Environmental factors

Could we just turn DOWN the needless noise? [Lancaster Watchdog] | Local News

The Watchdog, dear reader, would like you to know he is not an old dog who shakes his paw and barks, “Get off my lawn!,” at the puppies making a racket out there.

This old dog can still rock and roll. Sometimes, he’ll even turn it up to 11, “one louder” than 10, to quote rock guitarist Nigel Tufnel.

Well, maybe The Watchdog is getting long in the tooth with that reference to the 1984 Mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap.”

But the point remains: The Watchdog is not a curmudgeon or killjoy, mostly. And in this dog’s case, noise is a real trigger. With the arrival of warmer, longer days, the season of cacophony is upon us.

Drivers blaring music — often with windows down — so loud that other motorists can literally feel vibrations from several cars away.

Motorcyclists repeatedly revving their engines unnecessarily.

Car “tuners” with “two-step rev limiters” and similar modifications, which may serve a purpose on a racetrack, but the gunshot-like explosions they cause can startle dogs and people alike.

Beyond being inconsiderate and annoying, excessive noise is unhealthy.

According to a 2011 study by the World Health Organization, “Among environmental factors in Europe, environmental noise leads to a disease burden that is second in magnitude only to that from air pollution.”

The study found that traffic-related noise “accounts for over 1 million healthy years of life lost annually to ill health, disability or early death” in the areas studied.

And the US Environmental Protection Agency said, “Problems related to noise include stress related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption, and lost productivity.”

Challenging enforcement

Jerry Greiner, who lives on Race Avenue by Franklin & Marshall College, said souped-up drivers “day and night fly up and down Race Avenue in order to hear their exhaust pipes crack and bang. Race Avenue has unfortunately become sort of a race track.”

He is so irked by the racers’ loud noise that he offered Mayor Danene Sorace $100 earlier this year so the city could buy a decibel meter to measure noise levels and enforce its noise ordinance and violations of the state vehicle code. The mayor told him to hold on to his money and that the city was working on the problem, he said.

“Vehicle owners letting sound effects happen isn’t a good citizen. They have shown they can’t self-govern. Therefore, enforcement must be applied to make them comply with existing, or new law, regulation, or ordinance,” Greiner wrote in his letter to Sorace.

Jess King, Sorace’s chief of staff, said the mayor’s office, police department and the department of neighborhood engagement “(get) complaints frequently during warmer months, and many of us have shared in these frustrations.”

King added, “Enforcement is particularly challenging, as many of the noise issues are mobile, and as such, almost impossible for police to respond to related calls for service. As well, noise complaints rank lower in urgency than emergency calls, making responses equally challenging as even non-mobile noise issues may have moved or stopped by the time officers may be available to respond.”

She said the city welcomes ideas from the community about enforcement.

Greiner said he understands that motorcycles are typically louder than cars, but “if your exhaust can be heard five blocks aways, then you’re illegal.”

hey is correct The state motor vehicle code addresses vehicle noise levels and exhaust requirements.

Greiner happens to be 80 years old, but said this isn’t an age matter. (The Watchdog is 54, for the record.)

‘Louder Than LA’

James Pianka, who is even younger, also says age has nothing to do with noise complaints.

The 2006 Manheim Township High School graduate now lives in the city’s southeast area and was so stunned by how loud things are that he’s started a petition, “Reduce Lancaster City’s extreme vehicular noise to protect public health,” at Change.org. And at Engage Lancaster, the city’s online participation platform, Pianka suggested the city use automatic, decibel-triggered citations for extreme vehicular noise.

Resident Paul Martin supported the idea, but for him it’s too late.

“My family is in the process of moving out of the city, as the noise level is completely unbearable and unchecked. We love the city, we don’t want to leave, but the extreme noise drastically affects our mental health. I’m beginning the city to take steps to address this,” he wrote in response to Pianka’s suggestion last month.

Pianka recently moved back to Lancaster and was “absolutely blown away” by the noise. “Lancaster is a micro-city having worse than a mega-city,” he said.

“I just spent eight years in Los Angeles, which is the most populated county in America and they would never stand for” how loud it is in Lancaster, he said. “Calififornia gets a lot of flack for having more regulations than other places, but the regulations that Californians enjoy safeguard public places … They are in the service of community wellbeing, the public good.”

Tech solutions?

Noise measuring technology such as what Pianka wants to see in the city is being used elsewhere, including in New York City and cities in France.

In October, a Philadelphia city councilman proposed using cameras and decibel meters to ticket any motorist causing noise “at a level of five decibels above background level measured from a distance of 25 or more feet.” The city’s parking authority would be in charge of enforcement.

Pianka, who describes himself as “a politically-progressive Millennial concerned about socioeconomic justice and equality,” said he does not “want to be weaponizing the police and pulling over teenagers.”

All that would do is increase the risk of a situation escalating dangerously, he said. So he sees technology as the best solution.

King said technological solutions would likely be off the table for Lancaster, noting that Pennsylvania “already prohibits municipal police from utilizing radar for speed enforcement, and may similarly prohibit ‘sound radar’ and photo enforcement, though we will investigate to confirm.”

And Pianka has some work to do to convince more people to embrace his campaign. He shared his idea on the social media message board Reddit and said it led to some heated discussions with comments along the lines of, “It’s a city. Get used to it or leave.”

“I just don’t buy that places can’t be better,” Pianka said. “‘That’s just how it is here’ feels like a regressive argument that accepts pain we could easily prevent if we chose to.”

He added: “There’s a social contract that we all have living in a society. And there are freedoms that we give up … to me, sound that enters people’s homes should be off the table,” Pianka said.

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