Commentary: Cycling Classic good for Philly, Yunkers

The cyclists take off at the start of the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic in Manayunk June 5, 2016.

Last week, with little fanfare, the organizers of the annual Manayunk Bike Race announced the cancelation of this year's event.

The Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, as it's officially called, will not take place due to a lack of funding. Sadly, the organizers were unable to raise the necessary $1 million to make this unique event happen.

The benefits of the bike race to the community and the city as a whole cannot be overstated and I would like to beseech Mayor Kenney, City Council, and the local philanthropic community to take action. We need to save the bike race.

Since 1985, tens of thousands of visitors have flocked to Manayunk and Roxborough for the event, many climbing up the famously steep "Manayunk Wall" of Lyceum Avenue. Every year, they have brought a great deal of excitement to the neighborhood, and have likely spent millions of dollars at the local, mom-and-pop businesses.

Mason's Grocery sits at the intersection of Lyceum and Manayunk Avenue, very close to the start and finish line. The owners there do an excellent job of feeding the hungry masses every race day and they - like many local businesses - have come to rely on the event the way some other shops might rely on Black Friday to make ends meet.

Of course, the proprietors of Mason's would have one less employee this year because their son is currently serving our country in the Marines, but I'm confident that the neighbors would pitch in to help them if needed. They are just one of countless small businesses that will suffer this year.

In addition to the economic benefits to Main Street and the surrounding areas, the sense of community that the race creates is a unique and special thing for Yunkers and non-Yunkers alike. Neighbors here open their doors, light their charcoal grills, and turn the entire area into a warm and festive block party.

My wife and I live inside the loop of the course, ground zero of the revelry. The end of our street runs into Lyceum. Sure, that can make getting in and out the area difficult during a race weekend, but the quality time spent with neighbors and visitors to the community on race day make it worth it.

Every year, we serve hot dogs to the Philadelphia police officers stationed on our corner and bring cough drops and bottled water to Mel, the charming volunteer who has served as a marshal for more than 30 years. It's sad to think that this year we won't see him - or hear his whistle to warn us when the riders are coming up the hill.

In addition to watching professional riders from all over the world, another element that makes the race special is seeing all of the local cyclists who show up to celebrate this healthy means of transportation. It can be like a car show, but for bikes: every model and style makes an appearance, from unicycles to old time penny-farthings. Fans young and old line the street to watch the racers zip past. Many of them have already signed the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia's petition to bring back the race. (You can find it at http://bicyclecoalition.org.)

Over the past few years, Philadelphia has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the nation's great cities for biking. We now have excellent bike lanes and more people ride to work than ever before. What better way is there to celebrate this achievement and promote healthy activities?

Make no mistake. A million dollars is a lot of money, and there are countless worthy causes that could put that amount of funding to good use. But I contend that the benefits of the bike race to the local Manayunk and Roxborough communities - and to the city at large - are substantial and vital. More than that, the event is a great deal of fun.

In her book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, the eminent sociologist Barbara Ehrenreich described the benefits of large, public gatherings, be they religious or recreational. "If we possess this capacity for collective ecstasy," she asks, "why do we so seldom put it to use?"

I hope that our city government and some of our local corporations ask themselves the same question and commit to protecting this important and beneficial Philadelphia institution.

Andrew Ervin lives on the border of Manayunk and Roxborough and teaches in the Honors Program at Temple University. His next book "Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed our World." will be published in May. ervin@temple.edu