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Circular skid marks stain an intersection in a residential area, with a line of one-story white houses visible on the left.

Is city’s traffic calming plan reducing sideshows? Residents in North & East see little change.

on November 20, 2023

The sound of screeching tires, the smell of burnt rubber, and the sight of circular black skid marks in the middle of intersections are commonplace in Richmond, especially in the North & East neighborhood. 

With main thoroughfares of 23rd Street to the west and San Pablo Avenue to the east, the North & East neighborhood has ultimately become a hub for speeding cars, donut spinning, and sideshows.

A sideshow in July brought an estimated 200 cars to the intersection of San Pablo and Solano avenues, with many residents complaining about the noise. 

“It just sounds like war,” said Terri Hinte, who has lived off of San Pablo Avenue for 22 years. 

In November 2022, the Richmond Public Works Department launched a traffic calming program to provide “safer and more pleasant streets for individuals walking, biking, and driving,” according to the city’s website. Since then, little has materialized. 

Residents raised 37 traffic issues citywide, with Public Works deciding to address 18 of those, categorizing them as high priority. As a result, the City Council approved $1.2 million for the first 18 issues. 

In a report by Fehr and Peers, a transportation solution agency, the North & East neighborhood, or District 6, qualified for five out of the 37 traffic calming projects across Richmond. One of them, a sideshow deterrence on Barrett Avenue and Key Boulevard, was ranked second on the priorities list, while a stop sign request on 29th Street and Vale Road took the 36th spot. 

According to Robert Armijo, director of Public Works, out of the 18 priority projects only 25% are past the design phase and only one has been completed — the installation of speed bumps on Esmond Avenue. 

The traffic calming program is ongoing, providing residents with an online or in-person form to fill out regarding any traffic issues they may experience, such as speeding, accidents, and sideshows. Those concerns will be considered and, according to Armijo, will shape the next phase of traffic reviews presented to the City Council this winter. 

Enforcement lacking

In September, Councilmember Claudia Jimenez held a traffic calming forum at Solano Park to address the concerns of those in the North & East neighborhood and to remind them to report unsafe traffic conditions with the online form.   

“The idea here is to learn what the city is doing in a street calming program,” Jimenez said in a Facebook video. “But at the same time, to brainstorm what solutions we want for our community.”

Hinte believes one thing would help traffic safety in the neighborhood — enforcement. “Without enforcement you’re just kidding yourself,” Hinte said. “I always thought that if there was a police car that just lurked on the corner one day a week, one afternoon a week, that would make an impression.”

Hinte has noticed an increase in sideshows in the neighborhood for the past four or five years. Coinciding with that has been cuts in the Police Department’s budget and a decline in the number of officers. 

According to Lt. Donovan Decious, the Richmond Police Department defines a sideshow as a gathering of 100 to 300 cars that blocks an intersection, includes a larger production of donut spinning and involves onlookers who film and cheer.

Back in the day

Richmond wasn’t always a hot spot for sideshows because of a high police presence, according to Rick Wilson, a former sideshow enthusiast who was raised in the early 2000s in Vallejo. 

“In my generation, there wasn’t really a Richmond area,” said Wilson, 40. “You had Richmond Parkway, and you’d do two to three donuts and you’d be out of there and scared for the next two hours.”

Originating in the 1980s in East Oakland, sideshows became a way of keeping the party going after the bars closed at 2 a.m., Wilson said. They were an opportunity for those interested in car culture to come together at one specific spot. 

“A sideshow was a way of pulling up your car, looking nice, and, you know, impressing the women,” Wilson said. “Most of the time, this stuff, with my generation, was done at the ports of Oakland, where there was absolutely nobody.”

As sideshows have made their way to Richmond and other Bay Area cities, even taking over the Bay Bridge, public officials have grappled with how to stop them.

In June, Oakland City Council made it a crime to promote, facilitate or organize a side show. The action was taken after 100 cars were involved in a sideshow that included a fire ring on asphalt. During another incident in broad daylight, a dog walker who was apparently trying to stop a sideshow driver, was hit by a truck doing doughnuts.

In 2022, then Richmond Vice-Mayor Eduardo Martinez proposed designating a controlled and enforced venue for sideshows to legally take place. Wilson thinks that could work.

“Richmond’s has got tons of land over on Parkway that they can donate,” Wilson said. “It’s not an expensive thing. You don’t need to have a huge infrastructure, and the venue can maintain itself once it gets going.”

Although many residents believe sideshows shouldn’t be welcomed and celebrated in Richmond, others support an opportunity for young adults to safely participate in sideshows and maintain Bay Area culture. 

“If you want the problem to stop, and especially in these bigger cities that have big concerns, then you need to make an outlet for it,” Wilson said. 

(Top photo: Skid marks from a car doing donuts at Esmond Avenue and 37th Street, by Erika Zaro)

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  1. Ellen Seskin on November 21, 2023 at 5:26 pm

    What traffic calming plan? Our council member promised one was in the works – we should just all put in the application. I personally know f 8 people who did. Then we got the news: not this year, you can try again next. Meanwhile, a few blocks down, there are fresh sideshow tracks and there must have been an accident, because piles of broken glass have been swept up to the sidewalks – because the same city council voted to stop writing tickets for blocking the street on sweeping days because it would be a “hardship” during the pandemic. That meant the cars weren’t moved, so streets don’t gets swept, and garbage does down the storm drains into the sloughs where endangered seabirds nest and eat and into the bay (and eventually the ocean) to poison out fish, too. I wonder what broken glass does to the bay?

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