MARIE PARHAM knows firsthand how dangerous all-terrain vehicles can be. One hit her as she crossed a West Philadelphia street in 1994. She lost one leg, almost lost another and still marvels that she didn't lose her life.
But even Parham believes that the city should create a place for ATVers and dirt-bikers to ride legally.
"I wondered why I was alive, because I was really in bad shape, and I think this is it, this is the reason: I have a chance to get these bikes off the road, where they shouldn't be," said Parham, 79, who walks with a prosthesis and still has rods and plates in her head and leg from the accident. "It doesn't bother me that they ride them. They're just so unsafe on the streets. They should have a place to go."
Parham was among more than 20 people who testified during a nearly four-hour hearing Wednesday before City Council's Public Safety Committee about the perks and perils of ATVs and dirt bikes.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown scheduled the hearing after proposing a bill that would toughen penalties against illegal riders and enable police to destroy seized ATVs and dirt bikes rather than send them to auction, where they typically are sold to people who plan to ride them illegally.
Although some argued that off-road vehicles have no place in the city, others championed the creation of an ATV park or race track within city limits where enthusiasts could legally ride.
"I don't condone riding on the streets, but we have nowhere to go," said Joe "Joey Zaza" Thompson, 40, a rider from Wynnefield. "This is a family tradition for me . . . They built casinos in these empty lots. Our children don't go into these casinos. Our children ride ATVs and dirt bikes."
City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis, who helped created a 6,000-acre park for off-road vehicles in Cambria County when he worked for the state, said the city lacks adequate space and money to create an ATV park.
But Hector Tavarez, a retired Egg Harbor, N.J., police captain, disagreed, saying his township's Police Athletic League opened a 30-acre ATV park that has been a huge success for 15 years.
It can even be a moneymaker and job creator, added Gene Kradzinski, general manager of G-Team Racing Motorcycles in Port Richmond.
Don McClure, of the Pennsylvania Off-Highway Vehicle Association, agreed: "If you provide a locale for the people to ride, they will come, they will enjoy themselves and they will leave the community alone."
A Yamaha spokesman even halfway offered money to help fund it, saying Yamaha has done so in other areas.
"There are companies out there like ours that are willing to help," Yamaha regional business manager Kevin DeCew said.
Some remained unconvinced.
The Rev. David Scudder, Juniata Action Committee president and Bethel Chapel Church pastor, urged Council to ban sales of ATVs and dirt bikes in the city. Allowing sales, he said, is like "selling candy to a toddler and then telling them not to eat it."
Brown said that her bill is "a first step in the dialogue." Committee members will amend the bill to reflect concerns raised during the hearing, she added.