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Calgary vehicle noise plan revs up, but may not get out of second gear

Coun. Courtney Walcott said that the background research he's done shows that noisy vehicles have been an ongoing issue since at least 2010.

Calgary councillors will continue to examine muffling noisy vehicles as a city committee recommended approval of a work plan that could see bylaw amendments and enforcement powers to address it.

Councillors at the Community Development Committee heard more details Wednesday about a plan that would see amendments to the Calgary Traffic Bylaw, cooperation with the Calgary Police Service and the creation of a unit that would have special powers to deal with noisy vehicles.

The matter would still need final approval at an upcoming full meeting of Calgary city council.

The City admin report showed that the number of vehicle noise complaints – aside from a spike in 2020 – had remained on a gentle incline since 2018.

“Research has shown that long-term exposure to urban noise, especially traffic noise can cause a variety of health effects including sleep disturbance, negative effects on the cardiovascular and metabolic system as well as cognitive impairment in children,” Anita Blackstaffe, business strategist with the City of Calgary, told committee members.

“Today, we are proposing a comprehensive pilot program that would be one step towards reducing noise pollution.”

An amendment to the Calgary Traffic Bylaw could incorporate decibel standards and increase vehicle noise fines to $1,000. New training and equipment would be required, as would additional staff. The work plan shows the team would require one sergeant and eight peace officers.

The goal would be to create a pilot program for 2024. Edmonton and Red Deer run similar vehicle noise enforcement programs.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said she was concerned about the cost of examining and implementing this program, plus the risk to staff in enforcement. Of note, over the past five years, Ward 1 had the lowest number of vehicle noise complaints.

“I think what I’m looking for is the cost to implement this program, but I’m also looking at the risks associated with doing this work,” she said.

“I don’t believe throwing money at making this work and putting our employees at risk are the same thing. I’d need to understand what those checks and balances are.”

Other uses for the officers

Chief Bylaw Officer Ryan Pleckaitis said that part of the plan would be to have the peace officers also conduct other work when not patrolling for noise offenders.

“It doesn’t make sense to create a peace officer traffic enforcement program for four or five months out of the year, just for the hiring and the costs,” he said.

“The question is, if you create a team that can specialize in this work, what else can they do?”

Chief Pleckaitis did say the team could handle other traffic safety issues like unsecured loads, speeding in playground and school zones, commercial vehicles and more.

On the risk side, Pleckaitis said there’s always going to be a risk involved in this job, but they do everything they can to mitigate it.

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said that he’s aware of some of the cost concerns – it’s something that bothers him as well. He quipped in committee that the issue of noisy vehicles has been talked about for nearly 15 years.  Walcott’s ward saw the second-highest number of complaints over five years at 167.

Walcott said the original notice of motion started off as noise, but he said it’s become a lot more than that.

“Where we get into these conversations now is one on quality of life, but it’s also one on effective resource use and effective resource management across all of our city employees, including CPS officers or peace officers,” he said.

He felt it was important to go through the process, get the information and then make a decision.

The item was approved 6-1 at committee, with Coun. Andre Chabot opposed. It will be up for final approval at an upcoming full meeting of Calgary city council.