Boise downtown cruise noise affects businesses, police patrol

Walk into Diablo & Sons Saloon in downtown Boise on a Friday or Saturday night, and there’s a good chance you’ll see two empty tables on the Main Street side of the establishment.

It’s not because the restaurant isn’t getting enough business. Servers have simply stopped sitting people there, a result of what’s either a delightful or dreadful Boise tradition, depending on your point of view:

The cruise.

Peaceful weekend evenings are hard to come by at the many downtown Boise restaurant patios around Main, 8th and Idaho streets, where customers are subjected to a barrage of revving engines and loud throttling from a procession of cars and trucks, some of which are packed with people adding to the noise.

“I’m trying to take people’s orders, and you have to pause because it’s so loud,” Diablo & Sons front-of-house manager Sal Kaufman told the Idaho Statesman.

The downtown cruise has a long history in Boise, and it’s about to rev up for the summer. Starting in April and usually lasting through September or October, according to Boise Police Department Sgt. Matt Konvalinka, cars and trucks — many with modified mufflers and other sound-enhancing modifications — cruise up and down Main and Idaho between Capitol Boulevard and 14th Street.

With each passing year, it seems to create more discussion — love it or hate it.

“Been this way since at least the 60s when my aunt took part of it as a teenager, and she did a lot of racing,” Reddit user roland_gilead posted in May 2021. “Not arguing for or against (it), but it will probably continue regardless of what feelings people have about it.”

One report from the Boise Police Department dates back to a study of the cruise in 1988.

The department has said it’s tried to strike a balance between keeping the downtown area pedestrian- and business-friendly while also allowing the cruisers to use the Boise streets legally. But as the area’s population continues to grow, that task could become more difficult, Konvalinka told the Statesman.

How is the cruise affecting the downtown experience?

Diablo & Sons, at the corner of 8th and Idaho, is far from the only business affected by the cruise, and restaurants/bars don’t have to be situated right next to the main route in order for patrons to hear the noise.

Bittercreek Alehouse is in the middle of the pedestrian-only stretch of 8th Street, meaning it doesn’t get the full brunt, according to manager Tanner Weyland. But that hasn’t stopped the cruisers from frustrating customers.

“These kids go by with their loud vehicles and can cause disruptions for everyone on the street,” Weyland told the Statesman. “Not only my restaurants, but everyone, so we all kind of feel it. We’ve just got to shake our heads and kind of say, whatever, but we’re not impressed.”

Weyland said that it doesn’t affect Bittercreek’s outdoor seating as much as Diablo feels it, but customers still complain.

“If it’s 11 o’clock at night, both of these patios are still full, and then we have to deal with those (cruisers),” Weyland said. “It’s like, All right, now we didn’t piss off 30 guests, we pissed off hundreds of guests. Then it’s a little more groundwork for us to manage to talk with the guests.

“I can’t control an 18-year-old who’s got a new exhaust system on his little Nissan,” Weyland continued. “I can’t do anything about that.”

A stretch of Downtown Boise where cruisers congregate is becoming problematic, according to some Boise residents. Though many who gather just hang out and obey the law, others litter, intimidate, speed and generally cause trouble. Sven Berg

Jasson Parra, the owner of Lemon Tree sandwich shop on 10th Street, said he’s lucky his restaurant isn’t open when the cruising takes place. He said he’s driven through the downtown area when it’s happening and has seen people racing on city streets.

“I think somebody’s going to get hurt at some point. I get it — people are young and having fun and all that great stuff,” Parra told the Statesman. “But, you know, we have a pretty small town here. The roads are pretty small, and pedestrians dart in and out. As far as I’m concerned, I just think it’s really unsafe.”

Konvalinka, who has spent the past 10 years working on downtown traffic issues and bar management, told the Statesman that Boise police have given out tickets for speeding and reckless driving, but in recent years most citations have been the result of illegal equipment and modifications.

The Boise Police Department issued 57 citations related to the cruise between Capitol Boulevard and 14th Street from April to September last year, records show. Twenty-three of those were for illegally modified exhausts and 29 were for noise nuisance violations in city limits.

Often mixed in with the downtown cruisers now are a series of large, loud pickup trucks with huge political flags — generally pro-Donald Trump, anti-Joe Biden displays, two years after Trump lost the election — and these trucks sometimes have several people packed into the beds, but there are no Idaho laws restricting either of these practices, police said.

What’s being done to control the cruise?

The Boise Police Department runs directed patrols on the main downtown loop between Capitol Boulevard and 14th Street, Konvalinka said. Sometimes they’ll pull the same car over multiple times in a single night, but that likely is not going to keep that car from cruising.

“The equipment violation with the mufflers, that’s only an Idaho code. That’s a $67 equipment fine. There are no points associated with that,” Konvalinka said. “There’s no insurance penalty, say for like a regular speeding citation or reckless driving citation. And a lot of people are willing to accept a $67 fine for what their vehicle has equipped.”

Boise implemented the equipment law in 2017, which prohibits the removal of muffler systems from vehicles and any modifications that make a vehicle louder. According to the law, excessive noise is considered anything above 92 decibels when measured from a distance of more than 20 feet.

Around 90-95 decibels is when sustained exposure can result in hearing loss and is comparable to the sound of a jackhammer from approximately 50 feet away.

From April to September last year, the Boise Police Department received 49 noise complaints related to the cruise, its records show.

Konvalinka said some people who receive citations for illegal equipment fix their vehicle, but most aren’t deterred by the fine.

“It’s up to the state Legislature to determine the fine amount, and I think until they see it as an issue, it probably won’t be fixed,” Konvalinka said. “So we’ll kind of always have that issue down there.”

Ultimately, Konvalinka said, the department has to strike a balance between acknowledging that the downtown area is going to be noisier than other parts of the city, while still keeping things under control.

“A lot of people that I’ve talked to downtown understand that there is more noise associated with that area, just from the traffic and everything else,” Konvalinka said. “But it’s just that when we get to that excessive noise, the constant racing around the block and things like that, where people get upset.”

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Shaun Goodwin is a service journalism reporter at the Idaho Statesman. If you like stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a subscription to our newspaper.
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