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DC Exploring Creation of Dirt Bike Park

051316 dirt bikes atvs capitol
NBC Washington

As D.C. police crack down on people who illegally ride dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles on city streets, a D.C. Council member and the parks department are exploring the creation of a public park for riders.

Ward 8 Council Member LaRuby May said her office and the Department of Parks and Recreation are looking at potential locations for a dirt bike park that would get riders off streets and offer them job-training programs.

"We're evaluated and we're still looking at a couple of sites across the city and very specifically in Ward 8," the council member said in an interview Thursday.

The D.C. parks department is weighing the park's potential, spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said in a statement.

"We are taking a preliminary look to determine feasibility and cost – not only for the District of Columbia, but for an urban environment," she said, stressing that no funding had been allocated.

May said she believes that while dirt bikes and ATVs must remain illegal to drive on D.C. streets, the District should help develop the skills of young adults who ride them.

"What I see from ATV/dirt bike riders is a tremendous amount of potential and talent," she said. "I was amazed."

She said she began speaking with a group of riders last summer, starting with a Sunday afternoon meeting of more than 50 riders and some riders' mothers at Allen Chapel AME Church, which she attends.

May said that while she told riders they need to follow the law, she was impressed the young people had taught themselves how to repair their vehicles and do bodywork.

The creation of a public park for dirt bike and ATV riders would get them off streets and give them the opportunity to translate their skills into career options, May said. She suggested the proposed park offer a training program and provide stations where riders can do maintenance work.

"They can transfer this skill that they've just taught themselves into an employment opportunity or an entrepreneur opportunity to create their own shop," she said.

May said D.C. officials have discussed several potential sites for the dirt bike park but that she wants to speak with neighbors before a list of prospective sites is released.

The dirt bike park likely would have to include storage space for the bikes, May said, since they cannot legally be ridden on streets. The environmental impact of such a facility also is a consideration, the parks department spokeswoman said.

While May seeks to explore young riders' potential, many D.C. residents see them as menaces who swarm streets, run red lights and stop traffic as they pop wheelies.

In the past year, dirt bike and ATV riders have hit and dragged a D.C. police officer, delayed an ambulance transporting a sick child and been implicated in the May 2015 shooting death of local news reporter Charnice Milton.

D.C. police have vowed to catch riders and destroy their bikes.

"We have had enough, our community has had enough, and the riders that we can identify, we are going to aggressively prosecute," Police Chief Cathy Lanier said April 7, when police released surveillance images of 245 riders sought by the department.

May said riders she has met attributed these crimes to "one-off" riders, not members of their group.

"The group that I met with said those are kind of rogue guys," she said.

The council member said she believed members of the group of riders would report any major crimes, including Milton's murder, if they witnessed them.

"I am fairly confident that the group that I met with, if any of them knew who [shot Milton] -- that information would be disclosed," she said.

D.C. police did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the plan for the dirt bike park.

Officials in Baltimore also are mulling the creation of a dirt bike park, after three riders were killed and several people have been hurt, WBAL-TV reported. The death of Baltimore Ravens player Tray Walker in a dirt-biking accident in Florida also is spurring calls for the creation of the park, according to The Baltimore Sun.

May, who grew up riding dirt bikes with her brothers in Pensacola, Florida, said she sympathized with people who fear the bikers.

"I know lots of seniors who freeze up when they're driving because of the riders," she said.

The creation of a park just for riders would be a good compromise. May said.

"This is the one thing I know all of us agree on -- we want to get them off the streets," she said.

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