Rodrigo Clark-Turrent and her husband cycled through the August night as they cycled to their Woodley Park home after dinner at a friend’s house in Logan Circle. The sun had set as the couple approached 15th and U streets when the thunderous roar of off-road vehicles suddenly broke their calm.
Arrests of ATV riders in DC are down. Irritation with them is not.
“It was scary and it felt like bullying, the way they wouldn’t let people through,” Clark-Turrent, 39, said. “It was late, we were tired and just wanted to go home. We have not seen an end point.
Mountain bikes have long made their presence known on city streets, but a recent shooting involving bikers and vehicle viral video drive on the grass near the Washington Monument reignited tensions with residents. Some want to see more vehicles confiscated and more drivers fined, to reduce what they see as a noisy, disruptive and dangerous practice. Police – who made fewer arrests of people riding ATVs in public spaces in the first half of this year than in the same period in pre-pandemic 2019 – say the issue is particularly vexing, because chasing down drivers is dangerous, and because riding is so much a part of DC culture.
“It’s a complex question. People react differently depending on how close they are to pain,” DC Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said. “When those ATVs are rolling down your block or down your street where your family is, that’s a concern for you. It’s more of a cultural issue that we really need to put our arms around people and figure out the best way to deal with it.
DC police on the hunt for a large group of illegal dirt bikes and ATV riders
City officials note that they have taken steps to suppress. The police department periodically posts images of the runners on Twitter, asking for the public’s help in identifying them, and its “Bonu$ to Phone Us” rewards program offers $250 rewards to residents who call the police information line with the location of an illegal ATV or dirt bike. The department’s non-prosecution policy prohibits officers from prosecuting riders, but police can still seize and confiscate vehicles.
Since 2019, the total number of arrests has decreased. Across the city, police made 49 arrests in 2019, including 18 between January and June 15. She made 25 arrests in 2020, including 17 between January and June 15. It made 21 arrests in 2021, including 7 between January and June 15.
Between January and June 15 of this year, the police made 9 arrests. Police said they do not have data on the number of vehicles seized.
Officials in other cities have taken intense action. In New York, Mayor Eric Adams (D) recently waved a checkered flag as a a bulldozer crushed a line of illegal dirt bikes and ATVs; DC took similar action several years ago.
Not all DC residents oppose runners. Some say the noise from ATVs and dirt bikes brings liveliness to the city, and the city council should take steps that don’t involve curbing their activity, such as setting soundproofing standards for residents’ homes , or give runners a space dedicated to riding.
Simply dodging runners may be impossible. Clark-Turrent said he and her husband decided to dodge the runners using 17th Street, but one swerved past him, while another charged at him before coming to an abrupt stop. Since the incident, Clark-Turrent has changed her routine to avoid runners when possible.
“If we have visitors, we want to make sure they’re there during the day,” Clark-Turrent said. “My husband and I cycle everywhere as we don’t have a car so we try not to leave our place after 9:30am unless it’s to let the dogs out.”
Riders have periodically been accused of violent altercations. On June 12, for example, four ATV riders got into a fight with a man near the 2600 block of Branch Avenue SE, and one of them pulled out a gun and shot him, the police said. police. The man survived and received treatment for his injury; police later released footage of the runners to the public.
Contee said he believes people who ride ATVs and dirt bikes do so to provide performance for everyone who sees them, not because they want their own space.
“We want to do everything we can to deter this behavior and make sure there are consequences associated with this kind of reckless behavior,” Contee said.
An ATV and dirt bike rider, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid police attention, said he believes DC residents are unfairly demonizing riders. The cyclist, a 32-year-old Brightwood Park resident who has been riding dirt bikes and ATVs since 1996, said older cyclists in his neighborhood introduced him to the activity and he passed it on to his three children.
“There aren’t many opportunities for kids to learn to ride in the city. Even if they don’t end up rolling, they should at least know how to fix them,” the rider said.
The cyclist, who also repairs ATVs and dirt bikes, says riding his ATV is a stress reliever. He said the “bad apples” in the biker community — like those involved in the shooting – led to negative perceptions. The animosity, he said, leads some riders to become defensive in confrontations with drivers or police. Last November, the rider said he was hit by a car while on his dirt bike and had to have a plate put in his leg.
“As a biker community, we have a common enemy in cars. Civilians try to be police when they don’t see the police nearby,” said the biker. “On the road you have to be careful to everybody.”
Opinion: Stop the hundreds of illegal off-road vehicles flooding the streets of DC
After the June 12 shooting, someone claiming to represent U Street residents emailed DC police Cmdt. James M. Boteler, Jr., who was hired in April to lead the department’s Third District, alleging DC police were turn a blind eye to what the person called “total anarchy”.
Boteler Jr. replied that since he took over, the police had seized about ten ATVs, arrested four to five drivers and recovered some weapons associated with them.
“I can promise you I’m all about holding these people who are ATV threats accountable,” Boteler Jr. wrote.
Councilor Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) proposed a series of measures to keep ATVs and dirt bikes off city streets, including impounding vehicles, constructing a dedicated riding area and creating programs to reduce violent incidents. Nadeau said riding ATVs helps young people avoid getting involved in violence.
“My goal is to work with residents and cyclists in a way that improves residents’ quality of life while recognizing the impact of the culture of life on the bike,” Nadeau said in an emailed statement.
Sabel Harris, a ward advisory commissioner for the U Street ward who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for the Ward 1 council seat, said she does not believe in seizing vehicles or applying punitive measures that do not work.
“Several residents told us about the noise,” Harris said. “But we need to look at this situation comprehensively and address the security concerns.”
Kelvin Brown, an ANC commissioner for Ward 7, said residents complained to him about safety and noise pollution, but he didn’t want the runners to leave completely.
“Runners are thrilled to draw people into the show. Even if people don’t like it, you have to admit it’s fun to watch,” Brown said. “Knowing that, we should give runners the opportunity to channel that energy into something that can be great for the whole city.”
Dieter Lehmann Morales, an ANC commissioner from Columbia Heights, said he sympathizes with those who complain about noise, but that comes from living in the city. If authorities legalized vehicles on city streets, he said, it could dispel the thrill of thwarting authority.
“It’s not just that people’s lives are disrupted, but it’s the sounds and the ways of life that come from living in a big city,” Morales said. “Some people don’t want to tackle this, but it comes with the territory.”
Gary Zottoli said he doesn’t mind noise or runners. The 30-year-old Park View resident said he knows runners can be boring at times, but he believes that disturbance brings excitement.
“You have a very diverse dynamism that builds the fabric of the city. You see it, you get upset for a few minutes and then you move on,” Zottoli said. “What makes people so angry? »
The Brightwood Park rider said he is skeptical of those who say they want to hear the voices of ATV and dirt bike riders, and that dirt bike riding will continue regardless of police seizures or the negative feeling of the residents. The rider said his goal was not to attract attention, but to pass on his love of riding to children, just as older riders have done to him.
“You know who doesn’t complain about the constituency? Young people don’t do it,” the runner said. “The attention we get is nice, but I like doing the tricks for the kids the most because they like to see it. If I can make them happy, then I’ve accomplished something.