If you happened to check out the front page of yesterday’s Inquirer, you already know: There’s a big, ambitious plan to bring a velodrome to Philadelphia.

No, “Velodrome” isn’t the name of an upcoming David Cronenberg film—rather, it’s a competitive cycling arena with an ovular track and audience seating; though this one will be indoors, velodromes can be in- or outdoors.

The privately-funded project, called Project 250, would bring an Olympic-class velodrome on four acres of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park along Broad Street in South Philadelphia.

It is ambitious and will be expensive. It can also serve as a place for Philadelphia’s underserved youth and expand youth cycling programs to farther reaches of the city. We support it.

The Project 250 velodrome concept, if attained, would be a multi-sport, entertainment and youth development center, in addition to an indoor race track. In the Inquirer, architecture critic Inga Saffron called it an “Olympic-class arena that is intended to position the city as the leader of the nation’s growing track-cycling culture, while also providing space for the public to learn and practice the sport.”

This would not be the first velodrome in Philadelphia. There was one located on Penrose Ave. (near FDR Park, as it happens) in the late 19th and early 20th Century which started out as a horse racing facility.

Last month, an alternatives analysis for the Commission on Parks and Recreation was released, which included a project overview, a site plan, the financial viability of the project, alternatives analysis, community outreach and letters of support.

Among those letters of support: Mayor Michael Nutter; Councilman Kenyatta Johnson (whose Second District includes the proposed site for the track and youth development center); Barbara Capozzi, president of the Packer Park Civic Association; Kristin Gavin, director and founder of Gearing Up; as well as Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia executive director Alex Doty and BCGP education director Megan Rosenbach.

Among our reasons for supporting the privately-funded project are the potential to expand youth programming at the velodrome. “The plans for Project 250 include office space for Bicycle Coalition programs,” wrote Doty in his letter of support on May 23, 2014. “Our Cadence Cycling Foundation program can base several South Philly-based teams as well as have a destination point for program-wide competitions. In addition to riding on the track, the renovations proposed for FDR Park will make it possible for better riding along the paths in the park and perhaps even accommodate athletes that need to train for the swimming leg of a triathlon.”

Among the environmental improvements Project 250 intends to make: Drain and dredge 21 acres of lakes and ponds to remove accumulated silt and debris; restore existing freshwater wetlands; mill and surface 1.5 miles of roadway loop; repair and replace over two miles of bicycle and pedestrian paths. These improvements to the park for all users are sorely needed.

velodrome map

Here’s the other thing: Cadence Youth Cycling (formerly Cadence Cycling Foundation) joined the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia in 2013, bringing with it a well-executed, important organization focused on teaching Philadelphia’s youth responsibility, physical fitness and teamwork through competitive cycling. Through 2014, 130 youth on 12 racing teams in North and West Philadelphia were impacted by Cadence Youth Cycling.

We believe the proposed velodrome could help us expand the program to include South Philadelphia teams, as well.

Project 250, according to Rosenbach’s letter on October 9, 2014, will help reach both Cadence Youth Cycling students and those 200 school teachers and 70,000 Philadelphia students (and counting) trained by Safe Routes Philly.

The Parks and Recreation Commission will hear a presentation on December 17 regarding Project 250. (Full disclosure: BCGP Deputy Director Sarah Clark Stuart serves on the Parks and Rec Commission, but has recused herself from all decision-making around Project 250 due to the Coalition’s support of the project.) Beyond the Parks and Rec Commission, and as noted in the Inquirer story, Project 250 will need to get passed the Historical and Art Commission and City Council. We support this ambitious project not just because it will encourage an already-expanding cycling culture in Philadelphia, but it will better help us serve our current and future student athletes.

The public is invited to provided feedback on the proposal. Send comments to parksandreccommiss@phila.gov.

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