The Woodlands the lane closure makes it hard to travel around the community, especially to and from his salon.
“We can’t get to the salon, and I don’t understand why they make you take ridiculous detours,” Romero said. “There are plenty of other places to have these races elsewhere. I think this is affecting other business owners as well—this whole area is being impacted.”
Residents living in proximity to streets that are used for races and marathons have also experienced inconveniences.
Everett Ison, president of the Panther Creek Village Association, said he has heard of Panther Creek residents complaining about road closures in the area, especially the persistent closures of Lake Woodlands Drive.
“The problem is that they tend to close the whole eastbound side of Lake Woodlands Drive,” Ison said. “A lot of residents were asking ‘Why not just have one lane closed instead of the whole eastbound side?’”
Ison said if traffic were controlled better and more lanes were opened, the problem of stagnant mobility could be alleviated.
The township is considering a variety of options that could make races and marathons in The Woodlands have less of an effect on the lives of residents.
Powers said race directors and local officials are looking to improve race routes, signage and signals. In addition possible construction of new roads in the community would also pave the way for new routes in the future.
“New roads give options to new routes—it spreads the pain,” he said. “The township takes an active role in planning [routes], and [the board of directors] go above and beyond in planning and are sensitive to the impact on residents. Each year, we talk about what changes can be made.”
Bass said the township is also looking at changing the timing of races, so that larger races, such as Ironman and the CB&I Triathlon, do not occur within weeks of each other.
“Reducing the frequency of races, increasing the intervals between races and reducing the overloads on particular park areas are all options we’d like to consider when looking at races in the future,” Bass said.