Saturday 28 January 2023
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City Council Sets Forum on Street Use of Off-Road Vehicles

Patti Singer

City Councilmember Jose Peo

This story was updated June 2 with information from City Council’s June 1 listening session.

Saying riders of ATVs and dirt bikes are destroying quality of life in several neighhorhoods, speakers overwhelmingly urged City Council to enforce existing laws and get off-road vehicles off city streets.

About two dozen people commented during an online listening session June 1 hosted by City Council.

Two speakers, saying that riders have forged a community and would continue to practice what they call their passion and hobby, urged council to create a place for them to continue to ride.

Council members Jose Peo, Miguel Melendez Jr., Mary Lupien, LaShay Harris, Michael Patterson, President Loretta Scott and Vice President Willie Lightfoot listened in real time. Councilmembers did not comment during the session. Afterward, when asked by Scott to introduce themselves, they said they appreciated people taking the time to share their thoughts.

Asked the next day for his specific response to neighbors critical of riders and to the riders themselves, Patterson said via text that he continues to listen. “After listening, I will formulate opinions on the issues at hand and advocate for the directions I believe we as a community should follow.”

City Council is scheduled on June 10 to consider legislation proposed by Peo to address the use of motorized off-road vehicles on public streets and in parks.

Before the June 1 session, Peo had said he’d heard enough from constituents.

“I’ve been listening to comments for the past year,” said Peo, who along with Scott sent a letter to City Council on May 6. “I need action.”

The forum was scheduled from 5:30 to 7 p.m. June 1. It ended at about 6:15 p.m., after the last speaker. It is available on the City Council’s YouTube Channel, where it can be seen.

Peo said he has been pushing for legislation to address the dirt bikes, ATVs and other motorized off-road vehicles being used on the street.

Peo said that not all legislation requires a public hearing before being enacted. He said it makes sense to hear from residents on this issue, but that should have happened months ago.

“At this point, it’s pushing toward the middle of summer before they enact anything, if they do support this legislation,” he said. “We’ve already had months of ATVs and dirt bikes. All this should have already been done.”

The proposal would amend the city’s municipal code to better define the vehicles and “aid in supporting efforts to reduce the level of dangerous, illegal use of these vehicles in the public right of way, according to the letter to council from Scott and Peo.

If passed as written, the legislation would ban dirt bikes, ATVs, go-karts, golf carts, mini-bikes and off-road motorized vehicles from city streets, sidewalks, property and parks. Violators could be fined up to $1,000 and have the vehicle impounded. Owners would be able to reclaim their vehicles within 30 days by paying $2,000 and $20 per day for each day of impoundment. After 30 days, the vehicle may be sold for scrap. The legislation sets forth how to prove ownership.

Asked whether he thought the fines were steep, Peo said, “It should cost a lot of money when you’re caught doing illegal activities.”

He said riders think they are having harmless fun. However, there have been fatal accidents. He said the use of the vehicles on public streets put others at risk.

“In actuality, they’re putting other people’s mental health in danger. An older person hits them and ends up killing them, it’s on their minds for life. It’s so wrong.”

Speakers who said they lived in Charlotte and Cobbs Hill neighborhoods talked about bikers who ride with impunity. They said they create safety hazards while destroying quality of life. Soem speakers said the noise drives them off their porches and out of their backyards.

Some questioned the city’s liability if it were to create a place for riders and whether rider would pay for it through the yearly permits.

The riders who spoke said not having a place to ride will lead to more chaos and rebellion. One said that learning to take care of his dirt bike has led him to go to school and study mechanics.

The city’s proposed legislation also would ban snowmobiles from public thoroughfares and parks except as expressly authorized in state law or on streets designated by the Traffic Control Board.

Some speakers also addressed “motorcycle tyranny,” the noise and safey issues from licensed motorcycles, which one person called “sonic bullies.”

The Monroe County legislature on May 25 passed a local law prohibiting use of off-road vehicles on public streets. Law enforcement may impound the vehicles. Owners have to follow rules to reclaim their vehicle.