City officials use barricades to crack down on Atlanta street races

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Hendren

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Hendren

City officials hope a combination of barricades and increased penalties will deter groups from participating in late-night races on Atlanta’s streets.

Since the pandemic began, police have seen an increase in overnight meetups across the city as drivers gather to race each other and burn rubber on busy roads. The events typically draw large crowds of bystanders, many of whom film the action on their cellphones. The crowds tend to scatter quickly when officers arrive, then regroup a short time later for another race in a different neighborhood.

“It’s like whack-a-mole,” Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens told AJC.com on Thursday. “You get them out of one area where they are congregating and then they’ll pop up two miles away.”

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Hendren

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Hendren

On Wednesday morning, Atlanta Department of Transportation Commissioner Josh Rowan told council members that barricades are being brought in to narrow certain streets and help curb the recent spike in illegal racing.

“We’re trying our best with the two resources we have, which are water-filled plastic barriers and concrete barricades, to support APD with some of the street racing,” he said. “Our theory is that a narrower street makes it harder to do burnouts and doughnuts and race.”

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In recent weeks, barricades have been placed in Atlanta’s Edgewood, Sweet Auburn and Castleberry Hill neighborhoods. By narrowing the streets and limiting crowds, Rowan explained, Atlanta police can reduce the number of officers needed to respond to the incidents.

“We’re looking at how we can replace a vehicle and an officer with something like a barricade,” Rowan said. “There’s no real scientific study to it. We go out and we look out for the burn tracks on the road and we try to put a barricade in the way to interfere with the activity.”

It is not clear if the barricades are cutting down the number of illegal races in the city. Data was not available Thursday.

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Celeste Murphy, Atlanta Police Department’s deputy chief over field operations, said street racing became more prevalent at the start of the coronavirus pandemic because fewer cars were on the roads.

“Now that traffic is starting to increase, it’s become even more dangerous and they’re acting more brazen,” she said, adding that races are taking place in downtown, Midtown and Buckhead.

Resident Hilary Bumm said in addition to street racing, some groups set off fireworks and even shoot guns outside her Buckhead condominium at the intersection of Collier and Wycliff roads.

“It’s not new. This has been going on for years, just not to this extent.” said Bumm, who works in retail marketing. “It’s a lot louder, and it’s happening much more frequently lately.”

In addition to the disruptive noises on weekends, Bumm said it also poses a public health risk for large groups of racers block roadway access to nearby Piedmont Hospital.

“I would like it to stop and I would like us, as a city, to be more proactive about it,” she said, adding that drag racing is an issue she and her neighbors have complained about for months.

Murphy said the police department appreciates the city’s efforts because officers don’t want to respond to a scene where a bystander is run over and killed by someone doing doughnuts.

In addition to reducing the width of certain streets overnight, city officials are considering buying more license plate readers. Dickens, who chairs the transportation committee, said the City Council also passed an ordinance last week increasing fines for street racing to up to $1,000.

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Hendren

Credit: Courtesy of Ben Hendren

The ordinance also applies to those caught blocking off city streets with their vehicles so the events can take place, he said, adding that council members have received complaints about illegal racing from residents and business owners across Atlanta.

So far, no bystanders have been cited simply for watching cars race, according to police.

“This goal of this is not to stop young people from having fun,” Dickens said. “That’s not the intent. The goal here is to keep everyone safe.”