Cruising: A Complex Issue

Cruisers awaiting a green light at the Highway 100 and National Avenue intersection.

Cruisers awaiting a green light at the Highway 100 and National Avenue intersection.

Imagine deciding to go to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings on Highway 100 and Oklahoma in West Allis. You pull into the parking lot, get out of your car, and instantly hear the sound of loud exhausts coming toward you. You turn around quickly and see a Mustang, Camero, and Corvette speeding down Highway 100. They’re squealing their tires, and revving their engines at ungodly RPMs, all just taking your breathe away. Now imagine actually being the lucky guy or girl in one of those cars. You have an incredibly fast and awesome car, and you have friends with the same. You all just love getting out on the road together and cruising.

Cruising has been around for decades here in the U.S., and it is still a popular form of entertainment to this day. Briefly defined, cruising is a gathering of individuals who are interested in showing off their cars, driving together in groups, and doing this, normally, at a late hour of the night. There is a very popular cruising strip in West Allis, Wisconsin, that extends from Greenfield Avenue to Grange Avenue on Highway 100, which is about a five mile stretch. According to the documentary film, America on the Road, cruising has been a popular teen event since the 1950s. Back in the 50’s, teens like driving around their muscle cars to not only show them off, but also to pick up girls for a date. Cruisers still enjoy these aspects of cruising to this day.

There are a couple of guys that have cruised down this very Highway 100 stretch quite a bit over the past few years. Their names are Jacob Beran and Jon Voigt. Beran is currently in the military, so he doesn’t get to cruise much anymore, but Voigt still lives in West Allis and cruises regularly. Beran used to be a cruiser on the West Allis strip when he was in high school, and he told me via Facebook that “a lot of my friends did it”, and cruising excited him because he liked “seeing all my friends, seeing fast cars, and showing off our cars”. He just loved getting out there on the road.

Similarly, Voigt told me via text that he started cruising “when I first got my license about 3 years ago”, and he cruises “like every other weekend during the summer”. He also told me that “it’s fun to show off my car, check out other peoples cars and it’s a social thing to hangout with my friends and meet new people.” I also asked John what the people in that community are like, and he said that “you meet all kinds of people, most people are friendly and just want to talk about cars and possible things to do to your car.”

There is a big problem that these guys and many other cruisers face though, and that is the Police Department. The problem is that there is an ordinance against cruising, as of May 1990, because of various complaints that the Police Department was getting. A West Allis Patrol Officer gave me a hard copy of the ordinance against cruising in West Allis, and according to this copy, the purpose of the ordinance is as follows.

“It is hereby found that a threat to the public health, safety and welfare arises from the congestion created by the repetitive unnecessary driving of motor vehicles, also known as cruising, at certain times on certain highways within the City of West Allis. The purpose of this ordinance is to reduce the dangerous traffic congestion, as well as the noise, air pollution, obstruction of streets, sidewalks and parking lots, impediment access to shopping centers or other buildings open to the public, interference with use of property or conduct of business resulting from cruising, and to insure access for emergency vehicles to and through the said highways.”

The Patrol Officer told me that their main concern is to keep drivers safe on the road. He also said that it is their job to keep the

A popular meeting spot for the cruisers is this Buffalo Wild Wings parking lot in West Allis.

A popular meeting spot for the cruisers is this Buffalo Wild Wings parking lot in West Allis.

residents of West Allis happy, and he said that the residents often call and complain about the loud mufflers and engines during late night hours. Unfortunately, some of the main elements of cruising that make cruisers love it, come at other people’s expense. There two main groups of people affected by cruising are the residents of West Allis and the owners and employees of businesses on Highway 100. The residents don’t like the cruisers because of the late night noise, and businesses aren’t fond of the cruisers because they will meet in their parking lots and not buy anything.

Some of the residents of West Allis take this cruising ordinance very seriously. They don’t want to be woken up during late hours of the night. They don’t want to hear loud exhaust pipes, engines, and stereo systems. They want peace and quiet, which shouldn’t be too much to ask. But, it is for the folks who live on West Theodore Trecker Way and Highway 100 in West Allis.  There is a Speedway gas station located at that intersection, and it is a popular turn-around spot for the cruisers. Residents complain even more though when the cruisers drive around the block through the neighborhood while blasting their stereos and not laying off on the gas pedal either.

