HELL ON WHEELS: Why are ATVs still tearing up Philadelphia?

Posted: August 13, 2012

WHAT WE hate about the use of all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes in Philadelphia, a scourge that Dana DiFilippo and Jason Nark have detailed in the Daily News over the past few weeks:

We hate that riders, who tear down city streets like they're in a video game, sometimes crash, injuring and even killing themselves.

We hate the fear the vehicles bring to the streets, both to people afraid for their own safety and to drivers terrified they'll bump into a swerving rider and send him sprawling to his death.

We hate the damage the vehicles do to city parks, which costs the public hundreds of thousands of dollars and makes these green spaces less appealing for citizens who would prefer to use them appropriately.

We hate the VROOOOM VROOM VROOOOOOOOM.

We hate the impossible situation the vehicles create for cops, because using ATVs in the city is illegal (unless on private property with permission), but the police have a reasonable policy not to chase riders, because doing so is extremely dangerous, and, of course, that makes the illegal status harder to enforce.

We hate that, because you can get away with driving these things illegally, teenagers drive them. We hate that some parents don't seem to mind.

We hate that people can buy these illegal-to-use vehicles from legal sources, including from the city, because the city gives confiscated ATVs and dirt bikes to the Philadelphia Parking Authority to auction off.

We hate taking such a strong stand against a hobby beloved by people who apparently believe they're not harming anyone and in fact staying out of trouble because of riding. But when you ride these vehicles, you're not out of trouble, you're in it, and you're creating it for other people. We're not willing to accept that the only way to stay off drug corners in this city is to engage in some somewhat-less-risky activity. Philadelphia has to do better.

One thing we like is the announcement by police last week that they're cracking down on ATVs and dirt bikes, and seized 37 in raids last weekend. This sparked some predictable griping from critics who said the police have better things to do. But that's ridiculous. No one's saying ATVs and dirt bikes should be the cops' central focus. But police need to put some effort into preventing crimes besides homicide, or Philadelphia will be a lawless society. Now they need to keep it up.

We also like that the city is revisiting its policy on what to do with confiscated vehicles that go unclaimed by their rightful owners, as many do. The current revolving-door practice of auctioning them off for the same eventual use is head-smackingly dumb. Baltimore destroys them, and the police think Philly should, too.

Beyond that, officials should get aggressive in other, more creative ways. We're skeptical of a public park for ATVs (if some private investor wants to build one, that's another story). But the city should consider a public-information campaign to make sure riders know they can get in trouble — the practice is so brazen, some might not realize it. And it should make a push for neighbors to report when and where riders gather. Don't like the VROOMing? Start snitching.

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