The ‘world’s steepest 5k’ was canceled — but Hell on Hills could find new footing in renewed talks with Pittsburgh officials

UPDATE: Registration has reopened — but a new date has yet to be announced.

Hell on Hills 5K
Hell on Hills / Facebook

Update, 5:15 p.m. Sept. 21

On Thursday afternoon, Hell on Hills race organizer Bethany Ruhe confirmed that her meeting with city officials had taken place at the City-County Building earlier in the day. She described the discussions as “amicable” and productive and said she is “90 percent sure” the race can be rescheduled and held before the end of the year.

Route changes remain a possibility, with the goal of limiting the number of intersections and trolley lines along it, Ruhe added. This would cut down on the number of required public safety officers and, in turn, the associated costs.

Even if the route were tweaked, the race would remain the “world’s steepest 5k,” as the inclusion of Canton Avenue remains, in her words, “a non-negotiable.”

In the meantime, registration has reopened and refunds held, though they can be requested by any runner who’s unable to make the yet-to-be-announced date.

Ruhe also updated runners here:

Original post below

Hell on Hills has frozen over.

Well, more accurately, the second annual 5K run up some of Pittsburgh’s steepest streets was cancelled this week after run organizers said the city more than doubled the number of public safety officials that the race needed to have on hand.

“We were handed a bill for over 50 public safety officials, more than twice as many as last year — 29 officers and 22 crossing guards and two EMTs. We calculated the cost at over $9,000,” organizer Bethany Ruhe told The Incline today.

Asked what the race’s budget was, Ruhe shot back, “Not $9,000!”

But with social media reaction to the cancellation mounting and following an inquiry from The Incline, the mayor’s office said this afternoon that the city’s public safety director and chief of operations would continue working with Ruhe and organizers, aiming to “resolve outstanding issues and prevent a cancellation,” spokeswoman Katie O’Malley said in an email.

Ruhe confirmed the development via phone, telling The Incline, “We’re meeting [Thursday] and working on setting up a time for that meeting now. It was part of a back and forth with the city, and Mayor Peduto said, ‘Let’s get together and work it out. There’s no need to cancel this community event.’ ”

But Hell on Hills decided earlier this week to pull the plug on the Oct. 7 race and automatically refund entry fees. At best, the race could be rescheduled before it snows, Ruhe said. While there’s no resolution yet, “a little door’s been opened,” she said.

Hours earlier today, Ruhe’s frustration had been palpable as she recounted a planning process fraught with inconsistency, municipal rigidity and often onerous expectations.

“The city needs to reconsider how it handles events like this,” Ruhe said at the time. “Peduto talks about what an innovative city we are and about bringing Google and maybe Amazon here, but you need to look at the innovations you have in your own neighborhoods already. It should not be this hard to do a community event that betters the communities in which we live. That’s the opposite of innovation.”

Council member Natalia Rudiak — whose district includes Beechview, where the run was again slated to take place this year — said earlier today that there were similar issues in 2016.

“So last year, my office paid for the public safety costs of [Hell on Hills] out of our city council office budget, because the mayor’s administration did not give an estimate for public safety costs until less than a month before the race, which didn’t give organizers enough time to fundraise,” the outgoing councilwoman said. Rudiak said she “aggressively” lobbied to make sure last year’s public safety costs were covered by the city.

This year, Rudiak said she believes the city’s Special Events Committee, which falls under the public safety department, was “specifically instructed” to cut her out of the race’s planning process, though she did not say who instructed them to do so.

The public safety department referred requests for comment back to the mayor’s office, and O’Malley said via email, “I do not have any insight on that specific issue. Councilmembers are not known to be cut out of processes, particularly when it comes to advocating for constituents and/or community events in their respective districts.”

Rudiak was not directly involved in planning this year’s 5K, but she said Ruhe’s account of the process and the city’s handling of it rings true.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak in Beechview.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak in Beechview.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline

“The city provides staffing and resources for some races and not others, and we in south Pittsburgh, who often feel neglected, don’t feel supported in this,” Rudiak said. She added, “There are inconsistent expectations between some races and others and between last year and this year. The process isn’t consistent and also isn’t done in a reasonable manner.”

Ruhe agreed, saying, “[City officials] need to work with us and not throw up roadblocks when we try to do something different.”

It appears the mayor’s office has heard them.

This race is organized almost entirely by Ruhe and one other person. She said they began talking about this year’s run with the city back in February and remained without a resolution as of this week.

Today was the last day Hell on Hills could have ordered medals for runners, leading to the cancellation, which was announced on Facebook and via email Tuesday. Refunds were being made to about 140 registrants.

Meanwhile, both Ruhe and Rudiak said there were no incidents at last year’s event and little justification given for the change in public safety requirements this year.

“All they said, basically, was that our race is unique,” Ruhe recalled of the city’s reasoning.

Indeed it is.

The race includes a climb up Canton Avenue — either the steepest street in the country or the world, depending on who you ask — and bills itself as the “world’s steepest 5K.”

“It’s been really hard emotionally to cancel this race,” she said earlier today. “But my commitment is to work with [city officials] to bring it back … And if this race gives a platform for potential change [with how the city handles similar events], then good — because that needs to happen.”

As of this evening, Ruhe said things were starting to look up.