Now, what was that topic again?
I’m sitting here in my office, looking out over leafy, lovely, peaceful Boston Common, trying to remember that seasonal subject I meant to address before summer bids us a sad goodbye.
Ah yes, that reminds me. Why, I’m almost glad a boorish biker came by, blasting snarls of noise from his unmuffled pipes all over the neighborhood. Nothing like an ear-splitting din to jolt your memory — at least when the subject you’ve forgotten is obnoxiously loud motorcycle pipes.
Here’s the problem: Some motorcyclists have come to believe it’s their constitutional right to bombard the rest of us with auditory assaults from their exhaust pipes. Call them on it and they’ll insist that “loud pipes save lives.” Never mind that there’s no research to support that contention. Or that respectable motorcycle groups are urging bikers to pipe down.
The sonically sensible among us were encouraged back in 2009 when the Boston City Council passed an ordinance requiring that motorcycles operating in the city have pipes with an imprinted stamp saying they comply with EPA noise standards.
That approach is catching on around the country. The EPA compliance stamps aren’t difficult to find. Further, anyone who is motorcycle literate can tell at a glance whether pipes have baffles (that is, whether they are muffled); those lacking any baffles obviously won’t meet the federal standard. Thus it should be easy to pick which ones to stop.
So such a city statute should be a convenient tool — if, that is, a police department cares about nuisance noise.
Back when the ordinance passed, Police Commissioner Ed Davis assured me his department would enforce this quality-of-life measure.
Talk about a pipe dream! At the start of the 2011 summer motorcycling season, I filed a public records request to see how the ordinance was being enforced. Answer: It wasn’t. In two years, the police had written two tickets and one warning, all on the same October day in 2009. After that, nothing.
Now, one might think that once their less-than-lackluster effort was pointed out, an embarrassed department would have shown a little enforcement initiative. But if one thought so, one would have to think again. In early May, I filed another request, asking for any tickets or warnings that had been written pursuant to the ordinance in the last two years.
Weeks passed. Scores of unmuffled motorcycles ridden by attention-hungry throttle jockeys blasted noise around the city, startling pedestrians, interrupting conversations, intruding on outdoor events, and vexing sidewalk cafe-goers and restaurateurs.
On Aug. 9, word came back. As best the department could tell, the police have written no warnings or violations under that ordinance in the last two years.
So, just to clarify: In the four years since this easy-to-enforce ordinance has been in effect, the Boston police have written two tickets and one warning for violations.
This is responsive policing?
“I’m really frustrated,” declares City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who authored the measure because of widespread complaints from his North End constituents. “They should be enforcing it. It’s not that hard. They just have to look for the stamp.”
Mind you, I’m not suggesting that this should be a top police priority. But it wouldn’t take a huge enforcement effort to get word around that the police are serious about cracking down on loud pipes.
Contrariwise, an ordinance that isn’t enforced quickly becomes toothless. Sadly, this hasn’t even qualified as a low priority for the Menino administration; it’s been a no priority. Which is strange, because I’ve gotten enough e-mail on the subject to know that motorcycle noise pollution is something people care deeply about. And not just in Boston, but in cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth.
So what to do? LaMattina has some advice: If you are bothered by loud pipes, call the commissioner’s office and complain (617-343-4500).
I’d add this. We Bostonians now have a dozen mayoral hopefuls seeking our votes. Over the next few weeks, you will have ample chances to meet them. If you are upset about motorcycle noise, let them know. Ask for a commitment that, if elected, they will do better than Mayor Menino and Commissioner Davis at enforcing the anti-loud-pipes ordinance.
Lord knows, they couldn’t do any worse.