ST. PETERSBURG — Motorists driving downtown this weekend can expect major street closures and possible traffic delays as thousands of people gather for the city's newest road race.
More than 8,000 runners from around the country have signed up for Sunday's inaugural Rock ’n' Roll Half Marathon. The 7 a.m. race starts at Tropicana Field and snakes through downtown before ending with a free concert featuring chart-topper Flo Rida (Good Feeling) at 10 a.m. at North Shore Park between 12th and 13th avenues.
"Definitely preplan your travels Sunday morning," said police Sgt. Gary Dukeman, who is in charge of special events. "This is probably one of the biggest foot races we've had."
City officials began warning motorists weeks ago about the closings, putting giant digital signs along the route, which includes Central Avenue, First Avenue S, Fourth Street S, Third Street S, Snell Isle Boulevard, and North Shore and Bayshore drives.
Officers will begin closing those roads about 3 a.m. Sunday, Dukeman said. Roads will be reopened as the race passes, he said.
"It'll be a rolling reopening," he said. "I expect it all to be clear by 1 p.m."
Don't want to get stuck in the area during those times? Dukeman advised using 34th Street to travel north and south of downtown.
Parking also may be an issue.
Officials say those wanting to attend today's free health and fitness expo at Tropicana Field should park at surrounding lots if they don't want to pay $15 at the stadium. Residents who live along the race route also must have their cars moved by midnight Saturday night or risk being towed.
Race organizers say the St. Petersburg half marathon already has exceeded expectations.
"We've been thrilled," said Dan Cruz, spokesman for Competitor Group Inc., which organizes Rock ’n' Roll races. "We are excited about the size of this race."
Even those who organize some of the Tampa Bay area's other distance races are supportive
Susan Harmeling, race director for the Publix Super Markets Gasparilla Distance Classic Race Weekend, said the appetite for running events is strong.
The Gasparilla event, which also features a half marathon, is less than a month away. Even still, Harmeling said, organizers expect to see more than 28,000 people on March 3-4. That's even more than past races.
"Our local running community is very loyal," Harmeling said. "I think that the proof is in the pudding already — the local running community can support these two events."
Reach Kameel Stanley at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.