After failing to find a solution that holds up, the Renton Police Department came up with a new strategy to combat illegal street racing.
Renton will start closing streets this weekend, on Friday, May 11 and Saturday, May 12. Streets will close from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Renton Police will work with the Kent Police Department this weekend for a combined racing enforcement effort. The Renton City Council unanimously approved the closures at its Monday meeting.
Renton will close the popular streets each weekend for racing that are “wide, long, straight and flat,” according to Cmdr. Chad Karlewicz. The city will close Oakesdale Avenue Southwest (between Southwest 16th Street and Southwest 41st Street), Southwest 27th Street (between Lind Avenue Southwest and Oakesdale Southwest), and keeping Southwest 34th Street open with a staffed controlled access point at Oakesdale Avenue Southwest.
To implement the new strategy, the department purchased 16 barricades, 30 cones, 18 signs, and a trailer to transport the equipment. Karlewicz estimated the total cost of equipment to be around $10,000.
Karlewicz said closing down the popular racing roads will help keep racers out of Renton.
In the past, Renton Police increased moving and non-moving violations, put an emphasis on high-visibility patrol, increased criminal arrests and traffic enforcement, and conducted undercover operations. Karlewicz said those tactics have worked to a degree, but were short-term solutions.
“As soon as we stop doing that and we can’t have people out there every night enforcing it or doing undercover work… the next weekend the (racers) are back at it,” he said at Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
The new approach, which Karlewicz said has a better chance at working as a long-term solution, is to cut off access to the main racing roads on an ongoing basis.
“The goal of the new approach is to make Renton a not-sought-after place for street racing…. Our goal is to push them out and get (racers) to go and be somebody else’s problem,” said Karlewicz.
Karlewicz said he would be contacting businesses near the affected areas to inform them about the enforcement this week.
The department also aims to increase stricter enforcement by implementing zero tolerance for violations and impounding vehicles where legally authorized.
The city has been receiving a high number of complaints regarding street racing since last year. At a Committee of the Whole meeting in August 2011, Sgt. Bill Judd told council members that it is common to see as many as 100 racers take to the empty streets, and more than 400 on warm, summer days. Karlewicz said on Monday the department has arrested as many as 218 people in one night.
The department is also planning on increasing the number of officers patrolling the area. Karlewicz said there will be five officers posted at each closure for the first few months.
Council member Don Persson said that he’d like to see the department find a solution that’s long lasting.
“I personally would like to see a longer-term plan like permanent gates we could go out and close off,” Persson said. “I’m convinced this is going to be successful but I’d like to see something more long term we can start budgeting for.”
Racers also populate streets each weekend in the north end of Kent near warehouses and industrial buildings that are mostly closed during the late-night hours.
• Leah Abraham is a reporter for the Renton Reporter