Downtown residents urge leaders to curb traffic; oppose permit idea
It is an all-too typical Friday night. Betty Cochran lies in bed inside her sixth-floor room in Park Avenue Apartments while horns blast, music blares and engines roar far below, oblivious to her disturbed slumber.
Glancing at the clock, Cochran sees that it is in fact early Saturday morning. Yet the "cruising" through downtown Ironton rolls on, as continuous as the nearby Ohio River but with more thunderous noise than the crashing waters.
"They rev up those mufflers so loud you think the whole building is going to come down," said Cochran, the resident manager of the downtown apartment building in which she has lived for three years and that is home to approximately 40 tenants.
"Some people have problems with the trains, but the noise from the trains is nothing compared to the noise from the cruising."
The nighttime hobby known as cruising has been a recurrent theme throughout Ironton’s past. As many businesses close their doors for the night, the lights – taillights and headlights - start to come on. Teens and young adults migrate to the vacant parking lots downtown to hang out with friends as cars roll up and down Second and Third streets again and again.
Though technically illegal, it is a law that authorities say they
don’t have the manpower to enforce. The issue of cruising was a hot topic a year ago but some enforcement tactics slowed the traffic. Now, it has circled the block and come back around, bringing the noise, littering, violence, drugs and alcohol back with it, according to some residents.
Police agree that some of these issues can be problems, but emphasize that it all boils down to manpower.
"I won’t say it is not high on our priority list but cruising has to take a back seat to many of our other calls," said Ironton Police Capt. Dan Johnson. "When we get a domestic (violence) call, we have to respond to that. Our two or three officers a shift are too busy running from call to call."
While many downtown business owners and residents have always opposed cruising, their ire grew recently when the idea of selling cruising permits was proposed at a recent city council meeting. The idea was put forth as a way to generate revenue and also assist with law enforcement.
Nothing came from the idea but that didn’t stop Cochran and every single resident of Park Avenue Apartments from making their voices heard. All signed petitions against cruising and any plans to authorize it. These were given to the council.
"You would have to be here on Friday and Saturday night to realize the commotion that is going on," Cochran said. "It is very disturbing. You have young men and women screaming and fighting. If you stayed here, just one weekend would do you."
Fellow resident Carl Palmer agrees. He has spent three years worth of weekends living in the high rise. Even on the top floor, seven, the noise bounces through his head. But it is trying to leave that really bothers him.
"The only way out of our parking lot is on Third Street," Palmer said. "You are at the mercy of those cruisers. I like to walk too. I almost got hit by a car. I am in pretty good shape so I could run out of the way but if it was some of the other residents," he said as his voice trailed off.
But Palmer and even some business owners sympathize with the youth.
Palmer recalls his youth, a time when restaurants lined Ironton and youth centers and other options were available. Now, recreation is limited.
"I feel sorry for these kids. I really do," Palmer said. "These kids don’t have anywhere to go or anything to do. It is a sad situation. I feel for them but I hate the noise too."
Many youth who enjoy the cruise strip defend it as good, clean fun, with only a few bad apples causing problems.
"I come out to meet people, show off my car, and hang out with my friends. Ironton is a retirement town and there is nothing to do," said Tabitha Bowling of Ironton. "Cruising is something to do. It is fun to cruise."
For Bowling and her friends, cruising is simply a relaxation - even if older generations don’t understand it.
"I work all week and want something different to do. There are three things young people can do in the area for entertainment: one, go to the mall; two, go to Spare Time, if you like bowling; and three, cruise," Bowling said. "Why should the cruising stop if the stores are not open?"
Chris Lee of Huntington agrees.
"What else is there for the youngsters to do?"
Even some downtown business owners can see the youth's side. Jim Hacker owns Iron City Hardware, in his family since 1926, on Second street. He sees both sides of the coin.
"I don’t know what the answer is," he said. "It would be nice if we had a spot for the youth to go hang around at."
Search for solutions
No one seems to have clear answer as to how the situation can be remedied.
Cruisers maintain they aren’t hurting anyone. Business owners and residents want to see some enforcement. Police point to a lack of manpower.
For Cochran and Palmer, the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
"We would just like to see it quieted down. We are not saying the kids don’t have a right to do this but we would just like to see some limitations," Cochran said. "We would just like to see some of them behave better and maybe stop at midnight."
For now, though, cars still fly by below but the sleepless nights above roll on too.
Photographer Jessica St. James contributed to this report.