Johnstown considering bike ban in certain areas


Police Chief David Gilbo is working on a proposed ordinance that would allow him to make a “lawful arrest” of people using bicycles in the city’s parks.

Gilbo told the Common Council at its May 17 meeting that young people damaging city property at the West Main St. Sir William Johnson Park has sparked his interest in crafting a new ordinance that would give police an enforcement mechanism for parenting a group of young people from vandalizing the park and otherwise disrupting city life, particularly near the post office, which is adjacent to the park.

“Every time we get called over there, kids are riding down the middle of the roads — they’re diving in and out of traffic that [largely consists of drivers] trying to go drop off mail in the post office,” Gilbo said. “We’re talking an age group from probably anywhere from eight to, well, the oldest one is 21.”

Gilbo said part of his motivation in seeking new rules banning or limiting the use of bicycles in parts of the city is his frustration at being unable to charge people under the age of 18 with crimes as adults due to New York state’s “Raise the Age” legislation, passed in 2017. Prior to that New York had been one of only a few states where a juvenile could still be charged as an adult.

“As far as law enforcement, we’ve already put it out there to them that we’re not going to tolerate it, with or without the ordinance, because I know for a fact who the kids are who are damaging things, but, again, we have “Raise the Age” — kids can’t be held responsible for anything until they’re 18 or older,” Gilbo told the council. “So, the 16-year old we’d be arresting, or the 15-year-old we’d send to court, now they go home with mom and dad, who are the ones allowing them up there, and not teaching them to respect other people’s property.”

Fourth Ward Councilmember Max Spritzer said he’s aware of the litter and flowers trampled at the park and electrical outlets and panel boxes being damaged, but he’s unsure whether a bicycle ban is the right answer.

“A couple of people I’ve talked to have shared the concern that if we ban bikes and skateboards, well what about a scooter? What about a hoverboard?” Spritzer said.

Gilbo said he’s looking for a way to more permanently disperse the group of kids he’s concerned about and a new ordinance might be the way to do it. He said juveniles on scooters have damaged city property.

“We’ll say no to the bandshell [inside Sir William Johnson Park], and they’ll go down to Washington Street Park; we’ll hit Washington Street Park and they’ll go up to one of the other parks or maybe Frog Hollow, which, again, is not city property, but it can be an issue,” he said. “We’ve tried every gambit. I know at one time, 10 or 12 years ago, one of our detectives wanted to have a skateboard park, but that was turned down by the city at the time. Amsterdam has one, Saratoga has one. I don’t know what funds they used, but without having something for the kids to do, you’ve got to weigh the costs.”

Gilbo said any form of law enforcement is difficult with respect to juveniles currently.

“There is no rules that these kids have to follow,” he said. “Even though we have cameras on Main Street, and we can watch the whole thing, except inside the bandshell. That’s why they sit inside the bandshell. That’s why they do their little spin kicks with their scooters inside the bandshell.”

Gilbo indicated he intends to add more cameras “from the county” that may allow him to better monitor the bandshell.

Spritzer said the juveniles have made marks on the interior walls of the bandshell from the tires of their bikes and scooters, which required it to be repainted only two months after its most recent painting.

“It’s really unfortunate, and I’ll be honest with you, I don’t love the idea of banning bicyles, but until we can get some other recreational options for these kids I think it has to be done,” Spitzer said.

Gilbo told Spitzer it is not his intention to uniformly enforce the ordinance change if the council approves it.

“Obviously, with any public ordinance or city ordinance, we have discretion,” he said. “Law enforcement, my officers, are not going to be out there for the four-year-old that’s learning how to ride a bike with training wheels and mom is walking along side it. We’re not going to say ‘hey lady, get out of the park.’ This is for the select few who, like I said, they have no rules.”

Gilbo said he’s concerned about the particular group of juveniles he’s identified, which includes a 21-year-old hanging out with a 14-year-old.

“There’s nothing good that’s going to come out of that combination,” he said. “So, I’m going to put something together for next meeting, if you guys want to go ahead with it. I just want to get guidance … it’s a lot of research to get the wording exactly right, with everything in this day and age as far as everything with Bail Reform and Discovery, so that we can get everything locked down to the point where we can make a lawful arrest, if somebody pushes it to that point.”

The Common Council is expected to address the issue again at it’s June 21 meeting.

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