Drive by a Downtown traffic control point three times in two hours this weekend, and you might get slapped with a ticket.
Albuquerque police have a new tool on their side to help mitigate cruising Downtown. Police will begin using software this weekend for the first time to keep track of how often a car has passed by key cruising points. From 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday through Monday officers will be on hand to document license plates at traffic control points marked by “No Cruising” signs.
If a car is seen three times in a two-hour period, police are notified of a violation, and an officer on foot, bike or Segway will weave through traffic to issue the driver a ticket, says Capt. Ron Paiz of the Valley Area Command. According to Janet Blair, metropolitan court spokesperson, each citation equals a $10 fine—on the surface. After you add in additional fees, each separate act of cruising can ultimately cost cruisers $69.
Shawnasi Martinez, a Downtown cruiser, says the timing for the new enforcement is interesting. With a big lowrider show taking place on Sunday, the first weekend run of the anti-cruising campaign might go a little haywire. “I'm sure after the car show, everybody's going to go cruising,” she says.
Paiz doesn't anticipate noncruising patrons of Downtown to get caught in the fray—fined for driving by a traffic control point too many times when attempting to get to a nightclub or find a parking space. “You really can't drive to the different places,” he says. “You've got to walk to the various bars.”
The anti-cruising campaign has been a long time coming, says Rory Veronda, the general manager at OPM, a club on Gold between First and Second streets. “[Cruising] does affect business, because people who aren't used to coming Downtown get a bad picture of what's going on.” He's seen fights break out between cruisers and people walking down the sidewalk. “Most acts of random violence committed on these streets are committed by cruisers,” he says.
Mayor Martin Chavez signed the Cruising on Public Streets Ordinance in May 2005. The ordinance aims to stop cruising Downtown by issuing traffic citations, though it wasn't fully enforced until now. It states that cruising hampers “sufficient access for emergency vehicles,” in addition to creating noise and air pollution. According to the ordinance, cruising also “impedes access to and use of property and increases automobile accidents, traffic offenses and acts of disorderly conduct.”
Veronda says the real trouble for area bars is that cruisers aren't usually customers. “It's an underage group, under 21, not customers of any Downtown clubs.” Often, he says, cruisers are associated with gangs—or at least pretend they are. “They just drive around with their music super loud, making crappy comments to people walking around.”
Martinez is 19 and drives a 1950 Chevy Coupe, a champion in the “mild custom” class at lowrider shows. It's candy blue, coated with flames, and has front and back switches controlling the hydraulics. Her dad built it for her and gave it to her as a graduation present. Though Martinez lives in San Ysidro, she likes to cruise her car in Downtown Albuquerque.
“My car's really noticeable when I pass,” she says. In normal circumstances, that might be a good thing. Martinez says she loves the attention she gets when she's in her car, but with pressure on cruisers Downtown, the Coupe's standout beauty pretty much guarantees Martinez will get pulled over. Last summer, Martinez faced the inevitable during one of her trips to Burque's main drag. “[APD] told me I needed to get off [Central],” she says. “They told me that if they see me cruising again, they'll tow my car and take it away.”
It's part of an unfortunate stigma that cruisers face, according to Martinez. “If you're marked in a car like that, they assume you're a bad person. They just label you as someone bad, like if you see a guy with tattoos. You assume he's bad. It's the same thing.”
Though Euros (European cars) often cruise Montgomery, the ordinance is only being enforced Downtown, Paiz says.
Even with the added enforcement Downtown, Veronda is adamant that it's not enough given the trouble in front of OPM caused by cruisers. “The police have been doing an outstanding job on Gold Street,” he says. “They do it by writing lots of tickets for sound, shining flashlights in cars, pulling them over if they look shady to check registration and insurance. The city needs to get a lot tougher with cruising traffic. I don't think they should have waited this long to start taking action.”
According to Lowrider Magazine's “Cruising New Mexico,” a section in its Lowrider hardback book, after the cruise began gaining popularity in the early ’80s, it became rowdier, and APD began regulating traffic in the congested areas along Central. The attempt was unsuccessful, according to reporter Delia Neese, who is quoted in the book, and eventually police allowed cruising as long as it was free of drugs and alcohol.
Veronda says cruising’s popularity and the trouble it causes wax and wane. “Right now it's at a very high point.” Martinez agrees that police presence along the main drag is important to prevent trouble. Still, she says, “They should make it where we could cruise. We're not bothering anybody. So they shouldn't bother us.”