PHILADELPHIA – Start by coming to grips with the fact that a major draw for ATV and dirt bike riders in Philly is that riding them on city streets is easy, free and fun – not to mention illegal – and the riders rarely get caught.

When ATV and dirt bike riders post photos and videos to social media of themselves or their friends pulling off death-defying stunts at high speeds, they can generate a huge following. That’s when they boost their credibility.

That’s according to Kareen aka “MrBizness” Walls, who calls himself “the voice of the [bike life] culture.”

Walls, who hails from Chester, rides a scooter currently and has more than 117,000 followers on Instagram. Much of his content includes videos of guys on ATVs and dirt bikes riding through the city, traversing highways and bridges and narrowly escaping close calls. Some of the tricks are pretty impressive, but none done without risk.

ATVs, quads, dirt bikes and auto-cycles – three-wheeled off-road vehicles – are all illegal on Philadelphia streets. Groups of riders often appear in late afternoon, at rush hour, weaving in and out of traffic and causing a burst of noise pollution that sets off car alarms and puts motorists and pedestrians in danger. Some Center City residents even started a petition to stop the so-called “joy riders.”

City Council is now floating a proposal for an ATV and dirt bike park somewhere in the city limits to help mitigate the problem, an idea that was last discussed in 2012, when residents went to City Hall to testify. One witness told of losing her leg after she was struck by an ATV.

Philadelphia police have established a no-chase policy when it comes to these motorists, making them virtually impossible to catch. But it’s for good reason – the pursuit alone could perpetuate an even more dangerous situation. Only when the vehicle is parked and police find it can it be confiscated.

City Council is now floating a proposal for an ATV and dirt bike park somewhere in the city limits to help mitigate the problem, an idea that was last discussed in 2012, when residents went to City Hall to testify. One witness told of losing her leg after she was struck by an ATV.

Councilman Allan Domb has put forth a resolution asking for a task force to look at how a public-private partnership could create a feasible park that benefits the city and off-road riders.

“We’ve confiscated more than 400 vehicles,” Domb said during an Oct. 7 hearing he called before the Council’s Committee on Public Safety.

He later told Broad + Liberty: “If we did an ATV-type park, I would want it to be a public-private partnership, where maybe the city leases the land and we have a private operator who runs it.”

“Our contribution might be to real estate…We have a lot of land and maybe there’s a way to do this. It’s easy to say ‘no’ to things. It’s harder to say ‘yes’ and figure it out. My goal would be to raise the money privately.”

But Mayor Jim Kenney doesn’t see it happening that easily. A big problem no one can seem to solve is how the riders will get their vehicles to the park legally without riding them there.

“I doubt that many people would utilize [a park] or have the wherewithal to have a truck with a platform to transport the vehicle to the track. So, if the track were down – somewhere deep in South Philly by the port or wherever…People are going to drive to it on their four-wheeler, which means they’re still going to go through city streets, which is still illegal,” he said.

Proponents of the park proposal say that even if it took some ATV and dirt bike riders off the streets, it would be worth it.

Earlier this summer, a 23-year old man suffered a head injury when he crashed his ATV into a truck on North Broad Street. In August, a dirt bike rider died after his bike struck a car in the middle of an intersection in Reading. And last year, two men were shot following a high-speed ATV chase through the streets of North Philly. Only one survived.

Mariel Osner, sales manager at Crossroad Powersports in Upper Darby, said she hoped an ATV park would get the attention of some riders.

“I do think it’ll eliminate some of the issues that we’ve had with street riding. Any solution won’t one hundred percent eliminate the problem, but now you’re giving a resolution to something,” she said.

“You’re giving an outlet, saying – ‘You know, we gave you this park. We’re respecting you guys. You guys respect us by coming to the park and riding your bikes where you’re supposed to be riding.’”

Steve Christini, owner of Christini All-Wheel-Drive Motorcycles in Northern Liberties, thinks an ATV park is a bad idea.

“The city needs to investigate and evaluate the insurance burden because you can’t just take any dirt bike and ride it in a city-owned park.

A big problem no one can seem to solve is how the riders will get their vehicles to the park legally without riding them there.

“For somebody to utilize this, they’d actually have to have a bike that’s registered. The rider is going to have to have some type of ID…that shows they’re allowed to ride that bike. That’s one of the problems I think they’re going to have.”

Joseph Thompson, president of a Philly ATV coalition with some 10,000 members, claimed that Yamaha was ready with a “blank check” to put towards an ATV park so long as the city matches it.

Councilman Curtis Jones, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, noted that the city is still trying to figure out ways to fill a massive budget deficit. This year, the city faces a $749 million shortfall brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re finding quarters in the couch to try to make ends meet right now,” he said.

Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell testified during the Oct. 7 hearing that she couldn’t fathom operating and maintaining a publicly-funded ATV park. Her department is shouldering a $13 million budget cut.

“To think about adding a park like this and maintaining a park like this I think would be incredibly burdensome on the department. I also feel worrisome about how individuals would get to and from that park…I’m not convinced it would limit the amount of traffic and recreation we have in our existing parks which is a huge public safety issue,” she said.

“Until we’ve checked that box on children and the places they have to play, I’m not sure we should allocate resources to adults.”

Domb said he would be unwilling to put taxpayer money towards an ATV park and wants to see one privatized.

“I don’t think we want to be involved in running it. That’s not our business, but if we can find the land, that would be our contribution.”

Walls, an avid rider, said he’s optimistic the city can forge partnerships with sponsors like Nike, Live Nation, Reebok, Sony and others to eventually host all kinds of competitions at a park and turn it into a money-making opportunity.

“We have the influence to make one call and have about 600 people show up here within a couple days,” he said.

“It’s not like we’d just be going to the park and playin’ around. We’d actually schedule events for the adults and the kids as well…We, as a culture, are willing to make changes so we can co-exist. We’re willing to make a change, but some things need to happen.”

Because off-road riding on city streets is typically a seasonal pastime, it’s unclear when or if any decisions will be made on the matter before spring, when ATV and dirt bike activity ramps back up again. As of now, no one has offered to pay for a park. To some, it appears nothing more than a pipe dream.  

Jenny DeHuff has been a multimedia journalist for the past 15 years in Philadelphia. Her bylines include the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, Playboy Magazine, The Morning Call, and Philly Voice. She’s won multiple awards for investigative journalism. @RuffTuffDH

One thought on “Jenny DeHuff: Would an ATV park clear city streets of these ‘joy’ riders?”

  1. The riders get their rocks off by showing off and by breaking the law…and getting away with it. An ATV park won’t solve the problem, just as gun laws don’t solve a problem. Wanna sole it? Arrest them, charge them, fine the shit outta them, & impound their machines & sell them at auction.

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