Few things are more divisive on downtown nights than “The Cruise.”
To some people, the weekend tradition of high-performance vehicle owners meeting in downtown Boise to show off their rides in a loop around downtown, talk shop and socialize is a time-honored pastime that keeps kids engaged and out of trouble. The car community says it’s an integral part of their world and Bosieans who have lived here for decades have fond memories of spinning around the streets of downtown as teens.
But, this isn’t how everyone sees it.
Downtown business owners and visitors have long lodged complaints about the car-centric meet-ups. They say the loud noise from cars revving their engines and accelerating near 14th Street and behind businesses like The Modern Hotel disturbs pedestrians and poses safety risks in the dense area. Business owners have reported those participating in The Cruise, or those spectating, drifting around corners and revving their engines, so smoke pours out onto patios. There have also been reports of vandalism, littering, and conduct that makes some employees of downtown businesses say they feel uncomfortable when locking up at night.
The Cruise has been the subject of several attempts to control it or end it in previous decades and now the Downtown Boise Association is trying again for changes after business owners’ complaints have intensified. The organization doesn’t have a specific proposal yet for a new ordinance or city policy to try and clamp down on the gathering, but they are partnering with City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings, who represents downtown, to gather input from business owners and bring forward a new pitch.
Woodings and DBA held a meeting for its members on The Cruise on Wednesday afternoon, where business owners aired grievances and a handful of car-enthusiasts spoke out about what the event means to them and their perspectives. DBA Executive Director Jennifer Hensley said her organization is studying what ordinances other cities have in place to address impacts from similar gatherings of car enthusiasts in their downtowns.
“We don’t want people who are law-abiding and driving around downtown to go away, we just want to deal with the issues,” Hensley said. “We’re going to start trying to figure out what tools we can put in place to deal with this.”
A long history of tension
The tradition of car enthusiasts hitting the streets of downtown Boise and people being frustrated with it goes back decades.
At the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting Hensley told the crowd that DBA’s research has turned up stories about a cruise ordinance enacted during the 1980s, but it was repealed only a few years later. The Cruise used to also snake through Ann Morrison Park before moving to downtown after the city made changes to the street network of the park to stop the practice.
The City of Boise enacted a new ordinance in 2017 banning certain equipment modifying cars to make them louder or to have other modifications that impact the public. This is another tool Boise Police Department can use along with laws against speeding and reckless driving, but the fine for illegally modified cars is $67, according to reporting in June by the Idaho Statesman.
The paper that sometimes officers pull the same cars over multiple times in the same night, but the low fine (capped by the Idaho Legislature) and the lack of any penalties on an insurance policy or other impacts makes it hard to deter drivers from continuing to break the rules by circling downtown.
This latest round of talks about The Cruise started in early July when Erika Hiner, operations manager for The Modern Hotel, forwarded a negative review from a customer who was “up all night” due to the noise from the cars zipping up and down the streets near the hotel to Carrie Westergard with the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. Westergard then forwarded the complaints over to Boise’s Economic Development Director Sean Keithly, who then reached out to Hensley with the DBA to ask what she’s been hearing from business owners, according to public records obtained by BoiseDev.
‘They own the night’
There might have been disagreement about what could be done to address The Cruise, but multiple business owners shared stories of frustration on Wednesday.
Elizabeth Tullis, the owner of The Modern Hotel and Txikiteo on 14th Street, said there’s been a constant struggle with The Cruise since she has been operating both of her businesses because they are both on the route. She said the noise, littering, and conduct some of the participants has caused her to close Txikiteo at 9 p.m. because diners sitting on the patio can’t hear each other over the noise, and The Modern has to frequently comp customers for the cost of rooms when they complain about the noise.
She said “they own the night” in downtown Boise.
“It’s just been, as you all know, an ever-increasing problem,” she said. “I’ve come to feel that nothing will be done until something really terrible happens. There are kids down here night after night, and those are dangerous machines they are propelling through the night.”
It’s not just the drivers causing issues for businesses. Some car-enthusiasts like to set up lawn chairs on the sidewalks and watch The Cruise loop through downtown, which Jeremy Lotz said causes a problem for Delia Dante Gallery. He said the corner in front of his business regularly attracts over a dozen people on weekend nights.
