New steel gates stand ready to swing shut on the River's Edge and Riverside Square parking lots at 3145 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago, as part of measures to keep out nighttime congregations of cars and street racers.

Party Over: Street Racers Routed from Riverside and River's Edge Parking Lots

Published May 14, 2021

Quieter weekend nights have returned to the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago with the successful shutdown of big, rolling, car-racing parties that often landed in the Riverside Square and Rivers Edge Plaza mall parking lots along the 3100 block of South Ashland Avenue in Chicago.

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Although street racers and car fans had gathered at the mall parking lots for years with few incidents, recent gatherings included hundreds of vehicles and packed crowds of predominantly young people cheering on tuned-up cars doing donuts, peeling out, blasting backfires and racing in the parking lots and adjacent streets.

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Now, a series of additional mitigation measures have seemingly addressed the problem, as seen in the dramatic fall-off in noise and car racing complaints coming into the Chicago Police Department's 9th District.

Rivers Edge parking lot map gates presentation 20210401A screen shot from the 12th Ward community meeting on April 1, 2021, shows the locations of new swing gates and license plate-reading cameras around the River's Edge and Riverside Plaza malls along the 3100 block of South Ashland Avenue, Chicago.“We were averaging something like 70 calls on a weekend, now it’s around 12," said Community Policing Officer Jason Sollis during the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) Beat 912 meeting on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. "That's a huge win."

Coordinated Effort

Measures to mitigate the street racing and car parties came together as a coordinated effort between the 12th Ward, the 9th District and Regency Centers, which owns and manages the adjoining Riverside Square and Rivers Edge Plaza properties. As reported here in the McKinley Park News, the issue came to a head after an incident on March 13, 2021, when a mob chased down and boxed in a car involved in an accident, then battered the driver and destroyed the car.

A 12th Ward community meeting held online on April 1, 2021, outlined the steps that were being taken to stop the cars and gatherings. "It cannot be tolerated any longer," said 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas. "It is not acceptable to have hundreds of cars coming into a certain area, creating chaos and disruption."

"The number one problem addressing the 9th District right now is drag racing," Chicago Police Department community policing Sgt. John Verta said at the April 1 meeting. The 9th District received over 1,000 calls specifically for street racing in 2020, Verta said, and this number does not include related calls such as noise complaints tied to street racing and burnouts.

Street racing, stunt driving and the March 13, 2021, mob attack were recorded to dozens of social media accounts' videos, including as depicted in these muted clips.

An Immediate Threat

This has not only been a huge drag on general resources, Verta said; there has been "an alarming amount" of car crashes along the 3100 to 3500 block of South Ashland Avenue: two dozen so far reported in 2021 alone.

"They are an immediate threat to public safety," Cardenas said.

Peggy McDermott, Vice President of Property Operations for Regency Centers' Chicago office, said at the April 1 meeting that the company planned more measures on their property after having already tried speed bumps, signs and additional weekend security. "For the first time, we have a collaborative effort," she said.

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Cardenas, McDermott and Verta also spoke of the costs faced by mall businesses, which saw their nighttime trade suffer tremendously and had terrified employees requiring security to escort them safely to their vehicles.

Trapping Them In

The Riverside malls have been adding steel swing gates at most entrances and exits to the property, and securing them at night. Some entrances will remain accessible, because employees need access, and some of the mall businesses take overnight deliveries. However, dedicated security personnel and vehicles will be stationed at overnight entrances to manage access, McDermott said.

In addition to the gates keeping out the street racers, McDermott said they might be a deterrent by not allowing large crowds and groups of cars to quickly flee.

In the past, police have issued tickets, impounded cars, made arrests and taken action on outstanding warrants during these street racer conclaves, but do not have the resources to safely chase down hundreds of cars all fleeing at the same time, Verta said.

License Plate Readers

Cardenas said that license plate-reading (or LPR) cameras were being added to existing city surveillance apparatus to two nearby spots on South Ashland Avenue: at South Archer Avenue and at West 33rd Street. These cameras will monitor and record the license plate numbers of passing vehicles, which will then be accessible to law enforcement and used to track and monitor illegal racing activity, Cardenas said.

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The LPR cameras being added are not speeding cameras, Cardenas reiterated, and will not be used to catch or fine speeders.

At the April 1 meeting, Cardenas also announced new ordinances being developed for introduction into the Chicago City Council. These would specifically cite the practice of doing donuts, or "sliding," or other stunt driving, Cardenas said, with big fines of at least $5,000. There is currently no Chicago law that prohibits this practice, Cardenas said.

Another planned ordinance would give police the power to cite active spectators at illegal car events, Cardenas said.

Additional resources from Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications — when not otherwise occupied with an emergency — will also be used to fight against street racing, he said.

A Moving Problem

Verta noted that street racing has been an ongoing, unaddressed issue. "This is the first step in alleviating a very long, historic problem here," he said.

Many more car racers started coming into the McKinley Park neighborhood after a different Chicago location locked down its access, Verta said.

Now, it looks like the racers have moved to other locations, Sollis said at the Beat 912 meeting, including to the 8th District area and in the Ford City Mall.

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Audrey Teabow
This is great to see; I didn’t realize there were so many other gates included. There will also be a lot more traffic in that area that won’t have to deal with this chaos.

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