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As City Council hears of ATV safety concerns, some call for an ATV park

Councilmember Allan Domb is expected to form a working group that will explore a possible public-private partnership to set up a dedicated ATV and dirt bike venue in the city.

An ATV rider at 15th St. and Market on the west side of Philadelphia City Hall last month.
An ATV rider at 15th St. and Market on the west side of Philadelphia City Hall last month.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday heard calls for a potential space in Philadelphia where ATV and dirt-bike enthusiasts could legally ride, but also listened to concerns from residents about safety and noise issues generated by reckless riders on city streets and sidewalks.

At the end of a three-hour virtual hearing, City Councilmember Allan Domb, who called for the hearing, said he was committed to seeing an ATV park or other venue become a reality. Domb said he would be interested in seeking a public-private partnership to create a venue that could generate revenue for the city.

It is illegal to ride ATVs and dirt bikes on city streets and reckless riders have triggered complaints. Police have a no-chase policy because the pursuit itself could endanger someone. But residents see the lack of enforcement as giving free rein to riders.

Kathryn Ott Lovell, the city’s Parks and Recreation commissioner, told Council that it “would be burdensome ... to operate and maintain a public ATV park.”

She also expressed concerns about riders traveling to and from such a park on city streets. “I’m fearful," she said. “While I think the intent of offering individuals a safe place to use these vehicles is a good one, I’m not sure that a dedicated ATV park will solve the issue,” noting that riders have endangered children.

But Joe Thompson, who goes by “Joey Zaza Zazalino” and is president of the ATV Coalition, called an ATV park “mandatory.”

“Will it take kids off the street? No,” he said. “Will it reduce the numbers? Yes. Will it create more of an activity space for tourism? ... Absolutely.”

He said Yamaha previously expressed interest in sponsoring an ATV park.

Eight residents told Council they feared for pedestrian safety and said the loud noises were intolerable, prompting city residents to move out.

J Nathan Bazzel, of the Midtown Village Merchants Association, told of a Saturday night in September when riders on ATVs and motorbikes rode on the sidewalk on Walnut Street, then onto 13th, which was closed for pedestrian dining. Residents and diners need to be protected, too, he said.

South Broad Street resident Rick Piper, who formed a coalition called Safe Travel in Our Philadelphia (STOP), described seeing a mother with a child in a stroller who was almost hit by an ATV on a South Street sidewalk. “Please protect the walk culture also,” he told Council.

Piper frequently emails photos of people illegally riding ATVs and dirt bikes on city sidewalks and streets to city and police officials. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, who was listening in on the hearing, acknowledged receiving Piper’s emails and said: “This is a holistic effort that we’re going to have to address.”

Council’s Public Safety Committee last had a hearing on the issue in 2012, after which then-Mayor Michael Nutter signed a law authorizing police to confiscate ATVs.

Deputy Police Commissioner Joel Dales, who heads a police detail dedicated to confiscating ATVs and dirt bikes, testified that given cuts in the police budget and the need for police to focus on gun violence and protests, police cannot operate the detail daily. Police have confiscated 370 ATVs and dirt bikes this year, he said.