Portland city officials have drafted an ordinance that would increase the criminal penalties for street “sliding,” as weekly contests of souped-up cars burning rubber in circles draw crowds of hundreds, block city intersections, and alarm business owners in industrial neighborhoods.
Sam Adams, director of strategic innovations for Mayor Ted Wheeler, tells WW the draft ordinance would “increase the sanctions for this kind of dangerous driving on public streets.”
“Large unpermitted street racing events involving high speed and at times pedestrian onlookers have grown in number and size across the city,” Adams says. “We have a draft of an ordinance in front of the City Council for them to comment on. We want to have it at the City Council when folks come back from their time off.”
The draft of the ordinance and code provision, obtained by WW, proposes that City Council approve two different misdemeanor offenses for participating in such events: unlawful street takeover and unlawful staging of a street takeover event.
It reads: “A person commits the offense of an Unlawful Street Takeover if, in a public place or upon a highway, the person knowingly operates a motor vehicle while engaged in an unlawful street takeover event.”
The draft proposes that the penalty be up to six months in prison and a fine up to $500—but gives first-time offenders the choice to go through a diversion program instead, if approved by the Multnomah County district attorney.
Since October, a coalition of businesses has appealed to City Hall for a crackdown on the street events known as “sliding.”
Sliding—a practice that participants say is distinct from car racing—is when drivers accelerate and steer their vehicles into tight circles, the cars often looking dangerously close to flipping or spinning out of control. Sometimes, only one car is spinning in circles. Other times, there are four.
On July 19, the North Portland Coalition for Safe Streets, a group of businesses, penned a letter to the mayor and city commissioners decrying the events in industrial North Portland, often along Marine Drive and Columbia Boulevard.
It’s the group’s third plea for City Hall to take action against the street sliding events. Businesses in the coalition include Columbia Sportswear, BNSF Railway, the Port of Portland, Subaru of America and Ajinomoto Foods North America.
“Since we last wrote to you and spoke with your representatives, people have died. The practice of street racing in our neighborhoods on city streets continue unabated without any compliance or enforcement,” the letter read. “Scheduled events are actively and unabashedly advertised on social media. We are concerned for the safety of our employees. They are afraid to come to work. They are threatened and harassed and put into dangerous situations just so they can provide for their families.”
The mention of a death refers to a fatal crash during a racing event on April 19, when a motorcyclist was struck and killed in the 6200 block of Marine Drive in North Portland. The driver of the other vehicle was cited for reckless driving.
Peter Bragdon, executive vice president of Columbia Sportswear, which has a North Portland warehouse, is frustrated by the pace of the city’s response. “At this rate,” he tells WW, “my grandchildren will be able to engage in those street races…and I don’t have any grandchildren yet.”
A street sliding event at the intersection of Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. and Columbia boulevards drew a crowd of hundreds on Aug. 1.
The crowd formed a circle blocking all four streets at the intersection and creating an arena for the sliders to ride around. This reporter walked inside the circle, drawn by the noise that could be heard for blocks.
Sports cars—some beaten down, others spiffy with rims and fresh paint—spun circles within the protective circle created by 400 spectators. The crowd consisted of young people: teenagers, mostly.
The event began around 9 pm and continued until past midnight. Gas fumes clouded the sky and the smell of burnt rubber filled the air. Lines of cars backed up a quarter to a half-mile down all four streets waited for hours. Some spectators launched fireworks.
A rhythm emerged: One to four cars would enter the circle from one of the four streets, emerging behind spectators who would jump out of the way as the engines revved. They would enter the circle, making impossibly dangerous angles with their cars as they spun around, leaving a wake of fumes, sparking tires and cheers with every turn. The crowd would egg them on, yelling, sometimes chasing them for short spurts.
Cars would cycle in and out every three or four minutes, another car always waiting in the wings to take its place. Sometimes cars would exit the circle at will; other times, their wheels were so stressed, overheated and eroded that bare metal was grinding along the road.
The event, WW learned through various social media accounts, was held as a memorial for a fellow racer who was shot and killed in October 2020 in Portland. His name was Noah Terry.
Bystanders told WW the event has happened every Sunday for months now.