Securing a Park for Dirt Bikes Will Be Challenging, Officials Warn Riders
HARLEM — City officials told dirt-bike riders seeking their own park that there are many legal and procedural hurdles that need to be cleared before that can happen.
"What I want you to walk away with is an understanding of the process by which decisions get made," Larry Scott Blackmon, deputy commissioner for community outreach for the Parks Department, told a room full of dozens of bikers in Harlem Tuesday night.
Among the issues: riding a dirt bike on city streets is illegal because the bikes don't have proper equipment; dirt-bike operators on city streets are subject to arrest; finding space for a new park is not as simple as identifying a vacant lot, Blackmon said; and who would insure the park?
"Even before we get to that point there is legislation needed to make it legal," said Blackmon, who added that he was a bike-riding aficionado. "There are serious issues if someone is riding their bike to a site."
With representatives present from the NYPD and the offices of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Assemblyman Keith Wright and Councilwoman Inez Dickens, it's not the answer organizers of the group Bikelife were hoping to hear.
After recent deaths and pedestrian crashes and run-ins with police, the group formed to push for a space where the dirt bike riders can pop wheelies and perform tricks in safety.
Neighborhood residents in places like Harlem and the South Bronx now complain about the riders being on city streets while performing tricks, running red lights and even bringing their vehicles on the sidewalk.
In August 2011, a dirt-bike rider in the Bronx was killed when police bumped the back of his vehicle. Over the last few years there have been incidents in Harlem and the Bronx where pedestrians have been hurt by dirt bike riders fleeing from police.
Even though area police commanders say they have a no-chase policy because it induces recklessness in the dirt-bike riders, many riders say they have regular interactions with the police.
"You get mad at cops for chasing you but you are violating the law," said Inspector Rodney Harrison, commander of the 32nd Precinct in Harlem, who added that he would be in favor of a park for dirt-bike riders.
But before that happens, bikers must respect the law.
"There can't be anarchy," Harrison said.
It was a message echoed by other participants who are supportive of the plan.
"What you do is incredible but there are rules in place," said Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation. "It's not just a simple solution."
"I love to see you throwing it up but not in the middle of Seventh Avenue with a cab in the intersection and an old lady trying to cross the street," said Maurice Cummings, a special assistant to Wright, referring to the tricks the riders do.
Proponents of the dirt-bike plan, such as anti-violence activist Iesha Sekou of Street Corner Resources and Jackie Rowe Adams, co-founder of Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E., say it can be a tool to reach out to young people who are likely to be involved in gangs or gun violence.
Benjamin "Benmore" Charles, co-founder of the group Bikelife, explained to the crowd how his interest in dirt bikes when he was younger kept him away from gangs and put him on the path to earning a college degree.
Charles argued that parks have been created for everything from dogs to lacrosse and that a dirt-bike park should be no different.
"How many of y'all play baseball, lacrosse or tennis?" Charles asked the dirt-bike riders assembled in the room. "No one even asks them what they want."
Al Capone, a longtime dirt biker and co-founder of Bikelife who asked to be identified by his street name, pushed for a temporary location for the summer, the height of the dirt bike riding season in the city.
"We don't have the luxury of waiting five years," he said. "Kids are going to die this summer.
"Everybody wants this, even the people who don't like us want us off the street," he added. "This is a win-win situation for everybody."
Al Capone said they are also looking at alternate models for acquiring a park, such as getting sponsors and raising money so that the group could privately purchase its own piece of land.
Blackmon said he was willing to continue the conversation with the group and there are plans to discuss the issue at local community boards and neighborhood associations.
Rey Flores, a 21-year-old retail worker who lives in East Harlem, said dirt-bike riding culture is growing — as are some of his friends' confrontations with police. A bike park would pull riders off the street, he said.
"The excitement of a new park would just draw the riders there and we could ride in safety," he said.