During the summer months, I became accustomed to hearing dirt bikes whizzing through my neighborhood whenever the windows were open, usually in the early evening.
Sometimes, I even caught a glimpse of them — going the wrong way down a nearby one-way street, riding through a park, cruising down Albany’s busy Central Avenue corridor.
Every time I see or hear a dirt bike cutting down a city street, my reaction is the same: “Someone is going to get hurt.”
Last month, someone did get hurt, in Schenectady, when a 21-year-old dirt bike rider allegedly crashed on Nott Terrace, hurting himself and ending up in the hospital.
The good news: The rider didn’t injure anyone else with his reckless action.
And his accident helped highlight a problem that’s driving neighborhood associations throughout the Capital Region crazy.
It occurred around the same time my neighborhood association, in Albany, posted a video of dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles, which are not legal for street use, zipping down a busy residential street. One of them even popped a wheelie.
“This video shows only a portion of what we deal with on a nightly basis,” the video’s caption proclaimed. “These riders often drive on sidewalks, run red lights, drive the wrong way down one way streets. People are concerned for their safety.”
For those of us who reside in Capital Region cities, illegal dirt bike use is fast becoming a major quality of life problem, as a recent Daily Gazette article made clear.
And it needs to be addressed, because it won’t go away on its own.
I’ve read interviews with urban dirt bike riders, and they’re aware that their hobby is illegal. But they believe the lack of legal, safe spaces to ride justifies taking to city streets.
In a 2017 National Public Radio article titled, “Where Do You Ride a Dirt Bike When You Have No Dirt?”, one biker even argued that riding dirt bikes is a positive activity because it prevents young men from getting involved in more serious crime.
“Of course we’re breaking the law, but it’s better than having them going in someone’s house robbing and killing,” one young man told NPR.
This line of argument might be easier to accept if dirt bikes weren’t such a nuisance.
But they are a nuisance.
They’re loud and dangerous, and many riders behave in a reckless and obnoxious fashion, pulling dumb stunts, weaving in and out of traffic and making an incredible amount of noise.
I’ve been unimpressed with the Albany Police Department’s approach, or lack thereof – to the dirt bike problem.
Compared to the APD’s “what can we do” attitude, the Schenectady Police Department seems much more attuned to the issue, with Sgt. Jeffrey McCutcheon telling the Gazette that police have towed or impounded any off-road vehicle that violates the law.
In fairness to the police, cracking down on illegal dirt bike and ATV riding is difficult, as cities throughout the country can attest.
Dirt bikes and ATVs are fast, and pursuing them risks making dangerous situations even more dangerous.
Which doesn’t mean nothing can be done.
The frustration voiced by local neighborhood leaders suggests it’s time for Capital Region police departments to develop a more comprehensive plan for addressing illegal riding.
Dirt bikes and ATVs don’t belong in the city, and it’s high past time to crack down on a problem that is only getting worse.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]