Why Philly needs an ATV dirt bike park

Criminalizing their activity, confiscating their vehicles, handing out tickets with onerous fines, surrounding gas stations when they are refueling, treating riders as if they were public enemies is the wrong approach.

A speeding ATV on city streets is dangerous, but gun violence takes many more lives than dirt bikes each year. Building an ATV park could help the city fight several public health crises at once; We could get dangerous riders off public streets and at the same time, create a space for people to express their youthful exuberance — legally.

If young people are doing what they love — riding — they are not engaged in antisocial activities. Beefs between neighborhood groups and individuals would be lessened as bike riding takes precedent. Gun violence rates would drop as people get to know each other and begin to communicate better in an environment they control and love. Motorists and neighbors who are so insistent against the vehicles would be spared the sight and sound of the riders.

Honoring the culture of ATV and dirt bike riding could create an entirely new atmosphere in the city. Sprawling Fairmount Park with many underused areas could become the home of weekly events featuring music and contests of skill.

Young people riding ATVs through the streets of Philly. (Kimberly Painter/WHYY)

Neighborhoods and individuals could compete and corporate sponsors could be engaged to organize the competitions. Shoe and apparel companies could hire the best riders to represent their brands, bringing needed economic opportunity.

Hip-hop artists who are a part of the culture could endorse the park and bring their celebrity status to elevate the events. Imagine Meek Mill, Da Baby, Lil Durk, King Von, Drake, Chris Brown, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion judging the competition. Philly could become the genesis of a multi-million industry that changes the face of riding. Philadelphia could lead other cities in solving a problem by turning it into an asset.

Some of the fears that surround dirt bike and ATV riders are warranted — they can take over the streets oblivious to traffic laws and that is a real problem that can’t be minimized. But what is equally problematic is the fact that an entire subculture — a Black subculture— is being criminalized.

This criminalization is part of a racist cycle. No one says we need to get these Black kids and the white kids they are influencing off the street. Instead they use code words: “gangs” of ATVs”; “illegal activity”; “menacing”; “reckless joyriders”; ”swarms of riders.” But bike riders are not insects. More often than not, they do not seek to disrupt the city, they seek to enjoy it. The challenge for city leaders is how to channel this activity in positive ways, how to move this activity out of the realm of illegality and into the sphere of a performance sport like NASCAR.

Police and city residents complain that these vehicles have no headlights or brake lights, no turn signals, no license plates, or insurance. The riders can not be held accountable for their actions. That’s because the vehicles are designed for off the road activity. Which brings us to the next issue: Since these vehicles are made for all-terrain activity, why can’t the city designate areas where it can safely and legally take place?