Dirt bikes and ATVs flood the streets of Hunting Park

    In Philadelphia it is illegal to ride a dirt bike or an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on any street, sidewalk or pathway.

    Nevertheless, as winter passes and spring dawns on the city, dirt bikes and ATVs fill the city streets.

    Some riders swarm the streets in packs while others dart in and out of traffic. Many of them ride along the street with the front of their bike or ATV perched triumphantly into the air.

    But the city believes that every one of them could potentially create a hazardous situation for drivers and pedestrians and a presence that is hard for Hunting Park residents to ignore.

    “If you wait here around [5 p.m.] you’ll hear them. You’ll see them go by about every 10 minutes,” said Hussein Hayari, owner of Premium Produce.

    It is a difficult scenario for law enforcement to control. Pursuing the ATVs or dirt bikes creates a dangerous situation for anyone walking the streets and makes a bad situation even worse.

    Capt. Frank Vanore, who head the 25th Police District, said police officers are instructed not to pursue the riders. Still, he has heard anger of community members desperately asking the riders to be taken off the streets.

    “Any community meeting I go to, I hear complaints about the noise,” Vanore said. “People are riding them late at night, and it’s all you hear is that buzzing sound. And then they’re worried about people getting struck by the vehicles. They’re riding them around in the neighborhood. It’s a complaint everywhere I go.”

    A business owner in Hunting Park, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of possible retaliation from the riders, said he hears them drive by on a daily basis.

    “You sit out here on a nice day on the avenue and you see kids doing whatever they want,” the business owner said. “They ride standing up, they do wheelies. They all think they’re Evel Knievel.

    “I don’t mind my kids riding them in the country but the way I see it, in the city someone is going to get killed,” the business owner said. “There’s a time and place for everything. ATVs and motorbikes do not belong on city streets, bottom line.”

    While all of Hunting Park residents are aware of the buzzing engines of these off-road vehicles, some are not bothered by their presence.

    Hector Rivera, an 18-year resident of Hunting Park, has his own garage and workshop alongside his house where he works on motorcycles and cars.  Although younger riders often use the stretch of gravel by his house to ride dirt bikes and ATVs, Rivera said they don’t worry to him.

    “The dirt bikes don’t bother me. I’m a biker. If something breaks on one of their bikes, they come here and I’ll help them out,” Rivera said.

    “Some people worry about the dust and the sound but if the wind blows you got dirt in the air,” Rivera said. “People always pay attention to them. The ATVs [and dirt bikes] are a hobby. It’s always been the same.”

    While many of the riders recklessly drive through the streets while ignoring road signs and law enforcement, there are legitimate ATV and dirt bike enthusiasts in the city who have no area in which they can enjoy their hobby safely and legally.

    The closest riding spot for ATVs and dirt bikes is through the Pine Barrens Enduro Club in Pine Barrens, N.J., which is nearly two hours away.

    Without the funds for transportation of their vehicles and nowhere else to turn, riders congregate wherever they possibly can within the city limits.

    One of the most popular spots is along the Delaware River on North Beach Street by the intersection of Aramingo Avenue and East York Street. The road provides a long strip where an assortment of cars, trucks, dirt bikes and ATVs can ride every Sunday that the weather allows.

    Police officers will often ride through the area, causing participants in the races to scatter.  Other times, the police will block off the exits to the street and serve out $1,000 fines for participating in the drag races.

    “Some of them come here and ride [ATVs and dirt bikes] in areas that they think are designated for them and they are not,” Vanore said. “They go to these areas, wooded areas like Tacony, down by the airport, and they are not allowed to ride them there. So the police, when they are there, have to stop them and confiscate them.”

    There is an area between Beach Street and the river with several large dirt mounds, which provide ramps for ATVs and dirt bikes.

    One of the dirt bike riders, who wished not to be named because of an on-going legal battle, said he has seen a number of people die at the spot in the years he has been riding there.

    He also said he believes the city could turn such a place into a riding area, helping to pull riders off of the city streets and creating a safer environment in the process.

    “If they just had a gate right there with one way in, one way out and charge people to get in,” the rider said. “Let’s just say $10. Make sure you have a helmet, chest-protector, boots. Put a flag on your bike. I bet everyone would pay.”

    The Parks and Recreation Department was unavailable for comment on the topic of creating a new park.

    The 21-year-old rider said he doesn’t want all dirt bikers and ATV riders to be lumped together with the “bad apples” that showboat on the city streets.

    “I’m sure the people who don’t like us riding on the streets, they have their own hobbies,” the rider said. ‘This is our hobby.”

    Tim Johnson and Kriston Bethel are Temple University students. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.