OP-ED: A vision for a better York


When NBC journalist Tom Brokaw appeared as a keynote speaker in Hershey last year, his theme was the "next big thing." He spoke of significant events and inventions he marveled at over his very full career covering and making news. He left the audience wondering: What do you suppose will be the next big thing?

Of course he was speculating on the next big thing for the country. It got me wondering what might the next big thing be for the York community.

For two years, I've been offering up an idea for York as the next big thing — a vision, really, that would lift York City and the surrounding areas out of an economically depressed community status. So far, few share my vision with little more than a polite response and none have helped move this vision into action.

So, what is it that I see and what's holding others back from seeing it, too? My vision for York includes an indoor velodrome — nothing less than a "world class" indoor velodrome.

OK, what's a velodrome? And why an indoor velodrome?

A velodrome is an oval track bicycle racing venue, usually a total distance of 250 meters. The only velodrome in Pennsylvania is in Trexlertown, Lehigh County, and it's an outdoor facility with a nonstandard 333 meters.

Bicycles used at a velodrome are not your typical street bicycle — in fact, only "track bikes" are allowed. These have a single-gear configuration and no brakes. Why these are required will become obvious once viewed in action. The underlying point of having a unique bicycle for racing and training is that all participants are supervised for safety, and the training is structured. This is not to be viewed as an open recreation park within the track area.

Even though this is "youth-centric" in practical experience, all ages may participate. Anyone who can balance on two wheels can have the thrill of "doing laps" for fun and fitness on banked turns. Whatever the final legal and economic entity turns out to be, York has some natural partners in place that will realize mutual benefits: Crispus Attucks, YWCA and the 'Y' come to mind. Every school district can include some activity at a safe venue developing a lifelong physical skill. I'm sure there are others, like WellSpan and Memorial Hospital.

It's an easy-entry athletic sport, and very little personal equipment is needed (the velodrome can furnish track bicycles to use). Olympic and professional racing is something any youth can aspire to. Having coaches and trainers involved can bring out the best in youth. Can York be the home of a future world or Olympic champion?

Why would parents support a velodrome? Just ask the director at Trexlertown what feedback he gets from parents. Local kids come home in good spirits and tired, less likely to "get in trouble" when they're exhausted from the aerobic workout. It's also affordable.

For many who have never raced, it's an exciting bicycling experience with many health benefits. Adult memberships add revenue and extend the utilization of the facility.

It's also a fascinating sport to watch. It's not always about the first rider across the finish line that draws cheers from a crowd. Strategy, whether solo or teamwork, mixes up the elements of various events. It holds the interest of spectators throughout — very little idle time between heats and action in every event.

Optimism not withstanding, York is an economically depressed and disadvantaged city. Outside help cannot fix the problems York faces today. York needs to be inspired from within. Mayor Kim Bracey embedded that theme in the latest state of the city message.

Where will that inspiration come from? Given the opportunity, city youth will opt in for some good clean competitive fun instead of the destructive, low-esteem diversions available now. York's black community will have an even greater incentive for involvement if inspiration from a historical figure is highlighted. "Major Taylor" was the world's best Negro bicycle racer in the early 20th century. His legacy is now being recognized and highlighted throughout the U.S. bicycling community.

A velodrome will certainly create year-round local jobs and opportunities for York tourism if a world-class facility is built. There is only one indoor velodrome in the U.S., in California. To have an indoor velodrome on the East Coast would set York, and Pennsylvania, apart as a special destination for a full spectrum of visitors and participants.

By estimate, an indoor velodrome will cost $20 million and should be sited on about 20 acres. The California facility cost $15 million in 2004. Then the typical question is — how do you expect to fund a project of this size? I don't know. That's not my area of expertise, and I'll leave that to the movers-and-shakers of York to work out.

It will take a small group dedicated to improve York to actually take a trip to Trexlertown to see what an opportunity this truly is. So, lacking any other ideas, here's my vision — now who is up to the task to take it from here for the next Big Thing.