Speed bumps? More speeding enforcement? A dedicated space for motorbikes and ATVs in Boston?
City residents, lawmakers, and officials on Wednesday evening batted around ideas of what to do about off-road vehicles and loud parties in and around Franklin Park, the city’s largest tract of open space.
“If we do nothing, it will only get worse,” City Councilor Matt O’Malley said during a virtual community meeting that drew more than 200 people.
The meeting came three days after police received numerous disturbance calls about a large number of dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles and double-parked cars in and near Franklin Park, according to police reports.
Residents say it’s a chronic problem in the area. And Wednesday’s discussion followed a similar meeting late Tuesday afternoon that had to be abandoned after it was Zoom-bombed with sexually explicit images and racist language. Following that, organizers took steps to safeguard the discussion.
Residents at Wednesday’s meeting aired their grievances and asked questions in a Facebook chat, which were then conveyed to city officials and lawmakers. While multiple ideas were discussed, no decisions were made about how to protect the park.
Councilor Julia Mejia spoke about having a discussion with people who ride the ATVs and motorbikes.
“We’re having a conversation about people who are not here,” she said.
Some residents broached creating a designated park for the vehicles. Others thought such a space would do nothing to reduce the danger, since that would mean the vehicles would still be on the roads and sidewalks to get to such a park. Some talked about the need to confiscate dirt bikes, while others spoke of the importance of not criminalizing Black and brown youths.
“Why can’t we just enforce existing laws?” asked one person in the meeting’s chat feature.
On Sunday, police reported hundreds dirt bikes and ATV wreaking havoc in the park and nearby area.
Around 6:30 p.m., a hit-and-run involving a dirt bike and bicyclist was reported in the parking lot of the Franklin Park Zoo. The bicyclist was found bleeding on the ground, and an officer reported seeing 75 to 100 off-road vehicles “erratically driving at high rates of speed,” according to a police report.
Less than an hour later, hundreds of the vehicles made it “extremely difficult” for police and paramedics to respond to a shooting at Talbot Avenue and Wales Street that injured a pregnant woman, police said.
The city is contemplating making substantial improvements to the 527-acre park, which connects Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roslindale. The commenting period for an online survey soliciting feedback for a park plan recently ended. There is $28 million set aside for park improvements.
The city’s proposals include eliminating car traffic on Circuit Drive, transforming the thoroughfare into a pedestrian and bicycle-only loop through the park, which includes hiking trails, pathways, playing fields, a golf course, and zoo, among other public amenities.
John Linehan, CEO of Zoo New England, which runs the zoo in the park, called the park a gem and an oasis, but added that he had concerns about loud parties, both during the day and at night, in the park. The loud music, he said, raises the stress levels for the zoo’s animals.
“We have struggled with all the noise,” he said.
Regarding the installation of speed bumps in the park to deter motorbikes, Ryan Woods, the city’s parks commissioner, said there are concerns that such a move could make the park’s roadways more attractive to motorbike riders. He also warned that speed bumps could push more people onto the park’s grass, damaging the turf.
“Open to try things; just don’t want to create more of a course if that’s what these speed bumps would do,” he said.
Last fall, a motorbike rider struck a gate at the park and died from their injuries, Woods said.
State Representative Russell E. Holmes said he recently was leaving the park’s golf course in his car when he was surrounded by off-road vehicles. The riders made it so he couldn’t drive, he said, and were attempting to intimidate him. The riders, he said, clearly have “a strategy to get around police.”
“I think some folks were just saying, ‘Shouldn’t we be dealing with the real question, which is they shouldn’t even be in the park or be in the road?’ ” he said.
Sergeant Detective Daniel Humphreys said that last year police used a city ordinance to target off-road vehicles, which are prohibited on public ways and in city parks, he said. In recent years, the Police Department has seized more than 300 of the machines without any chases and no use-of-force or internal affairs complaints.
He said police have targeted the vehicles while they are stationary. He said it’s not just youths who drive the vehicles and estimated that more than half the people who ride off-road vehicles in Boston are not city residents. Last fall, the authorities were able to dissuade use of the vehicles in the park, he said.
“We’re going to continue to do what we do,” he said.