HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN? That’s what Journal readers have been asking after 7-year-old Pronoy Bhattacharya was run down in a crosswalk on Central Avenue on Dec. 12 as his family left the River of Lights. Police say the second grader was struck by an all-terrain/off-highway vehicle, and an arrest warrant has been issued for the driver.
But readers also say such lawlessness on Albuquerque streets is nothing new – in fact it has become more and more common. Albuquerque police say they ticket and tow in these cases. And City Councilor Isaac Benton plans to introduce legislation next year to address the “Mad Max dystopia” our city streets have become, especially in his district, which includes the stretch where Pronoy died.
THE LAW: Rebecca Atkins with the Albuquerque Police Department says “ATVs are not street-legal in Albuquerque. Other states/cities have exceptions for these vehicles, but not here. When the ATVs or other off-road type vehicles are seen on the street, officers stop them, cite them and tow the vehicle.”
Charlie Moore, spokesman for the state Motor Vehicle Division, says state statute 66-3-1011 prohibits ATVs/OHVs on paved roads. The state law says in part “a person shall not operate an off-highway motor vehicle on any … paved street or highway” except to cross a street after coming to a complete stop or if allowed by the local entity or the state Transportation Commission.
The state Department of Game and Fish has a list of where ATVs/OHVs are allowed on pavement at www.wildlife.state.nm.us/ohv/ohv-laws-and-rules/. Counties from Catron to Taos and cities from Alamogordo to TorC do allow ATVs/OHVs on paved roads.
Albuquerque and Bernalillo County do not.
THE READERS: But the Journal has received numerous letters saying the law is routinely ignored and rarely, if ever, enforced.
Casey Citrin emails “as a resident of the Raynolds Addition neighborhood west of Downtown, I and many others in my area have repeatedly called 242-COPS, written comments on the 311 app, written and called our City Councillor Ike Benton – and yet nothing has happened to address the long-standing problem of this lawlessness in our area. I have seen ATVs, dirt bikes, dune buggies and many other non-legal vehicles racing around at high speeds many, many times – on Central, Gold, Silver – and have heard them even more often into the wee hours of the night.”
Paul shares via email “I’ve definitely noticed an uptick of these types of vehicles driving on streets in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. … Why (aren’t) APD/RRPD doing something about it?”
Prissy posts on Nextdoor “I run near 98th and Arroyo Vista from time to time and there have been numerous incidents where I was almost ran over by these type vehicles and motor bikes on the secluded dirt paths near 98th and Arroyo Vista. There are clear, blatant signs that state these vehicles aren’t allowed in those areas. When they are riding, they kick up dirt and can’t see anything. I often see children walking their pets or other runners. I’ve called the police several times and nothing is being done.”
Kent Argubright bought tickets to take the family to the River of Lights Dec. 9, but the traffic jams and parking in dark, almost full lots blocks away made it impossible to get a senior citizen and two developmentally delayed adults into the event safely. “We drove home in disappointment.” He asks why there was no police presence, signs warning parking lots were full/guiding drivers to alternative lots, or buses as with Balloon Fiesta. “Unless things change/improve, it’s not a safe holiday option for my family any more.”
THE CITY COUNCILOR: Benton wholeheartedly agrees. In a candid conversation Thursday he expressed outrage at Pronoy’s death and the lawlessness on too many Albuquerque streets in every quadrant of the city. He said the bosque and Central are “a cherished cultural area where people come to visit – it’s our patronage, heritage, has to be protected.”
But he also cautioned many of the lawless drivers “are armed. Are as high as can be. Are already criminals. Officers are … in a tough place.”
Benton credited APD Chief Harold Medina with being on board with bringing back speed cameras, a force multiplier as the department works to add officers. He said councilors are looking at adding automated noise detection or equipping public safety officers with noise meters and cameras. And he said he looks forward to working with the new councilors in 2022 “to stiffen up the city’s spine and not back down” on enforcement.
As Casey writes: “The people who live in the Downtown area deserve some enforcement, and all who visit Downtown deserve to be safe. I am furious and heartbroken that it has taken the (death) of a child to get people riled up about this. I want to see some action!”
Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 505-823-3858; email@example.com; or 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.