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Getting ATVs and dirt bikes off Philly streets requires ‘imagination,’ not just enforcement, Krasner says

Hundreds of people on dirt bikes and ATVs rode along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City and at Aramingo Avenue in Port Richmond over the weekend.

A rider on an ATV along 15th and Market Streets in September.
A rider on an ATV along 15th and Market Streets in September.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said Monday that enforcing laws against off-road vehicles is important but that officials must use “imagination” in providing alternatives to those involved in riding culture, after a weekend in which hundreds of ATV and dirt bike riders took to city streets.

At a news conference in West Philadelphia, Krasner highlighted the May arrest of a man accused of ramming his ATV into a plainclothes police officer, saying the driver would be charged with aggravated assault and related counts.

But Krasner said his office is also exploring the possibility of new diversionary programs — influenced by similar efforts in Baltimore and Cleveland — for people accused of lesser offenses, such as reckless endangerment for popping a wheelie or speeding.

And he said any approach to addressing dirt bikes and ATVs, which are illegal to drive on city streets, must reflect the distinction between criminal conduct and less dangerous behavior — and be creative in devising solutions for the latter. He cited the creation of Mural Arts Philadelphia in the 1980s as an example that not only helped reduce graffiti but transformed the city into a widely known home for public art.

“We have to be careful about what we do, and not just react instinctively that if some of them are doing things that are criminal in nature, then all of them deserve to be punished,” Krasner said.

» READ MORE: ATVs and dirt bikes take to the streets of Philly as the city tries to step up enforcement

The DA’s remarks came days after City Council moved to pass new legislation designed to crack down on the vehicles in response to persistent complaints from residents. The bill, which Mayor Jim Kenney is expected to sign into law, would make penalties — including fines and confiscations — more consistent for all off-road vehicles.

While drafting the statute, lawmakers also expressed interest in establishing a park where ATV and dirt bike enthusiasts could ride legally, an idea Krasner said he supported.

Young people on ATVs and dirt bikes have long been known to weave through Philadelphia traffic, often in groups, and sometimes while disobeying traffic signals, zigging across traffic, or darting from the road onto sidewalks and back.

Several councilmembers said this weekend that constituents’ concerns have escalated. And police have long cited the phenomenon as a frustration. Department policy prohibits officers from chasing riders due to safety concerns, but the department has vowed to continue seizing vehicles used illegally.

Last weekend, hundreds of people on dirt bikes and ATVs rode along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City and at Aramingo Avenue in Port Richmond.

At the second location, police said as many as 1,000 people — many on ATVs and dirt bikes — gathered to watch illegal street racing when a gunman fatally shot a man on a motorcycle.

Chesley Lightsey, chief of the DA’s Homicide Unit, said Monday that even though dozens of people had taken photos or videos of the victim, no one had come forward to speak with detectives, and no arrests had been made.

“There were hundreds, literally hundreds of ATVs out at the time of this murder,” Lightsey said. “The community can take ownership of this by going to the police with information so we can get this shooter off the street.”