Monday, January 12, 2015

Cyclocross Nationals Postponement in Austin

Cyclocross world championships, scheduled yesterday in Austin TX, was initially canceled, later postponed to Monday on a "compressed schedule", nominally due to concern over root exposure on heritage trees in Zilker Park. Here's a comment I posted to a Statesman article on the matter:

The key questions are: 1. is the threat of sustained damage actual or just perceived? Cyclocross events are held in the mud world-wide. Sure, some work needs to be done afterwards, but that was anticipated when the permit was issued, and it's why fees were charged. People ASSUME exposing tree routes is a problem. Is it really? 2. Was the rain that unusual? Park officials claimed 2 inches, but the NWS showed less than an inch. By Austin standards, that's hardly rare.

Some would disagree that a permit should have been issued, but the permit WAS issued, and athletes, support, and fans made substantial sacrifices financially and time-wise to come to Austin. Sure, extreme events happen which get in the way of any outdoor event, but < 1 inch of rain is hardly rare or extreme. Unless there is the real, and not simply perceived, threat of sustained damage than you cannot simply tell them their activity is frivolous for political expediency, for the appearance that you value the trees in the park. Given the long international history of cyclocross racing, sometimes in far more extreme conditions, it's reasonable to fear that the threat in this instance was far overstated.

For many of these racers, in particular the juniors, national championships is their chance to prove themselves for later opportunities at the top level. For others it represents the culmination of months of sacrifice in training. Failing to give that proper respect is a huge disservice.

So how much rain really fell?

Here's weather station data for Zilker Park in Austin:

So 0.28 inches on Saturday and 0.10 inches on Sunday, a total of 0.38 inches. Normal rainfall in Austin for January is 2.0 inches. So this rainfall was 19% of normal for January. Is this the sort of extreme, unforeseeable precipitation, an "act of God" like earthquakes or hurricanes? Hardly. It was just a solid winter rain.

So then the question is whether the potential damage from the race was lasting, in particular to the heritage trees. Root exposure is a normal state for large trees, so it's not in itself a problem. Now I'm not going to comment on this particular case, as I'm not a horticulturist in any way. However, I'll indulge in some healthy skepticism over how much of this action was politically motivated and how much it was motivated over an actual threat.

1 comment:

Garrett Lau said...

The writer of this Velonews column did a lot of research, including contacting arborists:
http://velonews.competitor.com/2015/01/news/cyclocross/commentary-nationals-disaster_358091