Hoping to restore an increasingly out-of-control bike race to its neighborhood friendly past, Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. (D-4th) wants to set up a temporary court to prosecute out-of-control drunks who have populated the event in recent years.
Drawing inspiration from the Eagles Court housed at Veterans Stadium, community members suggested to Jones at recent bike committee meetings that a temporary court could be the answer.
In a Feb. 4 letter soliciting support from Philadelphia Municipal Court President Judge Marsha H. Neifield, Jones suggested "Manayunk Bike Race Courts" for the June 5 Philadelphia International Cycling Championship.
"In recent years, the June race has expanded from a local family and neighborhood friendly event and has transitioned into an uncontrollable mob that indulges in public drunkenness, the illegal sale of alcohol and underage drinking..." Jones wrote.
"Similar to 'Eagle's Court,' this court would be located near the bike race and have a judge that is able to issue citations and fines as well as possible jail time throughout the festivities."
Bringing 10,000 spectators to Manayunk, Roxborough and East Falls, the race begins at the Philadelphia Art Museum, winds along Kelly Drive and continues through Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods—the source of the problems.
Resident Don Simon lives near the famed "Manayunk Wall"—a steep and iconic climb up hilly Levering and Lyceum streets—which he refers to as the "epicenter" of public intoxication. He has organized bike race meetings with Jones, police, city, and community members, in addition to race organizers.
"We are trying to work to change the nature of the atmosphere, which has become an excuse for excessive drinking, brawling, vandalism—all sorts of problems," he said. "Ultimately, we need help to get the word out to students (and young people)... but we can't get a message out there, if there's nothing to back it up. It's important to have enforcement happen."
International Cycling Championship organizer Dave Chauner said the race was founded 26 years ago to bring a great international event to Philadelphia, and connect Center City with the neighborhoods.
"Only in recent years has the rowdiness gotten out of hand... A message needs to be conveyed that lawlessness and excessive rowdiness can't be tolerated," he said, adding the race officially doesn't endorse any specific course of action, but will follow what the community prefers.
"Let's all work together to make sure all people can enjoy the race."
Following an incident in 1997 when a fan shot a flair gun off during a Monday Night Football game, the Philadelphia Eagles instituted a court at Veterans Stadium officiated by Judge Seamus McCaffrey.
Jones, who faces a May primary election in the seat formerly occupied by Mayor Michael Nutter, said he hoped to emulate the court's success in Manayunk.
"With the assistance of the courts, we can send a message to our spectators that disorderly behavior will no longer be tolerated and to reclaim the 'Cycling Tour' as a family friendly event for all," Jones wrote.
For Manayunk Neighborhood Council President Kevin Smith, the bike race is a microcosm of what happens on Main Street every weekend.
"We need strategies to discourage behaviors, not just clubbing kids over the heads. (The police) really aren't doing anything. They stand on different corners and only react to extreme situations," he said.
Smith doesn't know if the court is the right answer, but enforcement needs to occur. Even simply "dumping out cups" for public consumption would be an improvement, he said.
In an e-mail statement Friday, officials from the Manayunk Development Corporation said they "have been working closely with and fully support the efforts of Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. and the residential community he represents to make the bike race a more spectator and family friendly event."
Community Relations Officer Charles Kline from the 5th District said the logistics could be tough to coordinate.
"You would need a holding facility, and I could only think the judge would be at the 5th District," he said, which is located at 6666 Ridge Ave.—some distance from the bike route.
Though unavailable Friday morning, Captain John Cerrone would return calls for interview, officials within the 5th District said.
Neifield was not immediately available for comment. A message has been left with her office.