HARLEM — City dirt bike riders are taking what they hope will be their first steps toward finding a legal place to ride when they host a public safety forum with government officials Tuesday night.
Representatives from the city Department of Parks, Harlem Community Development Corporation and the NYPD are planning a sit-down with the bikers and concerned community residents to discuss the idea of finding them a permanent place to ride.
"It's a big step for us," said Benjamin "Benmore" Charles, 32, who co-founded the group Bikelife to lobby for a dirt bike park. "We want to do this the right way."
As DNAinfo New York first reported, the bikers say they are concerned by recent deaths of dirt bike riders, pedestrian injuries and interactions with police. Last year, Eddie Fernandez was killed when a dirt bike he was riding was rear-ended by cops in the Hunts Point neighborhood of The Bronx.
In March, a 77-year-old man was hit by a dirt bike on Boston Road in The Bronx after a police cruiser allegedly hit the back of the vehicle, which was in a pack of 30 or 40 dirt bikes and ATVs.
The dirt bikes, which are illegal to ride on city streets because they don't have proper safety equipment, are a perennial problem in neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan and The Bronx. The bikers travel in large packs, ride on the sidewalk, run red lights and don't wear helmets.
Riders of dirt bikes on city streets are subject to arrest, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Anti-violence activist Iesha Sekou of Street Corner Resources, who is serving as an adviser to Bikelife, said the effort from the bikers to find a legal place to ride is helping to ease tensions with community residents fed up by the bikers.
"Once we committed to being solution-driven and not stuck on the problem, the community has taken a different feel," Sekou said. "At first they didn't want to hear about the bikers but when they heard there was an effort to get a bike park they were more interested."
Karen Horry, president of the 142nd Street Block Association and a member of the transportation committee of Community Board 10, is one of those people. She helped organize Tuesday's meeting after Charles gave a presentation at her block association meeting.
"We know there is a problem with the bikers but they have a voice that needs to be heard," Horry said. "At the same time we need to be safe on the street."
Horry's vision for the benefits of a bike park lines up with that of Sekou's and Bikelife members. They see dirt bike riding as a tool that can be used to disrupt the patterns of gun violence around neighborhood-based crews.
"We can take what was a nuisance and turn it into part of the solution to the violence problem," Sekou said.
Still, some are skeptical about whether a park will stem the problem. Part of the thrill of riding is being out on the street with a built-in audience.
But bikers say the recent deaths have changed their mindset and that riders like Charles, known for his Spiderman-themed dirt bike, can make it cool to ride in a park.
Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation, said he hopes the meeting can be the start of a dialogue.
"I am absolutely going to listen but my recommendation is that the city provide some information as to available land that might be utilized as a short-term measure and answer to the issue," Archer said.
Areas such as the Hunts Point Industrial Park and Gateway Park in Brooklyn might be possible locations, he added.
"The public likes the ideas," Charles said. "This way, we won't be a nuisance on the street."
The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held Tuesday, June 11 at 6 p.m. the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Center, 34 W. 135th St., between Lenox and Fifth avenues.