You hear that?
No, not the deafening roar, and subsequent uproar, over ATVs and dirt bikes on Philadelphia streets.
Lean in a little closer.
That, I dare say, is the faint but growing sound of city leaders conceding that we need to find better, more creative, ways of dealing with the perennial summer nuisance.
Mind you, it’s happening at the same time City Council unanimously passed a bill cracking down on people riding ATVs on city streets. But it’s often one step forward, and two steps back around here. Welcome to Philly.
The Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church was right when he told WHYY recently that the bill is an “overreaction” and an “overreach” for a problem that we can’t merely police without lasting consequences to mostly young men of color.
“It sickens me when I think about these types of approaches and just the lack of imagination that’s within them,” he said.
Echoing the good reverend at a news conference days later, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who supports the idea of an ATV park, said that enforcing laws against off-road vehicles is important. But, he added, officials have to use “imagination” in providing alternatives.
“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.
It’s an important distinction. Except we remain stuck between the escalating complaints among residents and a community of talented bikers who want to ride without fear or punishment.
We interrupt this column for the obvious: A park won’t get every knucklehead off the streets. It also doesn’t belong in a residential area. There are issues of safety and liability, for riders and residents, and probably a lot of other things we haven’t even thought of yet. But none of that should translate into decades of inaction.
Back in 2012, my Daily News colleagues Jason Nark and Dana DiFilippo wrote a series of in-depth stories about the city’s bike culture. Even back then there were calls for a bike park.
In 2018, I followed with multiple columns urging the city to see the potential in teams, competitions, and job opportunities for young people we struggle to reach. I talked to riders and to Councilmembers Curtis Jones Jr. and Kenyatta Johnson, who led earlier efforts to get a bike park in Philly. I put out a call to Meek Mill, a big fan of the off-road vehicles, to help make it a reality for his fellow Philadelphians.
I implored city leaders to take some baby steps.
“We turn over our streets for lots of things in Philly: naked people, saunterers who want to enjoy a traffic-free afternoon, the Pope,” I wrote. “So even if we can’t get a bike park right away, maybe we can at least find a way to open up some streets every once in a while for these riders.”
Here we are three years later and I’m on the phone with Councilmember Allan Domb having a similar conversation. Last year, Domb called for a hearing on ATVs, where he said he was committed to seeing an ATV park become a reality. The way he envisions it, the city could potentially sell a parcel of nonresidential land for $1 to an experienced and reputable third-party ATV park operator to run the place.
These endless conversations make it clear we don’t have a clue how to make this happen, and that we talk good ideas into the ground. Too bad it’s never the groundbreaking of Philadelphia’s new bike park.
So, for starters, ATV park operators are hereby invited to call Councilmember Domb at 215-686-3414.
Also, we should hire — Yes, hire! Because invisible labor doesn’t live here anymore — Brittany Young, the Black woman founder of Baltimore-based B-360, a nonprofit that uses dirt bikes to teach elementary and high school students math and science.
Young testified at the hearing last year, when she cautioned lawmakers that the bill they passed would have unforeseen consequences.
They clearly didn’t listen. But when I talked to her this week she said she’s still willing and able to help.
She’s just waiting for our call.