Opinion: We can address ‘street takeovers’ with hostile infrastructure

Who can blame folks for wanting to meet up with friends, show off their cool cars,
create content for social media, and blow off some steam?

Street racing, drifting and “takeovers” are revving up for summer. Last Sunday night hundreds of people and cars took over sections of streets throughout the city to show off their drifting and street racing skills.

According to the Portland Police Bureau, groups took over seven different locations between 8:00 pm Sunday night and 1:00 am Monday morning. They must have known it was coming because they conducted an enforcement mission that resulted in seven arrests, seven towed vehicles and the recovery of a gun.

The largest takeover was on NE 13th and Multnomah where PPB says over 200 people took part. 

We’ve seen this movie before. 

Last summer the issue became so prominent Portland City Council considered a crackdown. And a few months before that I shared concerns about how an aggressive police response could cause more harm than good. Fortunately that doesn’t appear to have happened yet and (so far) police have been able to address the issue without any escalations or tragic consequences. 

While police play whack-a-mole and barely make a dent in the problem (while creating even more excitement and drama for the street racers, something that likely makes it more attractive to some of them), the takeovers persist. If Sunday night’s action is any indication, their popularity might even be on the rise. 

And who can blame these folks for wanting to meet up with friends, show off their cars, create content for social media accounts, and blow off some steam? In many ways they’re similar to the big group bike rides that happen daily as part of Pedalpalooza. It’s all part of a similar human desire for cultural expression, adrenalin, social bonding, and so on.

But these street takeovers are very different in important ways. They’ve led to fatal crashes many times, they pump toxic emissions into our air and waterways, and they put innocent people at risk. We need to do more to prevent them. Even if we think these events are confined to willing participants, we must consider spillover effects. People don’t turn off this type of reckless driving when they leave a large gathering. I’ve seen burnouts and reckless speeding happen many times and we all know dangerous driving behavior is rampant in Portland today.

Maybe one answer is to deploy simple traffic calming tools. 

Anti drifting infrastructure. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation has already installed many of those little, rubber, yellow-and-black striped curbs all over the city. It’s part of a “left-turn calming” effort to improve safety and prevent injuries and deaths to other road users. One carefully placed, mountable curb could effectively prevent someone from doing burnouts and drifting around an intersection. I’m sure engineers and planners could find other clever ways to do this if a curb isn’t feasible.

Preventing activities through infrastructure design is old hat for government agencies. Along with private property owners, they’ve become creative and efficient at installing hostile infrastructure on sidewalks in order to prevent people from erecting tents and sleeping in the public right-of-way. They’ve also decided there are places where skateboarding is not allowed and they’ve installed tiny bumps on curbs and benches to prevent “grinding” and other tricks.

We should apply a similar approach to intersections. 

Smartly placed bits of hard infrastructure could safely and effectively prevent a lot of these dangerous activities while simultaneously improving traffic safety overall. It could also be an opportunity for PBOT and the Portland Police Bureau to collaborate on a project that doesn’t focus on enforcement, yet allows both agencies to address a problem together.

We need more of that from our city.

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Randy Adair
Randy Adair
12 days ago

I agree these nuts need to be dealt with,however these are not “street racers”. Real street racers get far away from populated areas. In 30years of racing I have never raced inside any city limits unless authorized by that city. We don’t want spectators,we are about the cars and safety. If you don’t have a full roll cage and a fire suppression system you are a fool,not a racer. These clowns want attention,real street racers do not. I have confronted only one deputy in all that time and he just wanted to look at my car. As usual,we were far away from town and he just happened by. Call these takeover what they are,idiots.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
15 days ago

If we have learned anything, it is that people will find creative ways around infrastructure.

Infrastructure was technically in place around the Capitol on Jan 6. People are creative and will outsmart it.

Watts
Watts
15 days ago

There are a lot of intersections in this city; I would think addressing the issue directly with those causing the problem would be more likely to work than installing preventative infrastructure everywhere. There is a limited number of folks participating in this “activity”, so if the scene can be sufficiently deenergized, it is unlikely to reappear for a while.

