SCHENECTADY — Large groups of adolescent bicyclists have given motorists headaches this summer.
Now city lawmakers are preparing to propose legislation that would give law enforcement additional teeth to crack down on everything from performing bike tricks in the street to weaving through traffic.
The legislation would define what constitutes “reckless or uncontrolled” behavior and create a mechanism to enforce violations, including temporary bike impoundments for as long as 60 days.
“We’re not looking to take bikes from kids,” said Councilman John Polimeni, who said he will formally introduce the resolution on Monday with Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas. “But obviously if kids don’t stop, that gives [city police] some recourse.”
Polimeni said talking with parents or guardians would be a key component, and the law is designed to protect their safety.
“I know people feel the situation is dangerous,” he said.
City Council President Ed Kosiur previously recounted large packs of bicyclists popping wheelies, riding in traffic and generally engaging in obnoxious behavior.
Offenders are generally between the ages of 12 and 14 and cannot be ticketed because they are under the age of 16, Lt. Brian Whipple told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee last week.
But their behavior can be considered violation-level offenses, he said, and should be reported.
Following an Aug. 19 article in The Daily Gazette, a young man who identified himself as one of the bicyclists pushed back against claims that the group had damaged property.
“We have no reason for people to hate us,” wrote Devon Hunter on Facebook. “We’re just trying to create something so all the kids in the hood don’t end up locked up or dead.”
Hunter, who was unavailable for comment on Tuesday, urged city officials to map out recreational opportunities and said he would like to sit down with city police to discuss the issue.
Police confirmed they are having ongoing conversations with the youngsters, who reached out to them on social media to share their concerns.
“More than one kid has reached out, and I don’t consider that to be a bad thing,” said city police Lt. Ryan D. Macherone. “We certainly try to engage kids in conversation.”
With Labor Day on the horizon, the volume of complaints have decreased since the beginning of the summer, he said, a reduction he attributed to community outreach events designed to promote bicycling safety.
Officers recently attended the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Block Party, he said, where they distributed helmets and urged kids to stay out of the road and use bike paths.
Macherone, who leads the department’s community engagement efforts, acknowledges current statutes are weak and a new law would give officers leverage in the worst-case scenarios.
“We definitely want to explore all avenues before seizing kids’ bicycles from them,” Macherone said. “Hopefully we can continue to come up with better solutions.”
The upcoming proposal was met with skepticism from some community activists.
Marva Isaacs, president of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, acknowledged the kids’ behavior was “ridiculous” and presented a public safety risk. She also feared enraged drivers could strike bicyclists in a fit of anger.
A better way to address the issue, Isaacs said, would be for the city to help young people find ways to channel their energy into positive activities.
Earlier this summer, for instance, a Schenectady Street resident started a car wash and put them to work, she said.
“[Polimeni] should find something for them to do,” Isaacs said.
Others said seizing bikes may, in effect, unnecessarily criminalize behavior.
“They’re not out committing crimes,” said William Rivas, founder of Save Our Streets. “Kids in other communities ride bikes. I doubt taking youths’ bikes would solve the problem. They’ll just get more bikes.”
Rivas believes officials should work with the kids and help them find a safer place to ride.
“I’m pretty sure they’d be willing to listen,” Rivas said.