SCHENECTADY – Two city residents spoke in opposition of a proposal that would target off-road motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles used on city streets and parks.
Monday night’s public hearing by the City Council took up the urban phenomenon of riding unregistered ATVs and dirt bikes in public, a proposal that would mirror a local law recently put in place in Albany.
Schenectady’s existing law states that ATVs can’t be driven on any public street, park or land. The offense is punishable by a fine up to $500, imprisonment of up to 15 days, or both.
Under the proposed revision to the law, offenders would be faced with an additional $2,350 redemption fee, making it $2,850 for return of the vehicle.
In addition, there’s a $70 towing and hauling fee, plus $20 per day for the vehicle to be impounded.
Ellie Pepper and Dean Mirabito of the Eastern Avenue section of the city said they took issue with the proposal.
Pepper said it felt mean-spirited, unnecessarily punitive and designed to ensure that owners would lose their off-road vehicles if caught by law enforcement.
“The total cost to regain ownership is more than the cost of most dirt bikes,” Pepper said, “and additionally there is the possibility of jail time attached to this. What happens when someone can’t pay that $500 fine? Is this an offense punishable by jail time, if they can’t pay the fine, since, according to what I’ve been hearing most council members say, it is mostly children on these off road vehicles. What’s the intent here?”
The speaker continued: “Is this really how we want children to be introduced to policing in Schenectady? Will police officers and cruisers be chasing children on off road vehicles through the streets or through a park?”
Pepper suggested a system of warnings before “dropping the hammer” on offenders, and she asked council members to engage with organizations that are trusted in the communities where this is happening most often.
Mirabito asserted that the proposal could be a means of putting young people in the criminal justice system.
“And I use the word justice in quotations because this seems like something that’s not very just, this legislation,” he said.
Reached for comment after the hearing, Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, who initiated the proposal, said the process calls for the council to discuss the feedback during a Public Safety Committee on Monday, where it might also make adjustments to the proposal.
If approved in committee, it would then proceed to the full council for a possible vote in two weeks.
Zalewski-Wildzunas indicated she’s heard from people who would have liked to speak in favor of the measure. But she said they were afraid of people who dangerously ride unregistered dirt bikes and ATV in the city.
The riders often pop wheelies and at times intimidate drivers by surrounding their cars, and they tend not to wear helmets or safety gear, she said.
They’ve also “torn up” grass in parks, she said.
Zalewski-Wildzunas said she didn’t know what Pepper was talking about when the speaker referenced children. The councilwoman said it appears that most offenders are in their late teens and 20s, and it’s happening all over the city, including Crane and Union streets, downtown, and Erie Boulevard.
Zalewski-Wildzunas said she doesn’t want to leave the impression she’s against registered, lawful motorcyclists.
“I just want everyone to be safe and I want everyone to be able to go home at night. We’ve already had a tragic death; I don’t want another one,” the councilwoman said, in reference to the death of a 30-year-old city resident on a dirt bike who sped the wrong way on a one-way section of Cutler Street. The rider collided with a vehicle in October.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said after the hearing that he’s also in favor of the proposal.
“It’ll send a message that were being serious in terms of holding people accountable when they act in a careless and detrimental way to the overall community,” he said.
Police are still compiling data on call volume concerning illegal dirt bikes and ATVs in the city, according to Detective Tim Rizzo. But at a minimum, there are hundreds of calls per year, with the frequency increasing during warmer weather. It’s not uncommon to get 10 or more calls per day during warmer weather. The calls are from the dispatch center, and phone calls, emails and anonymous messages as complaints and concerns, Rizzo said.