Thursday, July 26, 2007

Does the South Lake share Stillwater's noise problem?

A metro story that didn’t get a lot of airtime recently was Stillwater’s effort to curb traffic noise in their community. Much like the South Lake area, Stillwater has a combination of restaurants, bars, and scenery that makes it a destination. Much like the South Lake area, Stillwater draws “cruisers’, whether by bicycle, motorcycle, or car. And much like the South Lake area, Stillwater can be a noisy place because of the small minority of cars and motorcycles that create a whole lot of noise.

What Stillwater did, while unique, wasn’t all that extreme. They decided to enforce existing state noise laws. No new laws were passed, and no unreasonably stringent noise thresholds were introduced. They simply made an announcement that they would step up enforcement of the noise ordinances that are in place for the entire state.

Some bikers saw it as an affront. There were suggestions for motorcycle groups to boycott Stillwater, saying that Stillwater had become unfriendly to motorcycles. While I’m not sure how often the bikers were stopping on Stillwater’s main street for coffee or to buy antiques, I haven’t read anything about the businesses suffering. According to a Strib article from July, there had only been two noise citations written so far, but residents said that noise had noticeably decreased.

It got me thinking about what our rights truly are. Is it more important for a loud motorcycle rider to be able to ride as they please, or for a resident to have relative peace and quiet in their home? I began to liken it to the smoking bans, but a main argument for that bans is that second-hand smoke kills people. I guess excessive noise doesn’t really harm people. I think the issue more closely resembles city building codes. Building height and material rules ensure that what you see when you look outside isn’t ruined by excessive and distasteful development. A noise ordinance ensures that what you hear isn’t distasteful or excessive.

Tonka Bay, Excelsior, and the entire community abutting Highway 7 and Minnetonka Boulevard get their fair share of “cruisers”, especially in the summer. If enforcement of the statewide noise ordinance could curtail those excessive 1-2% of bikes and vehicles that are causing 30% of the noise, I think it makes sense to do so. I have heard anecdotes that a stock Harley Davidson coming off the assembly line is not loud enough to cause a noise violation. Not sure if it is true, but the point is that most of the excessive noise is created by aftermarket products designed solely to make the vehicles louder.

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