Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) tried again Thursday to wave the black flag at daredevil motorists who use Lower Wacker Drive and other local streets as a track for their “Fast & Furious”-style drag racing and spin contests.
“This is essentially zero tolerance for drag racing and drifting in the city of Chicago. Both are inherently dangerous practices that kill people and maim people,” Reilly said.
“We want it to be a very harsh penalty so people will stop doing it. If this is something that suburban kids want to engage in, perhaps in their parents’ driveway, then be my guest. But this is not appropriate in the city of Chicago.”
Four years after a drag racing contest on Lower Wacker turned deadly, Reilly convinced the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety to slap daredevil drag racers with fines as high as $10,000 for each offense. The minimum fine would be $5,000.
Currently, motorists can only be cited for speeding or other moving violations. There is no specific fine for drag racing.
“The penalty is astronomical by design. My hope is, not a single citation is issued. My hope is, they stop doing it,” Reilly said.
After a barrage of complaints from his sleep-deprived constituents in what he called a “canyon” of high-rises Reilly also targeted a dangerous practice known as “drifting.” That’s when dare-devil drivers try to mimic stunt drivers by maneuvering their vehicles to slide sideways through a turn.
The ordinance includes a precise definition of drifting as keeping a vehicle in a “state of over-steer” while maneuvering it “from turn-to-turn or in tight circles or in a figure-eight.”
The degree of “counter-steer,” coupled with “simultaneous modulation of the throttle and brakes,” shifts the weight balance of the vehicle back and forth through turns so “any or all of the vehicles tires lose traction or grip on the road,” the ordinance states.
“You can go to YouTube and see some really scary videos. … You’ve got folks driving cars using their feet hanging out the window doing very tight figure-eights and loop-de-loops with no control over the vehicle,” Reilly said.
“This is not something that you could do by mistake. This would not be a ‘gotcha’ offense, like, `Oh, I rolled through a right turn at a red-light camera intersection [or], `Oops. My mistake. I drifted.’ To do drifting, it requires some deliberate work.”
The Reilly-championed ordinance also slaps fines of $500-a-day on motorists whose mufflers are bypassed to make the engine louder. The macho move is popular in the drag-racing circuit and among motorcyclists.
Four year ago, the Chicago Sun-Times lifted the veil on the Friday night antics that keeps downtown residents awake at night and endanger the drag racing die-hards who congregate to compete on Lower Wacker Drive.
A few weeks later, the drag-racing games turned deadly.
Just 20 minutes after a police blitzkrieg ended, two friends were drag-racing against each other in a Jeep and a BMW while westbound on Lower Wacker. One vehicle reportedly swerved in front of the other, clipping its front end. That sent both vehicles careening into support beams.
The driver of the BMW, identified as Jose Luviano Jr., was killed. The driver of the Jeep, identified as Ivan Sanchez, was charged with one count of reckless homicide, one count of aggravated DUI, four misdemeanor counts of DUI and issued several traffic citations.
Reilly responded by ordering more surveillance cameras installed on Lower Wacker Drive and Lower Randolph and by installing “concrete jersey barriers, barricades, islands and speed bumps” — to slow down drag racers and discourage “figure eight spin contests.”
The physical impediments were bankrolled by Reilly’s $1.32 million in aldermanic “menu money” earmarked for infrastructure improvements of an alderman’s choosing.
The alderman also ordered a towing blitz and championed an ordinance that turned Lower Wacker Drive and the entire area bounded by Wacker Drive, Randolph Street, Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Aveenue into a “No Cruising Zone.”
Within those boundaries, motorists were prohibited from driving through more than once in a one-hour period.
None of it worked, the frustrated aldermen acknowledged Thursday.
“The kids actually show up with an SUV. They move the jersey barriers out of the way. They do their thing. And then they leave,” he said.
“Monday morning, we show up and find all of our jersey barriers packed together on the edge of the roadway. And now we’re actually having to drill these things into Lower Wacker’s infrastructure so they can’t be moved.”