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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    Get dirt bikes off the road

    They drive on streets two or three abreast, sometimes on the wrong side of the road. They pop wheelies and do handstands while their bike engines roar. They ride in groups of a dozen or more down streets where their vehicles are illegal to operate.

    Community Facebook pages and other social media sites such as Nextdoor are full of online conversations in which residents both criticize the noise and risky behavior, as well as voice admiration for the acrobatics and athleticism of these dirt bike and all terrain vehicle riders.

    For years, whenever warmer weather draws people outdoors, young riders get busy driving their dirt bikes and ATVs illegally on state and municipal roads. Their actions are the focus of controversy, debate and conversation among residents of many Connecticut towns and cities. Most often these debates focus on riders in urban areas such as New Haven and Bridgeport.

    In southeastern Connecticut, these riders are especially prevalent in New London, where in September a biker operating illegally among a large swarm of other bikers on Colman Street drove into and injured a police officer who was on foot.

    New London Police Chief Brian M. Wright said many residents have submitted tips and information to help the police locate those who drive the bikes illegally on city streets. The police have issued fines and confiscated bikes as they strive to enforce the laws, he said.

    “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Wright said about the push to curb the risky activity in the city.

    While both critics and defenders of the bikers proliferate, the fact is that neither dirt bikes nor ATVs are street legal. In addition, the bikers risk their lives and those of drivers and pedestrians. The riders also are too often disrespectful of drivers and the rules of the road - cruising through intersections oblivious to stop signs and traffic lights or surrounding in noisy swarms motorists who are otherwise operating legally and minding their own business. And certainly, driving into a police officer is an act for which a biker must be held responsible.

    There is also another set of facts, however, that may be lost in the angry rhetoric directed at the bikers. If these young people were growing up in a rural area, they’d be riding these vehicles on the many off-road paths and trails that are plentiful in such areas. There, they’d get little pushback or criticism of their riding.

    In some cities, officials have sought some compromises to make their municipalities more welcoming to these youth. They have developed places within their boundaries where dirt bikers and ATV riders can legally operate. They have discussed designating certain streets off limits to cars but open to dirt bike riders at specific hours and days.

    Such conversations should happen locally. Officials in New London and other areas where the bikes have become especially pesky should seriously consider measures that could provide safe alternatives to the youth who enjoy riding dirt bikes and ATVs. Given that municipalities currently have pandemic relief funds that could help develop off-road riding trails in appropriate locations, now would be an opportune time to get to work on such a plan.

    Indeed, New London officials plan to spend a considerable amount of money to renovate playgrounds at city parks. Might some of the money instead be used to plan for and develop a safe, off-road dirt bike and ATV trail network or a plan to allow the riders limited access to specific streets at designated hours?

    Police are doing their best to enforce the laws and get dirt bikes and ATVs off city streets. Officials should also recognize that many city youth have a deep love for riding, however, and work with them to find places where they can legally practice their sport.

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