Derby Cruising Restrictions Continue to Evolve

by scrosby on April 30, 2008

Louisville Metro Police will allow traffic to flow freely this weekend along West Broadway. But that doesn’t mean they’ll allow Derby cruising. WFPL’s Stephanie Sanders has an update on the weekend plan and the short-lived history of the street festival.

What started as a motorcycle show at 28th Street and Greenwood Avenue swelled eastward on Broadway and eventually drew 150-thousand people. It became known as Derby cruising, and though it wasn’t a sanctioned event, it drew participants even from out of town. But for the last two years, Metro Police have banned the street festival, saying it had become too violent and out-of-control. And all you have to do to hear the public’s opinion is walk down west Broadway and say one word… “cruising”.

“A lot of the business comes from people that’s coming in town, you get a lot of people that are cruising, that’s going to get some service, and it just wiped out all that. It just killed everything.”

“People just can’t afford to go into other areas of the city to enjoy themselves, so we’ve got to make due with what’s we’ve got.”

“I hope it’ll be more safe this year, for real. It is dangerous on Derby, for real, it really is dangerous.”

“It didn’t bother me until they started getting vulgar. But other than that, they just kids trying to have fun for one weekend, so it didn’t really bother me that much.”

This year, the police will allow traffic on Broadway, but not cruising. If traffic starts to gridlock, they’ll reinstate road blocks that were used in previous years, and use a pass system for access.

The police crackdown on Derby cruising started when a rash of violence broke out in 2005. The outlawing of cruising drew the ire of some west Louisville residents and business owners, who complained they were being fenced in.

Last year a group of business owners and civil rights leaders asked a federal judge for an injunction to lift the ban, which they said was discriminatory and unconstitutional and was costing them thousands of dollars in lost business. The judge denied the request, saying it was a public safety issue.

“Public space and the streets have been used traditionally, and historically, by not just minority populations, but by all populations.”

Benjamin Blandford is a doctoral student in geography at the University of Kentucky who studies cultural and urban geography.

“Demonstrating in the streets is a symbolic way to claim space, or to claim an identity, or to claim a right to the city.”

Or an event. Like the Derby.

Blandford says Derby cruising didn’t start as a statement of race or social status.

“When events become that large and they begin to take on a new presence, especially when you start to have such strong reactions against these celebrations, then they begin to take on a political significance that maybe was never intentionally there.”

But when some Louisville residents reacted negatively to an unpredictable street festival held in the West End of the city, where the city’s African-American population is most dense, it became much more of a problem in the mind’s of some Louisvillians.

“The location of cruising, in the West End, which is sort of stigmatized by the rest of the city, and the fact that its in the street, its in public space, it’s not contained… so I think when you add those things together, you have the stigmatization and this feeling of it being uncontrollable, that results in a threat or fear of what might happen.”

In essence, the things that made cruising so appealing to some made it unallowable to others.

This is the first year since 2005 in which side streets leading to Broadway will be open and motorists will be able to use the street freely…. police are responding to complaints from business owners along Broadway who say their sales have plummeted Derby weekend for the last two years because of the roadblocks.

Citizen reaction to the loosened restrictions will certainly shape how the police will enforce the continued ban on cruising and how residents will shape their future Derby weekends.

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