This year's race watchers turned in a civilized performance

Posted: June 04, 2012

It was a blast but fewer people this year were smashed.

The fear going into the weekend of the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship was that hundreds of revelers would turn the quaint Manayunk section of the city, where cyclers face the steepest incline and where spectators gather to cheer them on, into a mini Mardi Gras. In the past, there was rampant rowdiness and boozing, forcing residents to flee to the peace and quiet of their homes, as if from an inebriated, advancing army.

This year it didn’t turn out that way.

While the party atmosphere attending the internationally acclaimed race had none of the delicacy and reserve of, say, a cocktail party at the Union League, neither was it quite the beer-fueled bacchanal of the past.

Police and residents said incidents of public disorder, trespass and drunkenness were relatively small in number and that the event had taken on the family-friendly attributes it once was known for.

"It’s been getting better," said Capt. John Cerrone, commanding officer of the city’s Fifth police district headquarters, who was overseeing security at the race Sunday. "We want people to have a good time."

But it was clear that the police had set limits on the pursuit of happiness.

Cerrone said a special nuisance court was set up at Fifth District headquarters Friday night to cope with the anticipated inflow of arrests. In all, 22 persons were apprehended Friday on public drunkenness and disorderly conduct charges. The police concluded the situation was well enough under control, Cerrone said, that they decided to discontinue the court after Friday.

The scene along the race route Sunday was nothing if not restrained. Hundreds of students from Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Drexel universities live in Manayunk and neighboring Roxborough and many were there Sunday, beer cups in hand, to take in the race on a spectacularly beautiful morning. The word had evidently gotten out. In a robocall to households in the area, clearly aimed at students, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison advised residents that the city encouraged spectators to have a good time, but that there would be zero tolerance for public disorder.

The rules were that spectators could not sip from bottles or cans of beer along the bike route, but that it was permissible to drink from cups. Although a handful of revelers could be seen toting beer bottles, some just a few feet away from police, it appears discretion was the order of the day.

"I am actually surprised at how quiet it has been," said Tim Doolin, a senior marketing major at Saint Joseph’s, as he sipped beer from a cup on the front porch of his Roxborough house. "Last year was much more intense."

Indeed the scene was subdued as the race started Sunday morning. As dozens of top male cyclists strained at around 11:15 to reach the top of a steeply inclined section of the route along Lyceum Avenue — the dreaded Manayunk Wall — the crowd politely cheered and rang cowbells in encouragement. Residents, some of whom had complained bitterly in the past of late-night partying, noise and rowdy behavior, said that crowd conditions were much improved.

"It’s been much better this year," said Sue Quigley, 43, a crowd marshal and lifelong Manayunk resident. Quigley said that in past years the atmosphere was so out of control that she retreated to her house until the end of the race. But that wasn’t necessary this year.

Manayunk residents have a complicated and somewhat conflicted posture toward the race. Many appreciate the focus on their picturesque and trendy neighborhood, and like the idea that the race has an international profile. It’s growing popularity — the race attracts as many as 50,000 spectators — has fueled local businesses.

Yet to many of those same residents the party atmosphere had become obnoxious, and took away a lot of the fun.

"Like anything else, nothing happens overnight," said Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corp. "The party scene probably started in the 1990s. The more people were doing certain types of behavior, the more emboldened people get."

Residents demanded more security and the police and city officials responded. In addition to the robocalls, Cerrone said the city had distributed fliers and printed notices in community newspapers announcing that public disorder would not be tolerated. There was a noticeable decline in public drunkenness and disorder last year. And on Sunday, scores of police stood along the bike route in Manayunk and Roxborough and the course itself — 124 miles for men; 57.6 miles for women — was lined with portable barriers to keep spectators on the sidewalks.

At the end of the day Sunday, Lipton said she was unaware of any incidents of public disorder, and that crowd conditions had improved dramatically.

"People in the past were upset," said Jim Modee, 67, of Roxborough, whose house is located along the bike route. "But I think the police have done a good job."

Contact Chris Mondics at 215 854 5957 or cmondics@phillynews.com

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