Bike Court in Manayunk this weekend to curb rowdy crowds

Jane Lipton of the Manayunk Development Corp., race committee chairman Don Simon (center), and neighborhood leader Kevin Smith appear before reporters. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Jane Lipton of the Manayunk Development Corp., race committee chairman Don Simon (center), and neighborhood leader Kevin Smith appear before reporters. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 31, 2012

Lauren Cody, a 21-year-old senior at St. Joseph’s University, recently moved to a house along "The Wall" in Manayunk. She’s looking forward to the storied Philadelphia International Cycling Championship that will occupy Lyceum Avenue this weekend, but, she said, holding a flier from the Philadelphia Police Department, she’s been warned against any unruly behavior.

Like last year, city officials and community representatives will enforce a zero-tolerance policy for rowdy behavior the weekend of the race, which often sparks a four-day celebration leading up to the Sunday event. Instead, they said at a news conference Tuesday, they want to return the race to a family-friendly event. Officials cautioned would-be spectators to "drink responsibly" and announced that Bike Court would be in session beginning Friday night to handle arrests.

"We’re welcoming families back to the racecourse," said Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corporation. She held up a sign that read that no cans or bottles would be permitted along the racecourse in Manayunk. Lipton later said it was to deter glass beer bottles that break and become a hazard to the cyclists and spectators.

The Manayunk/Roxborough Bike Race Committee, with representatives from several civic associations and development corporations, began meeting in September 2010, after that year’s race brought community concerns to the forefront. Crowds of up to 40,000 to 50,000 gather in Manayunk, Lipton said.

"This race is really hard on the neighbors," she said. "The [2010] race was pretty rough, it was out of control ... they were almost to the point where they were saying, ‘We can’t have the race continue if it’s going to continue in this fashion.’?"

Residents’ anecdotes from past years include people sliding on mattresses down Lyceum Avenue and others mistakenly trying to enter houses where parties were believed to be held. Underage drinking, public urination, and out-of-control house parties have been issues associated with the race.

Representing Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., spokeswoman Michelle Wilson said a Bike Court would be implemented beginning Friday night at the Fifth District police headquarters on Ridge Avenue. The court could continue through the weekend if needed.

Unlike a regular Nuisance Court, the Bike Court will deal specifically with citations stemming from the bike competition.

The race, now in its 28th year, has aggravated some longtime community members, who say the event is "more booze than bikes."

"It’s not something I look forward to anymore," Theresa M. Mallen, 86, said. "I don’t leave the house because then I find things tossed in the backyard."

Mallen said that police patrolling during last year’s race helped keep the crowds under control. Other longtime residents said the city has succeeded in adequately cleaning trash after the race.

Lt. Michael Payne of the Fifth Police District said both uniformed and plainclothes officers would be in full force this weekend.

Don Simon, chairman of the Manayunk/Roxborough Bike Race Committee, said he recognized that a culture surrounding the race that built up during several years won’t "go away in one season."

Simon spoke of a binge-drinking culture promoted among twentysomethings and linked that to student renters in the neighborhood.

"We have a significant increase in rentals in Manayunk, mostly by young people, and especially a lot of student rentals, so I think that’s part of what’s contributed to the general culture," Simon said.

While some businesses were cited last year for serving alcohol before 11 a.m., state law has changed to allow licensed restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages at 9 a.m.

Simon said he didn’t believe the change would have a significant impact on the event.

"The beer starts arriving here keg-wise and case-wise on Friday night, so most of the problems are really out of [house parties]," Simon said.

The spectator atmosphere isn’t the only thing expected to change this year. Organizers of the race this year lowered the trips around the 14.7-mile citywide course from 10 to seven, knocking the total distance from 156 miles to 124 miles, and added an early- morning ride for amateurs.

As many residents point to a changing demographic in Manayunk that has tainted the culture of the race, some are content with simply watching the competition.

"It’s better than going to the Shore," Harry Feigel, 64, of Silverwood Street, said. "My wife hates it, though."

Contact Angelo Fichera at 215-854-4904, afichera@philly.com or @AJFichera on Twitter.

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