If it makes public officials and citizens in Schenectady feel any better, they’re not alone in their frustration over the problem of ATVs and dirt bikes on city streets.
Big cities like New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and smaller cities like Buffalo, Utica and Albany have faced similar problems and have been equally flummoxed.
The issue isn’t really the laws. There are plenty of motor vehicle laws in place.
The bigger problem is enforcement and deterrence.
First off, police can’t be everywhere in a city. Often by the time they arrive at the location of a complaint, the offending rider is long gone.
Police are reluctant to chase ATVs and dirt bikes, fearing that could lead to a crash that could injure or kill the rider or a pedestrian or motorist.
Among the solutions that have met with limited success are banning all such vehicles from city streets, regularly closing off streets that are popular with riders, assigning unmarked police vehicles to identify illegal riding, setting up dedicated hot-lines to report illegal activity, and setting aside funding to build off-road vehicle parks.
While none of those solutions have fully deterred riders, any action is better than none.
ATVs and dirt bikes on city streets aren’t just loud and annoying, they’re also dangerous — witness last October’s fatality on Cutler Street in Schenectady when an ATV struck a moving vehicle, and last week’s crash involving an ATV and a police officer. Earlier this month, a fleeing ATV struck a school bus in Albany.
So when Schenectady city officials meet to discuss the problem, perhaps even creating a task force to study solutions, there’s plenty of incentive and plenty of guidance available.
One solution gaining popularity is boosting fines for violations.
Another is seizing ATVs and dirt bikes, then forcing the owners to pay hefty “redemption fees” to have them returned. Some cities now require any impounded vehicles be held for a minimum of six months.
The city of Albany is now considering imposing a redemption fee of $2,350 on top of the existing $650 fine, bringing the price of getting caught up to $3,000, on top of any motor vehicle violations.
It may be difficult for police to catch violators. But when they do, the individual should be prepared to lose their vehicle or pay heavily to get it back.
Combined with an enhanced enforcement effort, that may help discourage more illegal riders.
This problem has gone on too long. A tougher response is long overdue.