A return to warmer weather marks the return of illegal dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles to city streets in the Northeast. Albany is taking a hardline approach in its efforts to ban the vehicles.
ATV's and dirt bikes have become familiar sights and sounds on downtown Albany streets. Often they’re unregistered, uninsured, and in some cases stolen. This week the Common Council approved Local Law E, which states anyone who is driving the vehicles illegally will face up to $3,000 in fines and fees as well as up to two weeks in jail.
"I hear this from all neighborhoods in terms of the concerns and the needs to really crack down," 6th ward Common Councilman Richard Conti said. "And we need to look at how do we educate? How do we get them off the street? And I'll note that the local law and the provision was adopted by unanimous vote of the Council. And that includes members from all sectors of the city who had concerns about and have concerns about what's happening, and the need to crack down. It's meant to really provide a disincentive for the illegal use. And again, to really, you know, get them off the street as far as, you know the illegal use and where they're not supposed to be."
10th ward Councilor Owusu Anane says the law is not aimed at any specific group.
"Those individuals who make a decision to break the law, whether Black, white, Asian, whatever the demographic is, we have to hold them accountable," Anane said. "And I understand that some people might think that it's targeting Black and brown communities, but I dare say, that type of behavior is unacceptable. Doesn't matter what your demographic is or what color you are. We want to make sure that residents of our city are safe."
Albany Police spokesman Steve Smith says riders are often seen without helmets, and they have a total disregard for the safety of pedestrians and traffic rules, often running traffic lights and not obeying the speed limit. He adds there is a detail of officers assigned to specifically deal with dirt bikes and ATVs.
"Our goal is to get them off the street, to see them and get them off the street, and also to issue the appropriate citations or make an arrest if necessary," Smith said. "There are a lot of risks and when it comes to interact interacting with these, these riders. The one thing that we do not want to do is chase them, they're already operating in a reckless manner. So for us to get involved in a vehicle pursuit with these vehicles would not be beneficial to the community. So we have been stopping them when they've already been stopped. So far, this year, we've taken probably close to 10 of these unregistered and uninsured bikes off our streets and have held some individuals accountable."
Smith says unclaimed impounded vehicles will be destroyed or sold for scrap.
Shortly after the council vote, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan tweeted that she will sign the legislation "immediately after we hold the required public hearing on 4/14 (earliest allowed by law)."
That's the same day a 34-year-old Schenectady man caught dangerously operating an illegal motorcycle has a scheduled appearance in Albany Criminal Court. Police say Roberto Sanchez-Alvardo was with a large group of dirt-bikers getting gas near Madison Avenue and Lark Street the evening of March 25th. When officers moved in, the man's bike wouldn't start. He was caught after a short foot chase. Sanchez-Alvardo was charged with resisting arrest and aggravated unlicensed operation. He was also cited for unregistered motor vehicle and operating without insurance.