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Urban ATVs | Leaders discuss where they belong in DC's future

The issue was revived after ATVs reportedly rode on the National Mall Sunday. New York's mayor also grabbed headlines Tuesday for crushing the ATVs in a ceremony.

WASHINGTON — Editor's Note: The video above was published on June 22, 2022.

After the mayor of the Big Apple made a big display of crushing illegal ATVs and dirt bikes in his city, some D.C. residents are asking what’s in store for the vehicles in their community.

On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams had a bulldozer crush hundreds of dirt bikes and ATVs during a ceremony to show how both his office and the New York Police Department were working to crack down on the vehicles illegally riding on city streets.

In the District, dirt bikes and ATVs have long been a source of controversy.

The vehicles are illegal to ride on the public streets in D.C., according to the Metropolitan Police Department. However, many locals have also claimed the riding of dirt bikes and ATVs is part of the District’s culture.

In light of Adams’ decision to ceremoniously some of the vehicles in New York earlier this week, reporters questioned D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser as to how she plans to deal with them in her community.

Extended Interview: Councilmember Brianne Nadeau discusses ATVs and dirt bikes in DC.

On Sunday, dozens of ATV and dirt bike riders were captured on video driving across the National Mall toward the Washington Monument. The National Mall falls under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

“United States Park Police officers responded to the area,” said US Park Police Spokesperson Sergeant Thomas Twiname. “The ATVs left the area prior to any law enforcement intervention. No arrests were made by the USPP.”

Earlier this week, during a press conference, Bowser said that she had asked D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee to “redouble” his efforts to curb the vehicles’ use in D.C.

“They’re both a nuisance and it’s dangerous,” she said. “We’ve heard from neighborhoods around the city about the noise pollution created and about the reckless driving and we know that these are off-road vehicles. They’re not permitted on roads. So, the chief of police is looking at best practices across the country and not just one solution, but many solutions to get these vehicles off our roads.”

The department encouraged locals to help it find more illegally used vehicles by having them participate in its "Bonu$ to Phone Us" reward program, which makes tipsters eligible for a $250 reward for useful information.

However, despite ATVs and dirt bikes being illegal to use on DC roads, the District’s enforcement of that law has been limited.

D.C. Police say it has a no-chase policy for people it observes driving the vehicles.

Extended Interview: Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green discusses ATVs and dirt bikes in DC.

There have been several recent incidents where police pursuits have resulted in the deaths of people riding ATVs and dirtbikes.

D.C. resident Karon Hylton-Brown died in October 2020 after he crashed his moped while being pursued by police.

In 2018, Jeffrey Price died while riding on his dirt bike too. D.C. Police claimed the 22-year-old was traveling at a high speed on the wrong side of a roadway when he crashed into a police cruiser. Price’s family members claimed the police officer was chasing Price and used his cruiser as a blockade.

Ward 1 D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau has worked to find a solution to the use of ATVs and dirt bikes in D.C. In the spring and summer, it is not unusual to find dozens of riders traveling through the U Street corridor in her ward.

In May, Nadeau wrote on her blog a plan to address the issue. In addition to continuing to enforce and impound vehicles that are prohibited on D.C. roads, the councilmember also proposed funding and coordinating outreach to riders to close what she calls a gap of mutual understanding between lawmakers and bike enthusiasts.

“It's not just something that we're going to arrest our way out of,” Nadeau said. “And, frankly, I don't think that's the best path forward anyway. So, what I'm doing is working with the Office of Gun Violence and the Attorney General's Office to start doing engagement of folks who are in the bike community to see what they would like to see.”

She said the approach she is proposing has found success went put to use in different situations as well.

“For example, our [Department of Parks and Recreation] roving leaders to disengaged youth,” Nadeau said. “We have a credible messenger program that reaches out to older folks in the community that are disengaged and don't have positive outlets. These programs have been really successful.”

The council member added she would like to work with the mayor and other District leaders to find a creative solution to the issue as well.

Anthony Lorenzo Green, advisory neighborhood commissioner for 7C04 in Northeast DC’s Deanwood neighborhood, would like to work with Nadeau on the topic too.

He has watched the debate over the usage of ATVs and dirt bikes in the District closely over the years.

Green said the vehicles are intrinsic to the District.

“I always have to remind myself that people may not fully understand this culture, even those who are from here, who may not have been part of it, who may have always found it as a nuisance,” he said. “But I do want to remind folks, this is something that has been passed down from generation to generation [in DC], and now children are just picking up something they find this a passion.”

Green points to movements like “Bikes Up, Guns Down” in Northeast D.C. as positive aspects of D.C.’s bike culture that bring people together locally.

He said he wants to see the District invest in the passion of its ATV and dirt bike riders, even if that means designating a special place for them to ride their vehicles in the community.

“Here in the nation's capital, we should be investing in a passion that our youth have been displaying for generations, instead of constantly trying to find ways to criminalize it.”

Green acknowledges people can have accidents on ATVs and dirt bikes, but he believes D.C. leaders should focus more time on other issues that contribute to greater dangers on the roads.

“I'm a big supporter of people sharing the road, especially those who are riding bicycles, who can't really get down the street without being hit by a car or a truck,” he said. “So, it's really deeper than just ATVs and dirt bikes on our roads. I think it's just a control thing where people feel like they own the roads. But ATVs and dirt bikes are not killing people.”

The noise the vehicles create has also been another point of controversy for people who complain about them around the District.

In response, Nadeau did present another strategy to deal with that challenge and the noise that is created by street performances and nightlife venues.

She recently introduced the Harmonious Living Act, which aims to address residential, quality-of-life issues in D.C.’s nightlife and entertainment neighborhoods.

She said the bill would implement standards for soundproofing in new residential buildings, with higher standards in entertainment districts and create incentive programs to retrofit older buildings with improved soundproofing.

Nadeau said, currently, D.C. does not have soundproofing standards in its building code.

In the end, however, both Nadeau and Green agree that they do not want to see D.C. crush ATVs and dirt bikes like New York City did.

“I don't want to see that here,” Nadeau said. “I mean, I think it's violent. It's unnecessary. And, it's not productive.”

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