For the past 28 years, the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship has brought the Manayunk community together in cheers while boosting business for some local restaurants and retailers. The race has also become known for the large party crowds it draws along Main Street and up the hills of Manayunk.
Kevin Smith, president of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council and a member of the Roxborough-Manayunk Bike Race Coalition, watched over the years as the race grew rowdier in Manayunk. Many residents were planning trips out of town each year on bike race weekend to avoid the potential fist fights and public intoxication near their homes.
“It got to the point that they needed to do something or stop the race,” said Smith. “Two years ago was the first year we worked with city officials such as police and city agencies like Licenses and Inspections about enforcing banners and signs about liquor and liquor control.”
One of the original members of the Roxborough-Manayunk Bike Race Committee, Keith Newman, said he could relate to restaurant owners wanting to close their businesses on bike race day since it’s something he and other homeowners express concern about on a weekly basis.
“Many business owners close on the day of the bike race due to drunken behavior, when we homeowners have been complaining about the same behavior as being routine on Thursday through Sunday nights,” Newman said.
Bringing it back to a family-friendly event
Newman’s committee has three factions when it comes to the bike race: one group wanted it to go, one group wanted it to stay as it was, and one group wanted it to work for the community.
Newman is a part of the group that wanted the race to be a family-friendly event again that “does for the business community the same thing the Susan G. Komen event does for the entire city.”
Newman says the race has become a way to bring people to Philadelphia.
“I know firsthand people do not travel here because Philadelphia, unlike Boston, is considered unsafe,” said Newman. “Philadelphia is not a place where families can bring children. That is the reputation we have and that must change to make Philadelphia a true tourist destination.”
Newman said the first step in changing the city’s reputation is having a well-organized and friendly bike race.
One way his committee dealt with the issues the bike race brought was by putting together a compilation of YouTube videos demonstrating the negative behavior the race brought in the past.
“To say [race organizers] were shocked is like saying [Mt.] Everest is a hill,” said Newman. “The truth is the bike race organizers were cooperative from the get-go. I think their willingness and the Manayunk Neighborhoods Council’s willingness convinced a lot of neighbors that we could make a change.”
‘It’s a pride thing’
Maureen Hannigan, a Manayunk resident, said she invites people from out of town to watch the race each year because “it’s a pride thing.”
“I think it’s a positive thing, but I know people complain about the parties,” said Hannigan. “We usually walk down for the race earlier in the day and the partying doesn’t start until four or five in the afternoon.”
Michael Haggerty has lived in Manayunk for 48 years and finds the race to be something fun to look forward to each year.
“It’s all people from out of the neighborhood that come here, it brings revenue for us and I really like it,” said Haggerty. “At times I guess it does get out of hand but it hasn’t lately. It has been pretty well-managed.”
Keeping up the Coalition’s momentum
For the first time in 28 years, the bike race is under new management after the Pro Cycling Tour declared it would not host a 2013 race in Philadelphia. Thanks to Congressman Bob Brady, local businesses and community leaders, the 2013 race, now called the Philly Cycling Classic, will go on. Plymouth Meeting-based lender New Penn Financial was recently announced as the event’s first sponsor.
As the race takes on its new face, Smith hopes local party-curbing efforts are not undone.
“Our key thing is that we don’t want to lose on our progress we have made in the past few years,” said Smith. “So it kind of comes down once we find out if the race is on, where it is going to go. We had some preliminary conversations with state Rep. Pam Delissio and the Councilman’s office but now we are waiting on some more concrete declarations of when the race is.”
Smith says the date had been set for June 2, but organizers are still waiting on the city’s approval of the event.
“They need some sort of confirmation soon,” said Smith, “or you are going to lose that window and people are going to start planning other things.”
Joseph Van Dusen and Alexis Wilkinson are students at Temple University. This piece was produced for Temple’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab in collaboration with WHYY/NewsWorks.