I had looked for a town to be the perfect home for my triathlon and found it. The hot desert sun beat down on the police department’s windows. A seasoned, steely-eyed chief sat across the table from me and patiently explained how public safety was affected by my request. The papers in our contract fluttered under the ceiling fans as we talked about traffic control for the triathlon I was organizing.
An officer cost me $40 per hour. A squad car was a flat $250 fee for the day. A certain number of officers and a car had to be at each intersection, and that did not include the cost of renting and placing traffic-control signs. In all, I estimated that each major intersection cost at least $1,000 for a 3-hour event. In many places, the costs are far greater.
As an event organizer producing footraces and triathlons, hiring appropriate traffic control was the longest, most painful, and logistically one of the most important things for each event. And it was always the most costly line-item in my event budget.
Those costs are not something any city I worked with ever covered. Logically, I could not expect their taxpayers to foot the bill for my special-events request, even though each community could see an economic benefit.
Thinking about the Cache Valley Cruise-In parade, a $10,000 traffic-control estimate seems a little low to me. I’m surprised that Main Street can be completely shut down for so little.
One of the things I learned during my time as a race director was why it’s so expensive to change traffic flow. I also learned why we can’t use volunteers instead of uniformed officers to save money.
To start with, officers are trained professionals who deal with people, traffic and crashes. First responders should be on hand whenever traffic changes from the norm because accidents will happen. Having trained pros on hand is a must.
Volunteers lack training and the power of the law. There’s no punishment for a driver who ignores a guy in an orange vest. To illustrate, Saturday morning I participated in a triathlon at Logan Aquatics Center. Most of the traffic control was handled by volunteers. As I was returning from the bike course to the transition area, a truck rolled past orange traffic cones and a flag-waving, orange-vested volunteer. If I had not chosen to break, even though I had the right of way, I would have been hit.
The driver didn’t care to obey the volunteer, respect the traffic cones, or wait for me because the volunteer didn’t have a badge. When an officer is monitoring an intersection, drivers react differently.
Insurance is another necessity when dealing with traffic. Using civilians in traffic situations puts them at risk. That’s a risk most civilians aren’t covered for in the event of an accident. Police departments have insurance that covers officers in case of accident costs and injuries incurred in the line of duty.
Training, experience, and insurance have value. That protection costs money. There is no such thing as a free event that uses uniformed officers. If the event directors are not paying, the taxpayer is.
So, I sympathize with the Cache Valley Cruise-In Association, but municipalities answer to taxpayers and have budgets to balance. In the end, I had to figure out how to finance traffic-control costs through my event budget or make a change in venue.
For the organizers of the Cruise-In and anybody else interested in hosting a parade, I’d like to toss out a few suggestions.
Carefully plan a route to interfere with the least amount of traffic possible. Avoiding major roads and using right turns in a loop were easy ways for me to save money. Maximum traffic disruption is very costly and it is a safety hazard.
Adding revenue to cover traffic costs is also a must. Parade-specific community sponsors and vendors would help. When there is an economic incentive, businesses will contribute to the event. The Cruise-In activities at the fairgrounds have sponsors. If the parade is economically important, the parade can gain sponsors as well. CVCA has this figured out for the fairgrounds activities and they do a great job.
Participant fees would help keep the parade as well. Considering that participants pay out of pocket to attend the Cruise-In each year, a traffic-control fee for parade participation is reasonable. If an additional $12 fee for traffic control were asked of each of the 900 vehicles participating in the Cruise-In parade this year, the traffic control cost would be paid for even with the current route. If the route were adjusted to minimize cost, the fee could be far less per participant and still keep a lively parade.
Finally, if I couldn’t make the balance sheet work out, I’d considered moving the event to a more budget-friendly home. After all, with participants driving cars from all over the country to come, what’s driving another 10 minutes to the parade route?
In short, there are lots of reasons the Cruise-In parade is a wonderful thing for our community. And there is also a cost to pay. With some route flexibility and creative financing, the parade could go forward. That said, CVCA has great volunteers that work hard as it is. Those who want to keep the parade might consider volunteering their time to make sure the event can happen again or offer up their town as a perfect new home for the Cruise-In parade.
Note: I reached out to CVCA via email for comment, but have not yet received a response.