According to the article, “Cruising may take a bruising on Highway 100 in West Allis” by Jane ford-Stewart, the city of West Allis is setting up some sort of barricades from 109th street through 112th on Trecker to try and put an end to the cruisers using that area as a turn-around spot. This has been effective since June of 2013. The West Allis Police are doing what they can to keep things orderly. Alderman Gary Barczak, the representative of that area, says “The police chief is putting pressure on, giving no mercy to anyone disobeying the law.” The Police have to take action because part of their job entails listening and considering what the residents have to say.

This Culvers restaurant in West Allis is a popular meeting spot for the West Allis cruisers.

This Culvers restaurant in West Allis is a popular meeting spot for the West Allis cruisers.

Local businesses along Highway 100 aren’t happy either, and there’s a Culvers employee, Andre Rowe, who works at the Culvers on Highway 100 and Greenfield Ave., that has some interesting comments to make about the cruisers. When asked what his take was on the cruising community, he told me via text that, “to me, cruisers are mostly young people with nothing better to do and looking to show off. Most of them are, unsurprisingly, rude and inconsiderate, and are generally a pain to deal with at Culver’s. The incident of the guy walking into the store bloodied and beaten I will never forget.” I then asked him if he thought the Police Department does a good job of enforcing this ordinance, and he said “The Police generally don’t seem to enforce any policies against it, so there’s that. The policy at the restaurant is that the group has to buy something, so seeing a group of six centered around a single chicken tender is acceptable. Apparently.”

So, there are obviously people that are frustrated with the cruisers, but it is difficult for the Police to do much about it because they are busy with many other issues, and it’s a hassle because there are some legal issues with enforcing it. The West Allis Patrol Officer said that they often won’t enforce it because they are too busy with other things. When asked what he would do if he saw a big pack of cruisers driving down Highway 100, he said that he would probably follow them around if he wasn’t busy. But more often than not, he said they won’t do anything.

On top of the Police being busy, there are legal issues with enforcing it. Below are a couple examples of this.  There is an article entitled “The End of Cruising”, and this article gives a couple examples of troubling court cases involving cruising.  The first example takes place in West Allis, Wisconsin. According to the article, 25-year-old graduate student Diane Brandmiller was ticketed  for cruising in West Allis in violation of passing a traffic-control point more than twice in any two-hour period. She was pulled over and wasn’t given a chance to explain herself. According to the article, she says she was simply trying to find a parking spot. Bill Pangman, the attorney challenging the constitutionality of the West Allis ordinance was left discouraged after the ticket was upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He quotes, “I don’t trust the courts to really embrace the legal issues. They have been rationalists and apologists for the police.”

The second example of this ordinance being a legal issue takes place in Utah. This example is a bit different though because the intent of this 57-year-old University of Utah medical research professor was clear, he wanted to test the law. According to the same article, “The End of Cruising”, Ken Larsen was cited after driving past a traffic-control point five times in a red 1979 Ford Thunderbird. He was also yelling out the window at the police and had signs all over his car reading “End the Police State Street Brutality”. He was trying to get ticketed. He was trying to get ticketed because he wanted to make a point about the cruising laws.

Larsen comments, “It’s silly to make something illegal the third time you do it, but perfectly legal the first two.” He also says that “I think it was unacceptable to put the burden on the young people who were harmlessly having a good time. There was absolutely nothing, in my opinion, that cruisers might do that was harmful or dangerous that was not already illegal.” Larsen was also able to make his wish happen, and go to court with these issues. He was able to take his arguments all the way to the Utah Supreme Court where his arguments were firmly rejected. He was disappointed, and in his frustration he said, “What upsets me is I’m the only one who bothered to challenge this stupid law through the courts which proves the government is free to do whatever it pleases.”

For the most part, the cruisers aren’t out to harm anyone, they are just out there to have a good time with their buddies, show off their cars, and maybe check out some other cars as well. But, as we’ve seen, they face challenges because there are many people that are very annoyed with the cruisers. They are fed up with the inconsiderate noisiness at night, and with the hogging of parking lot space. So, as a result, the Police get involved. But the Police are in a pickle because the cruising community is by no means diminishing, residents and business owners are pissed off, and they just can’t find the time to really put an end to the cruising community. And on top of that, the ordinance itself is difficult to enforce. So the Police resort to not taking much heart in stopping it, residents and business owners remain unsettled, and the cruisers are able to continue with the entertainment that they so cherish, cruising.

 

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