A gun incident precipitated by a fight among teenagers cruising the Janesville circuit has renewed scrutiny of this time-honored tradition.
“It’s pretty sad that citizens have to be almost afraid to drive on Milton Avenue on Friday night because of all the craziness that takes place out there,” Judge John Wood said at a sentencing last week for an 18-year-old who fired an AR-15 into the air after a confrontation on the circuit.
While firing a gun as an act of intimidation is serious, this incident requires some context. The Delavan man didn’t fire the gun on the circuit but along a rural road. In terms of crime on the circuit, it’s rare, according to Police Chief Dave Moore. Serious or fatal crashes are also rare, along with driving under the influence.
Many people probably share Wood’s feelings about the circuit, but “craziness” is a relative concept. What one person considers a crazy behavior—say, revving an engine—another might call annoying. After all, teenagers have been cruising in circles since Wolfman Jack started howling from car radios.
It’s naive to assume teenagers would abandon their vehicles and roadway adventures in response to a circuit crackdown. They’d likely find someplace else to cruise, which happened when the city banned cruising in the downtown in 1993. Teens soon discovered Milton Avenue. Moore said he fears teens would move to a residential area, such as along Pontiac Drive and Mount Zion Avenue, if the city were to effectively shut down the circuit. And shutting down the circuit wouldn’t be easy. It would drain police resources, he noted.
We doubt shutting down the circuit would be worth the effort.
Janesville City Council member Jim Farrell is exploring ways to permanently stop cruising in Janesville. Farrell, who shares Wood’s view of the circuit and believes it hurts the city’s image, agrees the city shouldn’t expend a large amount of resources on the problem.
But what if the city could stop cruising with relative ease? Farrell says new technologies, along with updates to city ordinances, could offer a solution.
License plate recognition technology could track license plates passing by a checkpoint, greatly simplifying the task of identifying cruising violators, Farrell suggested. Under this setup, the city could maybe issue citations by mail, similar to how some tollway violations are handled.
Farrell said he explained his idea to a video equipment company, which indicated such a system could work.
Perhaps Farrell is on to something, a real solution.
But even if the city could stop cruising, that doesn’t mean it should. Cruising can be annoying, sometimes even dangerous, but on the whole, it’s an innocuous enterprise. If teenagers were forced to give up cruising, what might they do instead? Trade in their vehicles for a family night of Scrabble? Probably not.
Indeed, there are far worse things teens could be doing than driving in loops on Friday and Saturday nights.