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City motorcycle noise ordinance silenced

October 7, 2009

City motorcycle noise ordinance silenced

A proposed city ordinance regulating motorcycle noise in Portland is effectively dead after a key committee opted this week to let the state Legislature take the lead in combating loud bikes.

During a wide-ranging debate Tuesday that included state officials, law enforcement and the motorcycle community, Public Safety Committee members decided the state was better suited to find a solution to the perennial issue.

“It is unlikely the city council is going to implement anything soon,” committee chair Dan Skolnik said afterward.

Meanwhile, Portland Police are poised to step up enforcement of illegally-loud motorcycles next year by checking for inspections and signs of after-market exhaust systems. Capt. Vern Malloch told the Public Safety Committee Tuesday stronger enforcement wasn’t a solution in itself but a good first step.

“It’s another brick in the wall,” he said.

The city’s existing motorcycle noise ordinance requires officers not only catch loud bikers in the act, but also measure the sound with a decibel meter — devices the department doesn’t even possess. In July, after concerns from some residents, the Public Safety Committee proposed a new ordinance with clearer standards for police to enforce.

Their proposal, similar to ordinances from Boston and Denver, would fine any biker $50 for riding a motorcycle that lacks an Environmental Protection Agency label proving the exhaust system is legal. While the measure enjoyed strong support in committee and from police, the city council last month referred the policy back to committee after learning that many legal aftermarket mufflers don’t have an EPA sticker.

Tuesday’s committee meeting was the first time the issue has resurfaced. State Rep. Diane Russell, Maine State Police Lt. Chris Grotton and Rick Dodge with United Bikers of Maine took part in the Tuesday afternoon brainstorm session with local officials, all of whom agreed a state solution made more sense for now than a narrowly-defined city ordinance.

The group came up with a three-step proposal they believed was both enforceable and could pass in the state legislature. The measure called for better enforcement of existing state laws banning unreasonable noise and adoption of the EPA standard to determine if mufflers are legal or not.

The third step calls for the creation of a new certification mechanism for aftermarket parts. Under the plan, local shops or dealers would use decibel meters to test whether legal aftermarket parts without the sticker emitted less than the federal limit of 82 decibels.

Russell promised to help usher the policy through the legislature next year, although statehouse rules ban her from introducing the measure because it mirrors one she offered earlier this year. That measure, similar to the Denver ordinance, stalled in committee.

Dodge, who didn’t raise any major objections to the proposed legislation, said he would run the idea by fellow members of the bikers group during an upcoming statewide meeting.

Regardless of what happens at in Augusta, Portland Police plan to crack down on loud motorcycles when next year’s riding season begins.

For years, the department has issued few summons for loud bikes because a state noise statute is too vague, Malloch said. After learning that 40 percent of motorcycles in Maine aren’t inspected, he said officers would be trained to pull over loud bikers for noise and then ask about inspection, which for motorcyclists is a card rather than a decal.

Because illegal mufflers won’t pass inspection, the lack of a sticker can be used to back up officers’ claims in court about illegal noise. Malloch said officers will also be trained to check for the EPA label as further evidence that the cycles in question were illegally loud.

Another local measure aimed at quieting motorcycles would install new signage asking bikers to quiet down. Councilor Dory Waxman, who proposed adding signs in some neighborhoods, called the idea a “temporary fix to a big problem.”

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