Ahead of a City Council vote on expanding a no-cruising ordinance to the entertainment district of Fort Worth, District 6 Councilman Jared Williams has concerns about a lack of data available and whether the proposal addresses the real problems in the area.
The City Council was set to vote Tuesday on whether to expand the no-cruising ordinance that is on the northside of Fort Worth to the West 7th Street entertainment district. The item was removed from the agenda Monday night, City Manager David Cooke confirmed.
The city is going to “reconvene with stakeholders to review/confirm/change recommendations,” Cooke said in a written statement.
If passed, the ordinance would impose a fine up to $500 on anyone who is cruising in the area, which is defined as passing the same traffic control point three times within any two-hour period.
Williams and others have expressed concern on the proposed ordinance’s negative implications for people of color.
“It’s no secret that there have been issues of discrimination in the West 7th area,” he told the Report on Monday. “And I think that those perspectives should be honored when we’re talking about how do we create a solution that really solves the root cause of congestion and doesn’t criminalize a minor symptom of a broader issue of how do we deal with congestion and entertainment districts and across the city, for that matter, as we continue to grow.”
Proponents of the ordinance say it will help solve traffic and congestion issues. Those opposed contend it could lead to racial profiling and does not address the real problems of the area.
Originally, the council was going to vote at a June meeting on the ordinance, but Williams moved to postpone the vote.
Addressing the issue of congestion in the entertainment district should be done in a way that is “transparent and comprehensive,” Williams said. After reading the ordinance at the June meeting, he said, he felt city staff needed to have more conversations about the issue.
Additionally, Williams wanted to spend some time talking about the real issue, which is congestion. Fort Worth is rapidly growing, and the city needs to be intentional about addressing it as it grows, he said.
What is the proposed cruising ordinance in Fort Worth?
If passed, the ordinance will impose a fine up to $500 on anyone who is cruising in the area, which the ordinance defines as passing the same traffic control point three times within any two-hour period. The ordinance would apply on West Lancaster Avenue, Bledsoe Street, Morton Street, Crockett Street and West 7th Street within University Drive to Foch Street. It also will apply to Foch Street, Currie Street. and Norwood Street within West 7th Street to West Lancaster Avenue.
“With the current ordinance, as it stands, it wouldn’t address the larger issue of congestion by itself exclusively,” he said. “And, I’m a bit concerned that we don’t have data to support the ordinance’s efficacy over the past, what, three decades. That’s concerning to me, the fact that there’s not a citation in the ticket book for cruising, nor in the municipal courts. It lends the question of, how are we supposed to evaluate the effect of a cruising ordinance on alleviating congestion in entertainment districts across our city? And so, I think that’s concerning. And if there’s no data, we know, there’s no audit, and no review to see how the plan is working.”
The issue is not about cruising, Williams said. Rather, it’s about having space to maneuver and park in the area, he said. The Report has requested data from the city on cruising citations, but has not received that information yet.
Several issues with the ordinance still need to be looked at, Williams said. For example, he asks, how do police determine whether a driver is cruising versus trying to find a place to park? Also, if there is an ordinance, it needs to be codified in the ticket books and municipal courts with an audit of how it is working.
Finally, there would need to be education about the ordinance and not just ticketing drivers the first time they violate the ordinance, he said.
“I’ve worked with staff to create a comprehensive congestion mitigation plan,” he said. “The purpose of my proposed plan is to proactively address concerns about congestion, traffic flow, public safety and quality of life and entertainment issues across the city of Fort Worth.”
Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said the ordinance was recommended by the police department “in response to issues of traffic congestion and public safety.”
“It would designate the West 7th district as a no-cruising zone, it would regulate how folks might be able to drive around that district … to prevent folks from going around for amusement versus point A to point B,” Costa said. “It happens late at night when most of us are asleep and don’t see it, but the conditions can be chaotic at 1 or 2 in the morning, particularly when bars close, it can have very large crowds who have been drinking, and if there’s an accident we need to get emergency vehicles there quickly.”
Officer Jimmy Pollozani with the police department said in a written statement increased traffic has led to traffic issues and an increase in calls for service.
“The ordinance was already in existence in the stockyards and proved to be an effective way to address those similar issues, so it was asked if the ordinance could be modified to include the West 7th entertainment district,” he said.
Business owners in the area support the ordinance. The Fort Worth Cultural District Alliance supports the implementation of a cruising ban.
“We talked to some of our members and retailers and got the same feedback from them that this was a problem that had been growing and they supported the ordinance,” Ken Loose, the chair of the Cultural District Alliance, said. “It’s about the safety of the pedestrians in the district.”
Loose said there have been accidents or issues in the area where police officers and ambulances could not get through because of traffic. He hopes the ordinance solves the issue.
“At the risk of sounding ignorant, I don’t understand what the racial part of this is. There may be a racial component that I am not aware of,” Loose said. “But when that is brought up, it doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s a safety issue.”
He added he was open to any good ideas to make the area a safer and more fun place.
The proposed no-cruising ordinance affects Councilwoman Elizabeth Beck’s district. She said she thinks the ordinance could be a tool, but not the end solution to the problem.
The concern about racial profiling concern is a valid one, she said, so it is important for the City Council to work with the police department to prevent it.
“We don’t want to enact any policy that will cause a disparity,” she said.
United Fort Worth’s Lead Criminal Justice Organizer Pamela Young, 39, said increased police presence always increases racial profiling.
“Any time that you put police presence in the area — any area — I don’t care where it is, there’s a much higher chance of those (racial profiling) happening,” Young said. “Those are the things that you have to take into account with any policy that you’re putting forth: How is this going to affect people who have been marginalized, who have been historically oppressed in the city? And this is just something that, it just comes across as tone deaf.”
Gloria Mendoza, 30, the immigration justice organizer for United Fort Worth, said the proposed ordinance was a red flag for her.
She was concerned the council did not have much data on the issue to vote on and Williams had to request more information before the vote.
“How many times have they voted without thinking of the negative implications that their actions will have on their own communities?” Mendoza said. “Like Pam said, it’s tone deaf. So, I guess I see the City Council trying to really educate themselves on those things, but also having new members and transforming the City Council with people who are shared lived experiences, and who understand what it’s like to be a person of color in Fort Worth is imperative.”
United Fort Worth has been organizing people to speak out at council meetings and urge the city to address what they see as the real problem: a lack of public transit downtown.
Better public transit is the No. 1 solution to the traffic problem downtown, Mendoza said. That includes buses, rail and “anything that we can to make just Fort Worth more accessible to everyone through public transportation,” she added.
The history of the ordinance seems to be repeating itself, Young said. When the ordinance in the Northside was passed in 1992, she said it was around language of a need to fix traffic flow so emergency vehicles can get to the area. She said the West 7th area is not even practical for cruising.
“They’re all one-way streets with stop signs on each end, really not conducive to cruising,” she said. “When you’re thinking about cruising, you’re thinking about something like Crenshaw Boulevard, you know you’re just going down, taking your time, Trinity Park, you know, a long stretch, so that you can actually cruise.”
Williams sees other possible solutions for congestion in the area, including designating ride-share zones, developing alternative parking options, designating parking areas, handling employee parking better and designating pedestrian-only areas.
“I’m hopeful that my colleagues and the city staff will be able to pull together a plan that really addresses this issue in an intentional, meaningful way for our residents and business owners and visitors all across the city,” he said. “It’s important that this comprehensive plan really addresses how do we steward the city’s resources in a way that allows for us to really ensure that our first-response services are able to get to where they’re going.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 17 to include that the City of Fort Worth pulled the item from the city council’s agenda.
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cristian ArguetaSoto is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.