Scot Lehigh


Boston has a motorcycle noise ordinance. So why isn’t it enforced?

(Istockphoto/H. Hopp-Bruce/Globe Staff Illustration)
By Scot Lehigh
Globe Columnist / July 15, 2011

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IF YOU live or work in Boston, you’ve probably found yourself in this situation.

You’re sitting on a park bench talking on your cellphone or having a bite at an outdoor cafe or chatting with someone on the sidewalk when you’re overtaken by an ear-splitting roar. A couple of motorcycles thunder by, spraying noise from unbaffled pipes. Conversation is impossible amid their din, so everything stops until they’ve receded into the distance.

If you’re an informed citizen, you may find yourself puzzled. Hmm, I could have sworn Boston had an ordinance stipulating that motorcyles have to comply with EPA noise standards. So how can they get away with that?

Well, here’s a clue. How many tickets do you suppose the Boston police have written under the ordinance since it went into effect in June of 2009? Two hundred? One hundred? Fifty?

How about . . . two. Plus one warning.

All were issued on Oct. 9, 2009.

Now, as I see it, there are two possibilities here.

Possibility #1: Loud motorcycles suddenly ceased to be a problem in Boston on Oct. 10, 2009. But that conclusion would defy the auditory evidence that regularly assaults one’s ears. So I fear we’re left with:

Possibility #2: The Boston police have no interest in enforcing the ordinance, which requires motorcyle exhaust systems to have a manufacturer’s stamp saying they meet the federal standards.

I wanted to discuss the issue with Mayor Menino, but Old Foxhole ducked me. He thought Ed Davis, the police commissioner, should talk.

Davis sure seemed like a sincere, concerned, accessible fellow in July 2009, when he assured me that the Police Department understood the importance of quality-of-life issues like noise pollution and would take the new ordinance seriously.

“We have been notified by the community that they are concerned,’’ Davis said back then. “We are going to take care of it.’’

Alas, someone appears to have kidnapped the bright-eyed Boy Scout of two years ago. This week, Davis had no time for me. Instead, spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll served up a plate of police department pabulum in his name. “This ordinance is another tool in our tool kit to address various nuisance concerns.’’ (Another rusty tool, I’d say, but let’s continue.) “Officers have the ability to utilize discretion when issuing citations and to determine the best approach given the circumstances. Although at this time we have not received a significant amount of community complaints relative to this issue, officers have this enforcement option available to them.’’

I had several follow-ups for the commish - like, does he honestly think that issuing two tickets in two years shows a serious effort to enforce the ordinance? - but Driscoll sidestepped with another omissive missive. She concluded: “If you are aware of a certain area that we should focus on, let me know and I would be happy to pass that along.’’

Zounds! I hadn’t realized the BPD needed me to run the enforcement operation. But when my city beckons, this guy answers the call.

OK, let’s see . . . near my office, there are a couple of big wooded fields chockablock with old benches and ancient statues and bronze ducks and the like. Motorcyclists love to roar around their perimeter, probably because the area is so out of the way that it’s off the BPD’s radar. Neighborhood types call one “the Common,’’ the other “the Public Garden.’’ I’ll send directions along soon.

There’s also a quaint little street nearby that’s becoming popular with strollers and gallery-goers. Newbury, I believe it’s called; an officer could spend a productive hour or two there.

Meanwhile, a couple weeks back, I sat outdoors at a restaurant named Max & Dylans, in a little neighborhood called Charlestown. (No, not Charleston; that’s in South Carolina.) If I’d had my badge and squad car back then, I could have written a half-dozen tickets in short order to motorcyclists roaring across the nearby bridge.

So let’s start with those spots, commissioner. I’ll be back with more as soon as I hear from readers.

Special Officer Lehigh, signing off.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at