It is Time for a Strictly Enforced Motorcycle Noise Ordinance

In recent years the number of people riding loud motorcycles through the City has gone up significantly.

If you get a close look at one they almost never look like any kind of menacing Hell’s Angels-type character.

It is almost always exactly the opposite.  Usually you see somebody of average appearance who is not in touch with how silly he looks.

You start thinking and realize that this guy got played four times: by the Harley Davidson salesman, by the Harley Davidson dealership, by whoever financed the loan for his expensive motorcycle, and by the Harley Davidson manufacturing company.

They tried to sell this guy on living his Easy Rider fantasy out in the real world.  He bought it hook, line and sinker.

Now Joe Average has been let loose on the City.  Every time one of these guys rides down Lake Shore Drive many thousands of residents have to listen to his obnoxious, self-centered fantasy exercise.

Many, possibly most, offenders are aging Baby Boomers.  They are so prevalent you might wonder if Social Security requires recipients to buy a motorcycle before receiving benefits.

Far more dire than how silly they look, or the noise problem, is the fact that they are killing themselves.  In 2016 fatalities for motorcyclists 60 and older were up 21.5 percent, while the number for all ages only went up 5.1 percent.  That is according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This seems to have been going on for a long time.  In 2001 the Los Angeles Times said that, “from 1994 to 1999 deaths among bikers age 35 and older rose by 59%. During the same period, fatalities fell by 22% among those 34 and younger.”   It continues: “For the first time, in 1999, older riders accounted for a majority of those killed. That was also the year the trailing edge of the baby boom generation turned 35.”

It is not hard to see how that is happening.  Many, if not most, of the people you see riding motorcycles are not wearing helmets.  The Florida law firm Abrahamson & Uiterwyck says this may be because helmets were not as common when Baby Boomers were young, especially in state where helmets are not mandatory.  But it seems like a pretty good bet that riders simply want to look like tough guys.

There also seems to be a disconnect with the current stage of life.  A 2014 Wall Street Journal article describes Boomers returning to motorcycles after years away.  They stopped riding in their twenties or thirties.  Now in their older years they have the time and money to get back to it.

The problem is that things have changed.  Motorcycles have gotten more powerful since their early years.  Plus, whether older riders realize it or not, aging has slowed their reaction time and made their bodies more susceptible to physical injury.  Riders cannot pick up where they left of and expect everything to be the same.

In general Baby Boomers may struggle with letting go of their youth.  Drug use illustrates this.  A 2015 Wall Street Journal article said, “the rate of death by accidental drug overdose for people aged 45 through 64 increased 11-fold between 1990, when no baby boomers were in the age group, and 2010, when the age group was filled with baby boomers, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mortality data.”  It went on to blame the problem on a lingering Woodstock mentality.

A 2018 article in the Telegraph suggests there is still a problem.  It described a thirty-two per cent increase in admissions for poisoning as a result of drug use in those aged fifty-five and over in the previous six years.

This implies the same distorted reality as with motorcycle riding.  At age twenty-five you may be able to go to a music festival, meet some strangers, party heavily with multiple substances and get away with it.  But the body is not as resilient at age sixty-five and pretending otherwise is likely to bring dire consequences.

Two years ago, Democratic State Representative Sara Feigenholz championed a new state law aimed at reducing motorcycle noise and loud mufflers on Lake Shore Drive.  She said the noise prevents residents from getting a good night’s sleep.

That law empowered the city to install noise monitors along Lake Shore Drive similar to the ones that measure jet noise around the clock in neighborhoods surrounding O’Hare and Midway airports.

This past June Chicago Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward) moved to take advantage of that 2017 state law.  He introduced an ordinance authorizing the installation.

“Unmufflered motorcycles all summer long race up and down Lake Shore Drive. This is gonna help us get a handle on that problem by measuring the decibel levels so we can respond appropriately,” Hopkins said.

“They’re already breaking the law. They’re already exceeding all of the noise-control limits. But having noise control monitors on Lake Shore Drive is gonna help us determine the extent of the problem, how often it’s occurring and the hot spots along Lake Shore Drive where it’s happening, to help CPD enforce the existing laws.”

This is all good news.  But a Chicago Tribune article published in 1998 described the same problem being discussed by politicians.  If it has been kicking around this long you have to wonder why nothing has been done.  Perhaps some of those aging motorcycle riders have positions in government and have worked hard to bury the issue.  Perhaps continuing their own personal hobby was more important than peace and quiet for the greater public.

According to WGN there is a $500 fine currently assessed against motorcycle riders who remove their muffler and rev the engine.  But according to the tone of their writing it is only in effect in the Loop.

Practical Chicago contacted Aldermen James Cappleman’s 46th Ward office, which covers Lake Shore Drive from just south of Addison Street north to Lawrence Avenue, to ask whether or not that levy applies everywhere.   They confirmed that the downtown noise ordinance applies to the whole city.  But they diluted that confirmation by saying that it is extremely difficult to enforce.

Their exact words were: “Thank you for your note. As of now, motorcycles are held to the same standards as all other motor vehicles. The fine you mentioned for the Loop does apply to the entire city. However, while there is a citywide sound decibel, it is an extremely difficult thing for officers to enforce. There are no additional requirements for Lake Shore Drive on top of that.

Alderman Cappleman was in support of Alderman Brian Hopkins’s introduced ordinance, however it did not go through.

If you would like to know more or further discuss this issue, please feel free to call our office at 773-878-4646, email this account, or come to our open office hours with the Alderman every Monday from 5 – 7 pm. “

As cash strapped as the City is these days you would think they would jump at the chance to strictly enforce that ordinance city-wide.  Start citing every loud motorcycle for $500 and it comes to some serious money, especially in the first few years before people adjust.  And unlike so many of the increased taxes and fees we have seen in recent years this one would directly give something positive back to the people in return.

Basically Practical Chicago believes in freedom of choice.  But when an activity is creating a huge noise problem, at all times day and night, simply so that a small portion of the population can have a little fantasy fun, it is time to crack down.

And there may be a very positive side-effect.  If riders can no longer make themselves the center of attention with a loud motorcycle exhaust they might stop riding.  We may just save a few Baby Boomers from killing themselves.

Perhaps their children and grand children might be thankful.

© 2019


Video at top recorded twenty floors above and half a block away from the noise source on July 23, 2019 at 10:41 P.M.

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