Another weekend brought another ATV and dirt bike crackdown, with police taking 29 offending vehicles off the streets of North and Southwest Philadelphia between Saturday and Sunday.
Aside from their motors' bothersome buzzing, opponents cite safety concerns and an increase in other criminal activities associated with the vehicles' use. "Many ATVs on Philadelphia streets are stolen, making them in some ways more deadly because of the drivers increased need to evade the police, often in a reckless manner, and the other illegal activity that may coincide with driving the stolen vehicles," read part of a City Council resolution passed in June vowing to examine city and state ATV laws during hearings this fall.
But riders gathered Friday at a stretch of Kensington waterfront that serves as an ATV hotspot were happy to show paperwork proving their vehicles were legally purchased and registered – even though the location where they zipped the four-wheelers up and down hills and through dirt-flecked puddles is not. Many also contended that riding against the law isn't their first choice. "I know at least 50 people who'd be willing to stay off the street if they had a legitimate spot," said Keith Campbell, 30, who has been riding for more than half of his life and said he'd be happy to pay a fee to do so legally. "But there's nowhere to go."
Several blocks away in Port Richmond, the managers of G-Team Racing Motorcycles say they have reached the critical mass needed to support a family-oriented, membership-driven ATV park. General manager Gino Kradzinski rattled off a list of possible benefits. Mandatory safety regulations and equipment and intervals dedicated to different age ranges or skill levels would eliminate risks to passing motorists and reduce rider injuries. IDs and paperwork checked against a member database would cut down on vehicle thefts and on-site criminal activity. As many as 50 jobs could be created and surrounding businesses, such as restaurants and concession stands, invigorated by a new flow of patrons.
"Instead of having yahoos running around popping wheelies in the middle of the street and hitting little kids, we would have workers employed and revenue coming in," Kradzinski said. But he added that the vast acreage required plus the cost of liability insurance makes independently purchasing private land for an ATV park prohibitively expensive. "My investors want to invest money in the business to make money, but not commit to owning a piece of property that the city's going to tax the wazoos off of us for," he said.
He and others are hoping to instead lease municipal or corporate land and contribute a portion of the revenue earned, giving them the option to walk away if their plan falls flat and the landowner the ability to raze and sell the property if they receive a more lucrative offer. "It's a win-win," he said.
Philadelphia police Lt. Ray Evers is an unlikely proponent of the plan, saying a designated riding area would cut down on illegal street riding and associated public safety hazards. "I don't think anyone will go there if it's far, but if there was something close by, I think it would definitely help," he said.
City Council, in another line of its June resolution, cited a study showing citizens
"provided strong agreement" to laws and programs encouraging the
construction and use of designated private or municipally-owned ATV
riding areas in Philadelphia. It also stated that such riding areas,
combined with increased community involvement and safety courses, could
help change the conduct of ATV drivers.
In the meantime, Campbell and his friends say they'll keep riding in the marshy area by the Delaware River, where ongoing construction has sculpted muddy peaks and valleys mimicking those found in legitimate ATV parks. "I know this sounds bad, but if I want to snap my neck, let me snap my neck. We're not hurting anybody by riding ATVs back here, except maybe ourselves," Campbell said. "They let us buy them – they need to give us somewhere."
Anyone interested in working with G-Team to help make an ATV park a reality should contact the company at firstname.lastname@example.org.