Uptown community board leaders and neighborhood associations have expressed the need for new policies to rein in motorcycles and motorbikes, after a high-speed chase two weekends ago led to the beating of Alexian Lien, SEAS ’02, and landed three motorcycle riders in the hospital.
“What they did on the 29th was unconscionable,” said Linda Alexander, a member of Community Board 7’s Transportation and Business Committee, said. “To put 40 bikers on the West Side Highway at one time is absolutely dangerous. There have to be laws for that and there aren’t.”
On Sept. 29, a group of motorcyclists circled an SUV on West Side Highway, which then broke out of the pack to try to escape and ran over a biker in the process. The bikers caught up with the SUV, broke the driver’s window, and pulled Lien from his car to beat him.
“It had all the ingredients for a violent ending,” Pamela Palanque-North, the treasurer for Community Board 12, said of the incident. “What happens next is really important. Not all cyclists act illegally and criminally, as these people do. We need to talk and get connected as a community.”
Motorcycles and illegal motorbikes have been concerns in Harlem for years. Some residents complain about the noise and pollution they generate, in addition to safety hazards posed by bikers riding on sidewalks.
Cator Sparks, president of the 122nd Street Block Association, said riders often set off car alarms and run people over.
“The guys pretty much have free reign,” Sparks said.
Other locals, referring to illegal dirt bikes, have said they don’t want another reason for young men in the neighborhood to get arrested. Currently, the New York Police Department confiscates illegal bikes and arrests riders, but this too is cause for contention.
“The last thing we want to do is start promoting police action that is putting more young black men in jail,” said Jonathan Kahn, a representative of North Star Neighborhood Association, which represents the area between Morningside Park and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” Sparks said.
In May, a group of dirt bikers called for the building of a motorcycle park, where dirt bikes would not be illegal. This would isolate the hazards associated with them, the group argued.
“Bikers have got to have a place of their own to ride their bikes,” Kahn said. “That’s what bikers in Harlem are organizing for, which is interesting from our perspective.”
Kahn also said the incident two weeks ago sheds light on the greater problem of motorcycles and illegal motorbikes in New York City.
“Some issue was inevitable,” he said.
Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, chair of Community Board 9, said the assault of Lien made her concerned about problems potentially arising further south.
“We have such a large number of young people now that don’t have good values and judgment, so I can easily see something like that happening, even here, on our streets,” she said. “When people are traveling in packs, they develop a mob mentality and mob hysteria.”
Many Harlem residents agree that motorcyclists and motorbikes are a nuisance, and that police should take action.
“Lock them [the bikers] up. Get them off the streets,” said Robert James, who attends church in Harlem and said he was once almost run over by a motorbike. “The police should have their own motorcycle brigade to speed up on them and shut that stuff down.”
Isabelle Mahi, a Harlem resident, said she is concerned about children’s safety in the presence of motorbikes.
“We need policemen here, because we have so many children playing around. It’s not safe,” she said.
“The police need to try to do a better job,” Guillermo Lopez, another Harlem resident, said. “The motorcycles don’t respect the police. The police are supposed to do something, but they’re not doing anything.”
“I think that the motorcycles are going against a lot of the norms that we have for our streets,” Lauren Fisher, a Harlem resident, said. “The rambunctious attitude conflicts with the ways other people want to use the street.”
Still, some are concerned about the potential for racial discrimination in enforcement.
“Sometimes the police do a good job, but sometimes they abuse poor black and Hispanic people,” Jose Arberto, a Harlem resident, said.
Morgan-Thomas said a solution should involve local residents.
“If motorists and community residents call the police when they see these bikers, it may help the police in getting them without high speed chases,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Cator Sparks was a member of the 123rd Street Block Association. He is president of the 122nd Street Block Association. Spectator regrets the error.