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October 16, 2018

Could Philly be home to a dirt-bike park anytime soon?

Last weekend's street takeover revives an on-again, off-again issue, says city councilman

It’s illegal to operate a dirt bike or ATV on the streets of Philadelphia. When some 1,000 enthusiasts did just that last weekend to honor the late Kyrell “Dirt Bike Rell” Tyler, police arrested about 20 people and confiscated 30 vehicles.

They also might have unwittingly revived a years-old idea to develop a dirt-bike park somewhere within the city limits.

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said Tuesday that he was interested in exploring an idea that’s come up in the past but never mustered much progress.

In May 2016, he and City Councilman Curtis Jones introduced a resolution “to hold hearings on the possibility of developing, designing and constructing a Public Off-Highway Vehicle Park.”

Council passed the resolution more than two years ago, but hearings were never held.

Jones’ chief-of-staff Joshua Cohen said the councilman “would be open to the idea of further exploring the topics,” which is exactly what Johnson said he plans to do. He said it’s prompted by “young people expressing an interest in having a safe place where they can ride.”

“It’s a controversial issue, but if we could find a place where people can engage in riding their bikes, along with the camaraderie in that underground culture, it would give people an alternative to getting involved with things that, nine times out of 10, lead to violence,” he said. “From knowing how the streets work, that culture brings people together and can eliminate beefs that may occur in the city.”

It’s admittedly early in any sort of process that could conceivably lead to a dirt-bike park in Philly. Johnson said he plans to catch up with Jones to talk about any potential ways to push the issue further than it went in 2016. They'd also need to work through how people would get their bikes or ATVs to the park if such operation was still not permitted on city streets.

As for the overarching issue, Johnson likened it to the scuttlebutt over illegal skateboarding in the city, and how it ultimately lead to Paine’s Park being installed near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“I know New Jersey has a dirt-bike park, so I don’t see why Philadelphia couldn’t go down that path,” he said, noting that earlier discussions looked at possible locations in Fairmount Park, Wissahickon Park or down by the airport.

The type of gun violence that ended Dirt Bike Rell’s life four years ago is also a driving force, Johnson said.

“We’re in a crisis right now, but when you see young people organizing amongst themselves events with no violence, we want to encourage that,” he said. “They’re part of society, not outcasts, and they’re expressing themselves positively. It brings young people together from all different cultures, backgrounds and neighborhoods.

“If we can all unite around a common theme, you want to encourage that. We may even have the next X Games champion from right here in Philly, who knows?”