ATV operators and dirt bike enthusiasts took to Philadelphia’s streets this weekend, despite a new City Council measure designed to crack down on illegal off-road vehicles.
The new Council dictate — which still must be signed by Mayor Jim Kenney — came in response to widespread complaints from residents who said the vehicles roaring through the streets were disruptive and posed safety concerns. But early indications suggested it may not deter riders.
Videos on social media showed fleets of vehicles buzzing across the city on Saturday, and police and city officials confirmed that. Law enforcement authorities didn’t provide details Sunday on the scope of the activity, but noted that about 1,000 people, many on ATVs and dirt bikes, were near the site of a fatal shooting in Port Richmond Saturday night.
“There was a large contingent of riders,” said Councilmember Mark Squilla, one of the sponsors of the bill passed Thursday that gave police more authority to seize illegal vehicles.
Councilmember Derek Green, another bill sponsor, said constituents had complained about ATVs and dirt bikes Saturday, particularly in the area of South Broad Street. He said police on the lookout for ATVs operating illegally on city streets had confiscated a number of vehicles.
While ATVs and dirt bike activity has been a concern for years, “it’s continued to escalate to a citywide issue,” Green said.
He and other councilmembers said they have received heightened complaints lately about disruption related to the vehicles, which are illegal to ride in the city.
Residents “in every neighborhood across the city” have protested the vehicles, said Councilmember Allan Domb, another bill sponsor. “They don’t feel safe. It’s a very dangerous situation.”
Domb said he got seven texts and three calls Saturday night about the riders, including from someone who was having a wedding at the Art Museum and said her guests were frightened. ”This should not be happening in the city,” Domb said.
But the vehicles — while illegal — haven’t all been treated the same way. ATVs have been subject to a $2,000 fine, while dune buggies and other vehicles did not qualify for the same penalty, Squilla said. The Council bill closes that loophole.
The bill has not yet taken effect, but Kenney plans to sign it, a spokesperson said.
Domb said police should use an ATV detail for an “intensive” period this summer to deter riders.
Still, the issue is complicated. Philadelphia police have had a policy of not chasing the vehicles, which can be dangerous for both riders and police, Squilla said.
“You can’t do things just through enforcement alone,” he said.
A number of cities nationally have been dealing with similar challenges, said Green, who has been in touch with officials in Atlanta and San Jose, as well as an organization in Baltimore that has worked with the local dirt bike community.
Councilmembers say they are continuing to look into other options for places for people to ride dirt bikes, including the prospect of a designated park.