Most won't ever see them, especially in the early morning hours. But they're there, lurking, looking for mischief — teenagers, in their cars, roaming mostly barren stretches of West Broad Street.
"There is still cruising that goes on on Broad Street," says Richmond police Capt. Michael Snawder, commander of the 4th Precinct.
It isn't exactly a revelation, but it seems to stump a group of residents and business owners gathered at the Empress restaurant for a meeting with police and city officials July 15. It's been three weeks since Rand Burgess, owner of the Camel restaurant in the 1600 block of West Broad, was arrested after a confrontation with police over the sudden enforcement of the 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. no-parking signs in front of his business. And the debate about whether to ticket has led to considerable hand-wringing.
Keep the signs and risk running restaurants out of business. Take them down and watch West Broad return to a cruising corridor.
"Cruising is not going to ever come back to Broad," says Burgess, who offers up a petition with 1,100 signatures to remove the signs. "It's as simple as grabbing a wrench and some bolt cutters."
Burgess stands witness to a problem the city might be glad to confront. While businesses such as his breathe new life into previously vacant storefronts, the old no-parking signs, erected in the 1990s to prevent what had been a prolific cruising epidemic, are running off customers. Chad Stambaugh, owner of the Emilio's in the 1800 block of West Broad, says that since the city began ticketing in late May, his restaurant has seen business drop 20 percent to 30 percent.
The West Grace Street Association also wants the signs to come down. Its president, Alyse Auernheimer, presents a parking study that concludes removing the signs on West Broad would free up 300 much-needed parking spaces.
The study doesn't seem to move Snawder, or Maj. Mike Shamus, who say cruising remains an issue. It may not be as bad as it was in the late '90s, and it occasionally crops up east of Belvidere Street, but taking the signs down could invite it back.
"I don't think we can sit here and say it won't happen," Snawder says.
For now, Snawder says, officers have been instructed to stop regularly patrolling the area for parking violations. City officials are considering whether to remove the signs. If the city opts against taking action sooner, City Councilman Charles Samuels says he'll introduce an ordinance to have them removed, a process that could take two and a half months.