With the onset of summer weather, residents are noticing more activity in the all-terrain vehicle community. While forbidden on city streets, these vehicles, also called ATVs, quads and four-wheelers, are experiencing explosive popularity at the most dangerous time of the year.
During warmer months children begin to gather on the streets where they become accidental targets for reckless ATV riders. Although a four-wheeler’s engine can be heard before it is seen, these vehicles still pose a substantial threat to their drivers and concerned locals alike–at least until the city offers ATV enthusiasts a safer place to ride.
Residents of West Rockland Street have seen a lot of ATV action on their block. Located between the 4800 block of Germantown Avenue and Greene Street, West Rockland Street is a one-way street that is often abused by ATV riders.
“They come up one-way streets,” resident Rashon Jones said. “They go down one-way streets when you’re supposed to come up with no regards for the kids. It’s the summertime so kids are going to be running around. This is a play street, it’s blocked off, but if they come up the street there is nothing we can do.”
The children of West Rockland Street constantly play outside and take advantage of the cool water spraying from the fire hydrant at the top of the block. However, on any given day ATV riders will still speed up this well-known road, regardless of the reasons it is blocked off in the first place.
“I think it’s an epidemic that’s happening, and they need somewhere to actually ride,” resident Darren Robinson said. “I have a 10-year-old son, and he wants a motor vehicle, but I always tell him that there is no real safe place to ride.”
With no designated environment to ride, ATV riders are forced to cruise the city streets. “I see all the youth’s attraction to them and there’s no way to stop them,” Robinson said, “but I think there needs to be a park they can get to and ride at.”
Many opponents of ATVs agree that the situation of reckless driving would improve if ATV riders had their own park.
“They should have somewhere to go to ride them,” resident Hope Campbell said. “First of all, they ride them up and down the block. They don’t watch out for the kids. The bikes are just nuisances in the area. If they had somewhere to go it would be one thing.”
Even though it is illegal to ride ATVs on city streets, the police are unable to enforce the law due to a strict no-chase policy. The no-chase policy prevents riders from injuring themselves and bystanders during possible high-speed chases.
However, some riders say that they have been chased by police. “I have one, but I don’t ride it in the street,” resident Rah Reezy said. “It’s too much hassle because you’re definitely going to get chased, and now they have cops with the same dirt bikes so they’re definitely giving us competition.”
In fact, the city sells ATVs and other bikes seized by police at local Philadelphia Parking Authority auctions.
“The cops take them and then let us go auction them,” Rah Reezy said, “so I don’t know if they want to punish us or award us. My friend just got one from the auction. They’re giving them out. They’re letting us bid on them.”
The PPA holds auctions three times a week and part of what is sold is unclaimed ATVs and other bikes. The buyers, who are often riders, have expressed that the city is sending out mixed messages to the community about its role in getting riders off city streets.
However, not all ATV riders are reckless drivers only interested in the trend of riding. Chauncey Jones has been riding all types of bikes on and off since the age of thirteen.
“To me it’s like a lifestyle,” Jones said. “I’m always going to ride. I’m going to be 50 years old riding motorcycles.”
Jones believes riders who drive inconsiderately through the city streets don’t have respect for the bike.
“I don’t have anything bad to say about [the bikes],” Jones said. “People just have to respect the bikes and have some type of consideration when they’re riding on the streets. It’s not the bikes. It’s some of the people who ride the bikes.”
Jones said that although he hasn’t been seriously injured, he knows plenty of riders who have been. Tanya Banks, a resident of West Rockland Street, has seen firsthand the dangers of ATVs.
“I think it’s dangerous,” Banks said. “Actually, my nephew got hurt bad on one down on Erie Avenue. He went through a car windshield. He just made it. I’ve seen a lot of boys get hurt really bad.”
Although the risks are high, the popularity of ATVs doesn’t seem like it is going to fade anytime soon.
“Most people learn how to ride out here on dangerous streets so the risks that they take aren’t big to them because they have nowhere else to ride safely,” Robinson said.
Soundslide: West Rockland Street Kids Explain Why They Like ATVs