From the kitchen window of his Unanderra home, Shane Spence watches the traffic go by – not on the roadways, but on the unofficial network of “rat runs” that serves the suburb’s illegal trail bike riders.
The parklands surrounding his home are covered in a labyrinth of tyre-forged grooves. They intersect carparks, pathways and road crossings, giving the riders a clear run over long distances.
These are not joy-riders, but people who routinely use their unregistered bikes as a way to get from A to B, he says.
“They ride either side of the footpath here – you hear them tooting because of near-misses [with pedestrians],” he said.
“You can hear them at three or four o’clock in the morning.
“They come out and make everybody else’s lives hell.”
Mr Spence says he has repeatedly alerted police to the issue, but “they say, ‘there’s nothing we can do because if we chase them, they’ll have an accident’.”
He is hoping a serious accident on Waples Road on Thursday, which has left a rider fighting for life, will prompt a crackdown.
A 36-year-old rider suffered a critical head injury after he rode through the Illawarra Hockey Centre carpark, off the curb and into the path of a Toyota Hilux.
Mr Spence wants police to stage a targeted operation in the area. He believes about six riders regularly use an established trail between public housing estates in Kotara Crescent and Mianga Crescent, through parkland, past the hockey centre and onto Tallegalla Street to access Woolworths and other shops.
He proposes police set a “trap” in a narrow stretch of grass that runs between the hockey centre and Allans Creek. The strip has the hockey centre car park at one end and a bottleneck at the other.
“Police could set up a road block in the car park of the hockey stadium, because then they’d have nowhere else to go. There’s a cyclone fence on one side and a gully on the other,” Mr Spence said.
“They could apprehend them and take their bikes off them.”
In the longer term, he wants council to consider installing “bike-proof but not pedestrian-proof” fences at key points in the rat runs, including at the hockey centre carpark, now only home to bollards.
A spokesman for Wollongong City Council said the illegal riding of motor vehicles on public reserves was a problem across the LGA.
“Council powers are limited in regulating this activity,” he said.
“However council does work with NSW Police to report sightings and locations of illegal vehicle use and assist with investigations. Council can restrict access to parks and reserves through minor works and has taken action in this respect in a number of locations.”
Police have called on members of the public to share information linked to illegal riding –including riders’ names and addresses.
Call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.