Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Street Racers: Get Off Our Streets

I don't want to be the old person who yells "Get off my lawn!" at young people, but — but! — street racing and sliding (spinning your wheels to burn rubber and move in circles) is bad.

Photograph by Peter Sherno from MSP Magazine

It's especially bad when it happens near places where lots of people live and who have to listen to it. It goes without saying that it happens late at night, since it's illegal to go 100 mph and they don't want to get caught. That means in the summer, if you want to sleep you have to keep your windows closed and use air conditioning if you have it, even when it's cool enough not to. Or if you don't have air conditioning, you're out of luck: close your windows and sweat or listen to the engines.

In all ways, street racing and sliding are bad for the climate crisis, from burning fuel while glorifying fast cars to making people run their air conditioning to destroying public property that has to be replaced.

No one knows how much public property is destroyed by street racers since, as far as we know, Public Works departments don't track infrastructure that's damaged by car drivers. We only know if someone is killed or severely injured by a hot rodder or if there's an associated shooting, as there has been lately. 

You don't get much of an idea of the impact of street racing from this recent article in MSP Magazine. As someone who lives near two of the roadways that are prominently mentioned as major racing routes (highway 280 and Energy Park Drive), I know the sound I'm talking about.

According to the article, while the writer was in one of the cars, these guys went 90 mph through the Lowry Hill Tunnel, 95 on Energy Park, and 140 (!) southbound on highway 280 ("we’re passing people on I-94 like they’re standing still, like they’re in another dimension"). Imagine if you were a person driving on one of those roads or highways when he passed by, acting as if you were a non-player character, since that's what you and the rest of us are to him.

The writer has a lot of sympathy for the racers since he was a cruiser himself as a teen. Too much, in my opinion. After recounting a recent police crackdown on the drivers, including the guy he was riding with, he seems to bemoan it, writing this:

I suggest that sliding could be the new skateboarding—it had a culture that was perceived as a menace for years, and eventually adults accepted that there was social benefit and built skate parks in every suburb.... Yes, sliding is 10 times as loud as skateboarding, it takes place while people sleep, and it has an inherent menace that small collections of teens riding pieces of acrylic don’t.

I think "10 times as loud" is an extreme under-estimation of the sound and the "inherent menace" of multi-ton vehicles racing around compared to skateboards is laughably understated. 

The Hennepin County sheriff is quoted questioning why car companies are able to sell vehicles that can go this fast. That's a question raised by others, like Angie Schmitt, who are active in street safety efforts. There's no reason at all that cars can go over 70 or 80 mph, and in cities the technology exists to keep vehicles from exceeding our much lower speed limits. But nothing is done about it because "freedom."

Cities are shared places, and selfish aspects of human behavior like street racing and sliding don't fit well into them. Journalists riding along and falling for their subjects' world views don't help matters.

I wonder what would happen if this racing scene took up residence out in some rich suburb, disturbing the sleep of the good people of Woodbury or Shoreview (or Edina... imagine that!). How long would that last? Not long, I bet.


1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

A guy on a motorcycle recently died going 100 mph on a long stretch late at night, when the road would likely have been deserted. Now I wonder if he and one or more other riders were racing.