Noise Snare traffic noise monitoring and ticketing program scrapped in Calgary due to… poor noise bylaw?

When I first heard about the Noise Snare, by SNR Systems, about a year ago, I was quite intrigued – someone had finally set up a system that could be used to monitor traffic noise AND determine the offending vehicle AND tickets would be sent to the car owner. This would finally be a solution to target people who are bumping their music too loud, have upgraded or removed entirely the muffler from their car or motorcycle, or otherwise have noisy vehicles. (Disclaimer: I don’t like traffic noise, and in particular, noise from buses and loud motorcycles.)

Complaints about loud and noisy vehicles are difficult to make. Consider what happens when you hear a really loud motorcycle pass by your house and you get annoyed – what do you do? Do you call the city and tell them a really loud motorcycle drove by at 4pm and you don’t know who it was nor what the vehicle looked like, and you also don’t have a license plate number? Really, what’s the city going to do about it? While you may still be able to make the complaint, it just seems silly to report something that you can’t really identify – just that you were annoyed by it. The city should be logging these complaints though, and it would push them (somewhat) to find a solution to the problem.

Anyways, in Calgary, where they were running a trial program using the Noise Snare system (donated by SNR Systems), they decided to scrap the program before the 2nd round of testing began, due to the lack successful ticketing of offenders. The Calgary Herald reports that the inventor of the system, Mark Nesdoly, had some issues with the way the regulation was written:

City bylaw officers used the noise snare to record 23,193 vehicles. Of those, 15 were found to be too loud. Only one $270 ticket was issued and that was dismissed in court on a procedural issue.

The noise snare inventor said he wasn’t surprised at the numbers.

For the past two years, Mark Nesdoly of Street Noise Reduction Systems Ltd. has been trying to get the city to change wording on its noise bylaw, but the matter was never brought before council.

“The law was not written to support its use,” said “The crux of the issue is they left out distance.”

The city says it would rather use technology that fits its bylaw, rather than altering it to suit the device.

Let’s see what the City of Calgary vehicle noise bylaw says:

  • No person shall apply or engage engine retarder brakes on any truck in any part of the City.
  • A person must not make, or allow to be made, any objectionable noise.

This bylaw defines “objectionable noise” as:

  • Sound from a motor vehicle that annoys or disturbs humans.
  • The squeal of a tire from a vehicle accelerating or changing direction.
  • A roaring or explosive sound.
  • Sound from a radio, stereo, television or amplified equipment.
  • Sound of a diesel engine bus which has been idling for more than three minutes at the same location.
  • Sound of a motor vehicle security system which is made for a period exceeding one minute or made more than three times in one 24-hour period, except for the motor vehicle security system’s activation status signal.

And the kicker?

As with the Alberta regulations the level of objectionable noise was not defined and was subjective and open to interpretation.

This is not surprising – few municipalities specify a sound level which is deemed excessive – it’s typically complaint based. Now what?

At Council on  July 5, 2011 the Municipal Traffic Bylaw 26M96 was amended by Bylaw 41M2011 and the following point was added to the definition of “objectionable noise”:

  • Noise measured at 96 decibels (dBA) or more as measured by a sound pressure level meter at any point of reception. Where “Point of reception” means any location where sound levels are measured with a sound pressure level meter.

This was done in preparation for the Noise Snare program.  So the problem is that the requirement of having to measure 96 dBA at the microphone of a sound pressure level meter is actually not specific enough. Sound decays with increasing distance from the source of the noise. If you’re farther away from the car, it will sound less noisy from where you are! But is the noise still annoying? Yes.

What if the microphone is located across the street and the offending motorcycle is three lanes away, versus the car that drives down the lane right next to the microphone? What if the car with a loud aftermarket muffler only revs their engine a block or two past the microphone? Another problem is with the A-weighting – it discounts low-frequency sound, which is a good bit of the noise from vehicles (including public transit buses) and also doesn’t account for drivers who crank their subwoofers way up (no, of course I never did that – you can’t prove it!).

If they specified a distance in their bylaw, that would be a good start in solving the problem. Instead they choose to scrap the program. One wonders if Calgary City Council really did their research into municipal noise issues and acoustics, or consulted an acoustics professional on the topic.

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