As the article noted, the police seem capable of disrupting the behavior without undue escalation. Enough confiscated cars and folks will get the message and move on. Getting a gun off the street is a bonus.

nic.cota
15 days ago

Would surrounding the ‘takeover’ with spike strips be too much? Doesn’t seem like there’ll ever be much disincentive to participate in these with current response tactics…

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
15 days ago

and very punitive”

Perhaps some tough lessons need to be learned.

Watts
Watts
15 days ago

Is there a reason why you don’t want to be “punitive” when people behave in a wantonly antisocial manner?

cc_rider
cc_rider
15 days ago

They took over a bridge. You just go to either side, set the strips, and arrest every spectator and drive on the bridge. Multi-year jail sentences for the drives. Bam problem goes away

Watts
Watts
15 days ago

So your reasons are simply practical — too difficult to do?

We would put them around the perimeter so make it easier to corral and confiscate the cars involved in the takeover.

James Calhoon
James Calhoon
14 days ago
Reply to  nic.cota

If you think spike strips could be used in this situation I suggest your read the following
652386 (portlandoregon.gov)

My take is they can be used only in pursuit of a fleeing vehicle. Since your suggesting they be placed before any pursuit begins the City of Portland could be liable any damage done by the spike strips.

The other issue is using spike strips in a crowded situation. When a vehicle traveling at high speeds blows it tires it could lose all control putting bystanders in harms way. If any of them were injured or killed because of this the Lawsuits would start flying.

David Hampsten
15 days ago

How about we put random bike racks in the middle of city streets? And then then equally randomly blame it on some local developer and/or politician?

Watts
Watts
15 days ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

randomly blame it on some local … politician

Nothing random about it: We’d blame it on Jo Ann Hardesty or Betsy Johnson, depending on outlook.

Will
Will
15 days ago

Impound and destroy the cars. Charge the drivers with reckless endangerment and, if convicted, revoke their licenses. That’d be very effective.

DaveB
15 days ago

And who can blame these folks for wanting to meet up with friends, show off their cars, create content for social media accounts, and blow off some steam?” Besides being “anti social” isn’t drifting illegal under Portland law?

Perhaps PIR could host some sort of competitive drifting competition?

James Calhoon
James Calhoon
14 days ago
Reply to  DaveB

I looked at PIR’s schedule. There is a motorsport event almost every day through the Summer (except the Monday bike races). The problem is there is no Drifting events scheduled. Pat’s Acres Racing Complex near Canby runs several Drifting events a year. According to the website their fighting with Clackamas County and all events are on hold. So in the Portland region there is no place to participate or watch this form of motorsport. So there only choice is the public streets. Having controlled events may not end all the street events. But unless the city tries we will never know.

axoplasm
14 days ago
Reply to  James Calhoon

I think this approach + infrastructure are very smart ideas. They signal that we have a collective interest in both our public spaces AND serving people. We take similar approaches to lots of “nuisance” activities: dog parks, skate parks, and shooting ranges spring to mind.

I’m reminded of when I visited a friend in Berlin years ago. I made constant fun of the Prussian desire for orderliness. We were walking through a ubahn station which was full of skateboarders — normally a forbidden activity & one prohibited explicitly from stations, with anti-skating infra like rail bumps. I noticed all those things had been removed at this station. My friend said: “look, here are some kids breaking all the rules! we aren’t so orderly after all” I said: “I bet the aldermen got together and decided, we need ONE station where the kids can break the rules, so they specifically allow it here and no where else.” My friend sheepishly said “yes that’s exactly what happened”

Peter
Peter
14 days ago
Reply to  James Calhoon

I’ve been thinking about this like a lot and I keep relating it to my experience skateboarding for most of my life. As a little kid, sanctioned events and skateparks were a big draw. As a grown up, those things have a draw for me as well. However, there was a big period of time, say age 15-25 where I had absolutely no interest in going to a skatepark or organized event. This was also the period where I was skateboarding the most. I think there’s a myriad of reasons involved, I’m sure we can all come up with most of them immediately.

My only point is to echo the sentiment of others that I think putting a lot of effort into sanctioned drifting events or track time will have little or no overlap with the people at these takeovers.

Watts
Watts
14 days ago
Reply to  Peter

I used to skate in a public pool, and the illegality of it was definitely the biggest draw.