“This summer has been the worst we’ve seen,” he said. “We leave there on Friday and Saturday expecting Monday to be a war zone picking up trash.”
He noted there were no trash cans on that corner or in the immediate area and suggested DBA should put some there to provide a place for the spectators to throw trash away.
Todd Hurless, owner of foreign car repair shop Hurless Brothers, was adamant during Wednesday’s meeting that a heavy police presence is needed to control The Cruise. He said “the quality of the people” participating in The Cruise has “diminished” over the years and a swift and harsh response from the Boise Police is necessary to stop it.
“I think the cops should be able to slam anyone to the ground that they want to, because they’re the cops,” Hurless said. “We should rely on anything they are doing for any reason. Whatever you see that you don’t agree with, you don’t know the background. You don’t know the story. Whatever they need to do downtown force-wise, we’re all for it.”
The Cruise participants look to “self-governing”
DBA and Woodings might have intended Wednesday’s meeting to be only for business owners, but a handful of participants in The Cruise showed up anyway to voice their thoughts.
Zach Neagle, the proud owner of a 1990s Mazda Miata, loves to cruise the streets of downtown Boise in his car and meet other car lovers on the weekends in Boise. He condemned the conduct some of the business owners described, like littering and allegations from managers at the Car Park that people participating in The Cruise have used their trucks to pull down light poles in their parking lots, but said downtown’s heavily traffic lighted streets away from residential neighborhoods makes it an ideal place for the car meet up.
“I would love to be able to find another spot, but you’re looking at places that have housing or aren’t available to have it,” he told the business owners. “You’re looking at a lot more residents. And if you did that on the highway you have high-speed limits and a lot more danger.”
Justin Gates said he is a regular out at The Cruise where he says he has spoken up when he saw attendees and the police alike engaging in conduct he didn’t think was appropriate. He said there are some people who come to the event who cause problems, but by and large he said it’s a positive event and the city cannot stop people from driving on city streets.
“I would propose that a lot of it is about self-governing,” Gates said. “These kids were jumping out in the street on the corner, and they were just there antagonizing people, and I stepped over and said ‘guys, that’s not cool’ just like I watched an officer slam a kid on the curb because he was upset with him even though there was no interaction and I told that officer ‘that’s not right’.”
After Gates and Neagle continued to share their thoughts, Woodings broke in and asked them what business they owned downtown and noted that this was a DBA members-only meeting. Neagle and Gates replied that the meeting was advertised as a town hall meeting in a story about the city’s efforts to address The Cruise in a story written by the Idaho Press and published by KTVB.
Hensley noted that although the article called it a town hall meeting, it was intended to be only for downtown business owners.
“Thank you for coming, but I am looking for feedback from DBA members,” Woodings said.
What’s being done for now?
While DBA and Woodings mull potential options for a new ordinance or other tactics, BPD is making some changes of its own.
Ed Moreno, BPD’s neighborhood contact officer for downtown Boise, said the department’s plan for now is to restrict parking on 14th Street at night through the weekend in order to prevent people from parking along the street and congregating around the cars participating in The Cruise.
BPD spokesperson Haley Williams told BoiseDev last week that over the weekend, BPD in collaboration with ISP and Nampa Police Department, made 114 traffic stops on Friday and Saturday night during “targeted enforcement” of The Cruise. They handed out 74 speeding citations, 13 citations for equipment violations for cars with modified exhaust and lightning, and over 20 other citations for “various traffic issues.”
Moreno said part of the challenge with addressing The Cruise is how it’s no longer something mostly for high school students.
“To give you an idea of where cruising has evolved, back when I started in 2002 we had a special substation at city hall to deal with minors (picked up after curfew at The Cruise). We don’t do that anymore because we don’t see that problem anymore. Most of the people who are hanging out here are 18 to 24-year-olds that are coming out here with the different style of cars. It’s not the ’66 Chevelles anymore. It’s the 2020 Subaru STI. That’s how much it’s evolved.”