For more than 20 years, I was a volunteer — part of the security detail — at the start/finish line of the professional bike race in Philadelphia.
The scene on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was festive: fans cheering, banners flying, the mayor and the governor in attendance. But when I cycled home to Roxborough after the race, I had to run the gauntlet of Manayunk Avenue past drunken jeers, broken glass, litter, and drunks getting in my face. Young, mostly male, clearly inebriated, they tottered beyond the edge of self-control.
Many of them had been drinking since Friday and had continued on race day, starting as early as 9 a.m. Hauling in kegs and cases, they hosted beer bash house parties in abundance. The race may have ended, but the breaking bottles and brawls continued well into the evening. It’s been like this for about 10 years.
When I came to my door, my wife Susan, who used to enjoy the race, described the out-of-control crowds on the street with open containers using the race as an excuse to drink and raise hell. Neighbors complained about brawls, underage drinking, vandalism, broken glass, drunken individuals using their property as toilets and vomiting in their yards. It was clear that the open consumption of alcohol was being tolerated and even condoned, reflective of a culture that associates drinking with sporting events.
When I was quoted in a local newspaper article that better enforcement was needed, someone else was quoted as saying enforcement was fine, everyone was “just having a good time,” and that the “Simons were an exception.”
I saw red and decided that, if we could not change the destructive culture that had become entrenched over several years, we could no longer support the race in our neighborhood. A lot of our neighbors told us we were certainly not the exception.
In 2010, we organized a committee with representatives of local civics and development corporations. We contacted local and state officials, organized meetings, met with representatives of local universities and pushed for increased enforcement resulting in significant improvement in 2011, confirmed by many of our neighbors. We know that it will take years of consistent enforcement to change a culture that has existed for several years.
Bike race weekend is a magnification of the same alcohol-fueled problems that happen in Manayunk most weekends. Roxborough, Manayunk and Wissahickon have been inundated with rentals to students and young adults, many of whom have not yet developed the maturity needed to be responsible neighbors. Ultimately we need to address the issues that will make our communities better for everyone.
Don Simon is chair of the Roxborough-Manayunk Bike Race Committee and has lived in Roxborough since 1995. On race day, the Simons will monitor the race course from Manayunk and Roxborough.