EDMONTON — Scott McKeen, a Vespa-riding Edmonton city councillor, has campaigned against loud vehicles for more than a decade. As a newspaper columnist he railed against motorcycles and now, after more than five years in government, he thinks the city’s close to a breakthrough on making Edmonton a quieter place to live.“This feels like 10 years of trying to raise my voice above the din and it sounds like we’re maybe, finally, going to get some attention,” McKeen said.Last year, Edmonton launched a pilot program to monitor noise at locations around the city. The urban planning committee voted last Wednesday to continue the program, but with another component: manned enforcement stations. Automated sound-measuring technology and cameras will be accompanied by a peace officer who can hand out tickets. The hope is that this summer Edmontonians will be able to enjoy a drink on a patio without the ear-splitting racket of motorcyclists and jacked-up trucks.
Edmonton City Councillor Scott McKeen
Loud vehicles are by no means a new problem, or one that’s exclusive to Edmonton.“It’s not just … redneck, pick-up truck Alberta where this is happening,” McKeen said.But, for whatever reason, Edmonton is one of the leading cities in the country — perhaps the world — on the issue, he said.For years, McKeen’s been lambasting “little wee-wee boys,” as he called motorcyclists in one 2009 column, disturbing peaceful neighbourhoods.“Pretend bikers are neither outlaws nor rebels,” he wrote in another column for the Edmonton Journal that year. “They are followers and poseurs, with insecurity issues and small, limp egos. They are immature and likely premature.”Even earlier, in 2006, McKeen vowed justice, saying “slobs ride hogs.”“You’ve been warned, slobs,” he wrote. “Silence yourselves. Or you will be silenced.”Now that he’s in a position to do something, he’s softened his tone, and broadened his focus to include other noisy vehicles.“I actually think the other types of vehicles strangely caught up,” McKeen said. “There was a period where it seemed like it was just motorcycles, now it’s everybody’s getting in on the act.”When the program launches, Edmonton peace officers will be able to hand out $250 fines to drivers of vehicles that are louder than 85 decibels, the level at which noise can become harmful to our hearing. It’s about the same loudness as a lawnmower or window air conditioner. To put that in context with other city sounds, a subway is around 90 decibels. A shouted conversation (common enough in Edmonton) lands at around the same loudness. Sirens — perhaps of the law enforcement variety — clatter into the eardrums at 140 decibels.There was a period where it seemed like it was just motorcycles, now it’s everybody’s getting in on the act
While McKeen said the ideal scenario would be issuing automated tickets to drivers who set off noise sensors, like with photo radar and speeding, the city’s legal department said they need an officer on scene in order to make the whole thing hold up in court.While noise complaints, and police giving out tickets, can be characterized as NIMBY-ish whining or a war on fun (and it has been in some circles) the World Health Organization says too much noise can be harmful, with effects ranging from irritation to hearing damage, and psychological and cardiovascular stress.“Excessive noise seriously harms human health and interferes with people’s daily activities at school, at work, at home and during leisure time,” says the WHO’s European office.Research the group surveyed in a special report last year says there are adverse health effects from a range of noises. Annoyance can result from hearing your neighbours banging around; hearing loss can occur from listening to loud music. Environmental noise — rail, vehicle and air traffic — can impair cognition in children, WHO reports.But shutting up vehicles — especially motorcycles — has caused a fractious debate in Edmonton over the years.On an Edmonton motorcycle enthusiast Facebook group, news of the pilot project to issue tickets was a hot topic. Some were using the old argument “loud pipes save lives” while others said riders should just avoid Edmonton, and patronize businesses in other towns.
Edmonton police conduct motorcycle sound-level tests on May 11, 2019. Riders whose bikes failed the sound test were given amnesty from receiving a ticket.
There have even been court battles over loud vehicles: In 2014, a resident of Fort Saskatchewan, an Edmonton bedroom community, launched a lawsuit in Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench, claiming $850,000 in damages. He argued his rights were infringed by loud motorcycles, and claimed the authorities weren’t doing enough to stop it. The suit was dismissed in 2015.The city has experienced some failures in the quest for quiet; in years past, cops were too busy with collisions to care about loud vehicles, for example.Last September, Edmonton was forced to take down LED display boards that informed passing drivers how loud their vehicles were because drivers started revving their engines to see just how loud they could get.“This is my bad,” McKeen said with a chuckle. “That was a failed experiment.”At some point, an even blunter option might need to be considered, he said, such as banning motorcycles in the city core.“As the rider of a 250-cc Vespa scooter, I know that would not be fair,” McKeen said. “But whenever it finally gets warm in the summer, my email inbox starts to fill up.”• Email: email@example.com | Twitter: tylerrdawson