Business owners in North Portland sent Mayor Ted Wheeler and city commissioners a letter April 2 demanding a crackdown on street racing. They complain that large crowds and fast-moving cars are keeping blue-collar workers from getting home from industrial parks after their shifts end.
In the letter, the North Portland Coalition for Safe Streets—which represents Columbia Sportswear, the Port of Portland, Subaru of America, and a smattering of other businesses—asked city officials to preempt a rise in the late-night road races that became a frequent pastime for young men during COVID-19 shutdowns.
"Unfortunately, street racing continues to be a significant public safety issue that threatens the well-being of our citizens, industrial sector employees, and essential businesses," the letter says. "While we are appreciative of local police efforts to curb street racing in industrial areas over the past six months, we are growing increasingly concerned as it appears the prevalence of street racing events is on the rise once again."
The letter notes that street racing gets more frequent as the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, adding to the urgency of the request.
Dan Legree, one of the signatories to the letter, owns Savoy Studios, where he makes decorative glasswork for casinos. His business is along one of the streets often used as racing grounds, North Ramsey Street, and he tells WW the racing is picking up steam again.
Legree says the racers meet nearly every weekend and tear up and down North Marine Drive, Lombard Street and Ramsey Street.
"They're mainly ripping around the UPS parking lot, and UPS has a pretty big warehouse down toward the ends of the block [on Ramsey], and at the end of Ramsey before it gets to the parking lot, there's a circle, and it's angled, and the guys get up on that thing and spin around on it," Legree says.
He estimates between 20 and 30 cars show up each weekend.
"We've had our windows shot out, bullets through our front windows, and trash in our parking lot," Legree says. "It's the age range anywhere between 16 and 40, it's all over the place. Some guys have really nice cars, others are junkers."
In the letter, the coalition referenced another letter sent to the mayor in October of last year to address the street racing. This time, the coalition requested a meeting to discuss the issue.
Wheeler's office did not immediately provide comment.
"Last summer, we saw too many close calls and some very frightening circumstances as industrial sector workers were harassed by crowds of street racers or even experienced collisions with racing vehicles," the coalition wrote.
Tensions around street racing drastically escalated last November, when a race blocked the intersection of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. and Columbia boulevards for an hour. When officers responded, according to a Multnomah County Sheriff's Office video where a police sergeant debriefs the event, racers pelted officers with and gunshots were fired into the air.
Two days later, on Nov. 9, police arrested 14 people involved in street racing in various locations across the city.
Legree says the racers aren't merely annoying business owners.
"The street used to be just packed with homeless campers, and the street racers would race up and down and occasionally hit their trailers and cars," Legree says. "It's totally out of control, it's like Mad Max."