Genevra Walters has had her fill of small motorcycles, dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles ripping up and down Kankakee streets.
The superintendent of Kankakee schools is attempting to do something about this issue and it involves establishing some type of off-road track for Kankakee County teens who are dedicated to riding these vehicles.
This summer Kankakee streets have been plagued with youngsters driving unlicensed dirt bikes or ATVs on city streets, including Court Street, Indiana Avenue, Harrison Avenue, Nelson Avenue and many other heavily traveled streets.
The operators of these bikes often place no regard for rules of the road, weaving in and out of traffic and traveling through stop signs and red traffic lights.
Fortunately, to date, no one has been seriously injured.
But the issue has caught the attention of some Kankakee City Council members and law enforcement. Police are attempting to crack down on this problem.
Walters is trying as well. She noted few of the dirt bike and ATV riders are even from Kankakee. She said most are out-of-town teenagers who obviously find in more enjoyable riding here than near where they live.
What she is seeking is some way to get the riders off the roads before something tragic occurs.
“Having these kids doing wheelies on Court Street is unacceptable,” she said. But, she said, if an alternative is not found, the problem will continue to exist and, more than likely, grow.
“We have to recognize that kids are interested in different things. I don’t want them demonized. ... It’s not riding mini-bikes that’s the problem. It’s the free rein they have. We need to find them an outlet.”
There are dozens of unlicensed teens driving these bikes. Walters noted between six to eight Kankakee boys who operate these vehicles.
She is working on a Kankakee County Youth Empowerment Program grant, which would not only help get teens and their bikes off the streets, but also open up mentoring, tutoring, job training as well as working in some community service. The program also seeks inclusion into the National Youth Project Using Minibikes (NYPUM) project. Nationwide, the program mentors more than 1,500 boys and girls annually. Based in Torrance, Calif., the program has been in existence for 50 years.
The core idea of this program is to put kids together with a caring adult and a trail bike. The program would be designed to teach the youth how to care for and safely ride in the outdoors.
In the process, the participants build self-esteem and self-discipline. They also would discover, she said, they can work together and learn leadership skills along the way.
A program like this teaching youngsters is better than having a police officer tracking down an illegal dirt-bike operator and handing that person or the parents a ticket for illegal operation of a unlicensed vehicle, she noted.
“These vehicles, we have to get them off of the streets,” she said. “Let’s support our youth in a positive way.”