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Racing threat demands response

When Portland citizens were surveyed 10 years ago, they identified gang violence as the No. 1 problem in our community. Today that problem is much reduced, thanks to a communitywide effort and excellent work by the Portland Police Bureau.

Now our citizens point to a new threat to the quality of life in our city: traffic safety in our neighborhoods. That perception is correct Ñ we now lose more lives in Portland to cars than we do to guns.

The recent outbreak of large-scale street racing compounds an already dangerous situation. We believe that the street-racing phenomenon demands a strong community response, starting with a clear message that street racing isn't 'kids having fun,' but intentional reckless driving that endangers lives and creates unsafe neighborhoods.

A reminder might be helpful in looking at this issue: Driving a motor vehicle on our public streets is a privilege, not a right. That's why we require drivers to get licenses.

With that license, each of us holds a revocable permit to operate a large piece of machinery on community property. Entertainment, much less entertainment that involves multiple vehicles traveling at high speeds, is not part of the social contract.

The thrills that street racers seek Ñ the adrenaline rush, the ego boost, the triumph of victory Ñ need to be found in other places.

The recent tragic deaths in our region make it clear that no public street is an acceptable location for this activity, and that its risks are shared not just by drivers, but also by passengers and innocent bystanders.

Our streets are places where a variety of activities are allowed, even encouraged. Portland in particular has adopted land use and transportation policies that encourage pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly streets where sidewalk cafes, wheelchairs and kids walking to school share the 'public realm' of the right of way with cars.

The 'entertainment' of street racing is a selfish appropriation of this shared space. It's also deadly, and not just to its direct participants.

It's time that Portland and other metro area jurisdictions adopt 'zero tolerance' standards for this crime before we face another tragic result.

First, street racing needs to be addressed as reckless endangerment, not just speeding.

Second, the spectators at these 'events' are not innocent consumers of legitimate entertainment: Their presence incites the event, and their encouragement can escalate it. Thus, these spectators are accomplices to violence and should be treated as such.

Third, the instrument of this violence should not be returned to its perpetrators. If you fire a gun down a public street, you should not expect the community to return it after you have paid your penalty. Why should it be different if you endanger your fellow citizens with a 2,500-pound projectile of speeding steel?

Portland and other cities should adopt ordinances that put these common-sense principles into law. Gresham already has, at least in part. It's important that we achieve some regional consistency on this issue. Otherwise, street racers will find an 'amnesty jurisdiction.'

Laws evolve to meet the needs of the community, and we need strong laws to deal with street racing Ñ now.

Charlie Hales is a Portland city commissioner; he oversees the city's transportation office.

Mark Kroeker is chief of the Portland Police Bureau.