Dana
Dana
14 days ago
Reply to  DaveB

I wonder if the social realm needs some tactical urbanism of its own. People who spend their time doing dangerous and aggressive but fun social activities like drifting probably don’t have much of a positive outlet. Getting people involved in bike culture (including bike events that take over streets) and even infrastructure organizing would change the scene. Slow Roll events in Buffalo and Bike Party in Boston (two places where I’ve lived) have interesting and beneficial cross-cultural effects.

John
John
13 days ago
Reply to  DaveB

Isn’t a huge crowd and community of participants in this kind of the opposite of anti social?

qqq
qqq
15 days ago

I like the message I get from this article. It’s not that there shouldn’t be enforcement, or that it’s feasible to stop takeovers by altering every intersection in the city. It’s that hardscaping is a tool that can help.

The best part to me is that the same things that could deter takeovers also have the same positive impacts that led to their creation, such as the left-turn-calming strips mentioned. That makes them much different than things like handrail collars or bench dividers that deter skateboarding, but interfere with normal use of handrails and benches.

Another one that comes to mind is raising crosswalks to sidewalk level.

The fact that pro-pedestrian devices could also deter street takeovers is additional justification for spending money on them.

Mark in NoPo
Mark in NoPo
15 days ago
Reply to  qqq

I agree, except for one thing: bench dividers promote the normal use of benches. They’re parking spots for one’s butt, preventing selfish individuals from simultaneously blocking multiple people from taking a seat.

EP
EP
14 days ago

Wow, great timing on this as I drove through the Hancock and 13th street intersection this morning and wondered what happened. It was way more than the usual donut session. Besides all the tire marks and rubber debris, the biggest thing I noticed was that a lot of the white crosswalk and bike lane paint was now obscured. So the very things supposed to increase safety are hidden by burnt rubber.

This intersection has been made unsafe by these actions, now the city has to clean it up, and we have to pay for it.

Champs
Champs
14 days ago

I’d love to see this funded when PBOT says it can’t find the money for more Mt. Scott Park barrels to prevent violence in neighborhoods that want them.

Commissioner Hardesty’s office asked us to speak up when it was a proposal yet gave us a miss when the city passed its budget a few weeks ago.

Cycling_Grouches
Cycling_Grouches
14 days ago

[Shakes fist at sky]

You d*mn kids get off my intersection!!!

(How is this occasional nuisance a priority when we live in a city where one of our truck driving neighbors intentionally killed and dragged a pedestrian and then attempted to kill a cyclist who rushed over to help? And, of course, zero coverage on flowers and unicorns bike portland.)

Mark in NoPo
Mark in NoPo
14 days ago

Emergencies requiring a 911 response demonstrate the danger of allowing mobs to seize transportation infrastructure in an ad-hoc manner.

Patrick
Patrick
14 days ago

I forget which city but another city set aside a night at the local racetrack for the street racers to burn brodies and race LEGALLY. Undoubtedly part of the attraction is the fact it is illegal but at least some of the participants would opt for the “sanctioned” event.

JeffP
JeffP
14 days ago
Reply to  Patrick

I believe Portland and our City Park – PIR – gave this a try; sanctioned drag races [when drag races in the street were a bigger thing]. The problem with it comes down to why go to a raceway where even a modest fee to cover insurance etc costs more than the ‘free’ venue provided on our streets. These folks don’t want to pay-to-play and not getting caught is part of the ‘game’….

Patrick
Patrick
14 days ago
Reply to  JeffP

Perhaps. I might be worth to see if it saves any money to sponsor a free racing night at PIR. I also agree for a large segment, the criminality is part of the draw. If there were a legal and perhaps very cheap option, the penalty for being caught could also be higher. This is a problem in all large cities across the country, creativity to solve the problem is in order.

Hostile infrastructure will work but only where it exists. Plenty of streets will still be available as well as large parking lots in industrial areas.

Fred
Fred
14 days ago

Hmm…. I clicked the link for Bike Portland but somehow ended up on Muscle Car Portland.

(This issue has exactly what to do with cycling in Portland??)

Kyle Banerjee
13 days ago

Cheapest and most effective infrastructure “improvement” of all is to let roads degrade.

Crappy surfaces = impossible burnout and super hard to “race” on.

Need to put out in the other that street racing is for kiddies — it’s motorized cat 6 for those who want to pretend but have no chance against actual competition