Detectors pick up thousands of noisy vehicles in Edmonton pilot

Edmonton drivers and motorcyclists make a lot of ear-splitting noise, a pilot project has confirmed.

Noise monitoring equipment set up at eight city locations between August and November last year recorded more than 25,600 incidents of vehicles creating noise of more than 85 decibels, a level set as the baseline for the project.

In a two-week period at the end of August, the devices captured 5,172 vehicles creating at least 85 decibels of noise. Eighty-five decibels is about the same level of noise as a gas lawnmower.

A report on the pilot project is going to council's community and public services committee on Wednesday.

'We don't seem to be making much progress'

Coun. Ben Henderson said he's been fielding vehicle noise complaints from residents for 10 years.

He's fed up.

"Better enforcement of laws we have would be a huge step forward but we've been calling for that for a decade and we don't seem to be making much progress on that," Henderson said in an interview.

The city approached the pilot project in two ways.

Noise monitoring equipment was secured to poles with cameras at four locations: Groat Road; Jasper Avenue and 121st Street; 137th Avenue between 108th Street and 111th Street; and 114th Street and 79th Avenue.

Between Aug. 17 and 31, 2018, the equipment in those locations picked up 3,152 incidents of vehicles registering 85 decibels or higher. That dropped to 2,400 in the first two weeks of September and fluctuated until Nov. 16-30, when it went down to 1,103.

In four other locations, noise detectors were set up with LED display boards. They were on Victoria Park Road; at 124th Street and 109th Avenue; Fort Road between 129th and 131st Avenue; and 99th Street and 77th Avenue.

In the period Aug. 17-31, those sites registered 2,020 vehicles generating 85 dBA or higher. That went up to 2,544 for the period Sept. 1-15.

Some drivers and motorcyclists were intentionally creating more noise to see their decibel readings, so the display boards were deactivated in September. The devices continued to collect noise readings.

Gerry Shimko, executive director of the city's Office of Traffic Safety, said the three worst spots for noise seem to be along Groat Road, Victoria Park Road and Jasper Avenue at 121st Street.

Some of the loudest readings were caused by ambulances and fire trucks, Shimko said. The report says buses and other city vehicles can also set off the monitoring equipment, especially in colder temperatures.

At a certain point we're going to have to do something Draconian. - Coun. Ben Henderson

Administration plans to continue noise monitoring this year at four locations, from this month until August.

The data will be shared with city police to support future enforcement, the report says.

"We're going to go into another summer of testing to tell us what I think what we already know," Henderson said.

He noted the data is supposed to be sent to police to support the argument for more enforcement, but suggested police are already aware of the hot spots.

Shimko said the city could meet with police to prioritize the work and employ a variety of departments to look at different solutions to encourage better compliance.

Last year, city councillors directed administration to consult the Alberta government and Edmonton police about tightening regulations. The report says the province isn't considering new legislation.

"The province is aware of this ongoing issue on noise," Shimko said. "We're not sure if they have any plans." 

Sam Martin/CBC

That's contentious, Henderson said.

"We have provincial laws that should be enforceable about not modifying your vehicle to make noise or fire and yet we seem to be incapable of enforcing that," he said.

Excessive vehicle noise can net a $115 fine under the provincial Traffic Safety Act, with "excessive" determined on a case-by-case basis.

The city's bylaw governs only noise from motorcycles, and is enforced by police on a priority basis. The fine for violating the city's noise bylaw is $250.

Henderson suggested the city could do more to combat noise by banning vehicles with modified mufflers — and even ban all motorcycles — from core neighbourhoods in Edmonton.

"At a certain point we're going to have to do something Draconian," he said. "If every other kind of more sane and sensible option doesn't work, you know, at what point do we say, 'OK, if people aren't going to behave that's it — no more of these vehicles within our core.'"

@natashariebe