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Stott: Becoming a catalyst for change

I recently moved to a new home. It is a spacious apartment with high ceilings, lots of kitchen cabinets and a bird’s eye view of a quaint downtown business district.

I love almost everything about my new place to live.

One thing I do not like is the loud sound of motorcycles with modified exhaust pipes that ride up and down my street.

These motorcycles are sometimes loud enough that I am awakened from a sound sleep in the middle of the night, even if the bedroom windows are closed.

Loud enough so that if I am having a phone conversation and a group of motorcyclists stops at the traffic signal outside, I have to hang up and wait until the group leaves to continue my conversation.

Loud enough that my normal tolerance has been tested, that I almost called the police last weekend to complain about the excessive noise.

I didn’t dial. Hours of public administration classwork, paired with common sense and some experience working for a local municipality, reminded me that a short-sighted complaint wasn’t worth the trouble.

My complaint wouldn’t fix the problem, because the problem isn’t just a single rider making loud noises. It is the sometimes constant barrage of rumbling two-wheelers riding through downtown. Nabbing a single rider downstairs wouldn’t do much to change the problem, and the rider likely wouldn’t be at the same traffic signal once an officer responded.

So I didn’t call.

What action would have been more effective than calling? Doing some research is a good first step. After all, maybe I’m being too sensitive. Maybe the motorcycle riders are acting well within their rights.

It took me about five minutes to determine they aren’t. A look at my community’s municipal code and several online charts describing the decibel limits of various loud devices (jackhammers, lawnmowers, motorcycles) indicated that many motorcycles I hear are likely breaking local law.

The next step would be to talk with someone from the city, such as an alderman or city hall employee. Making a list of questions so that I get all the information I need in one call is a good idea.

Asking questions such as “does the city actively enforce the local noise limit laws?” and “are there a lot of complaints about motorcycle noise in this area?” would give me some background on the issue. Maybe the city is dealing with complaints constantly, and staff members are just trying to figure out what to do. Maybe the city has decided that not much can be done, or maybe it just isn’t as important to track this problem instead of other ones facing the community.

Maybe the noise problem needs to be brought up at a city council meeting.

Impulsively calling the police department would have been easy, but it wouldn’t have provided a solution I was looking for.

Someone who complains about a short instance of unbearably loud noise at the corner of two busy streets probably won’t get much satisfaction and that person’s government doesn’t have much to go on from that complaint alone. It is more work, but has more likelihood of paying off in the end than my call to the police would have.

Some further consideration made me realize that if I want something to change, I will have to work harder to catalyze it. My background helped me identify a good starting point.

It would be too optimistic to hope motorcycle riders would quit this obnoxious and disrespectful behavior on their own. Luckily, the government provides ways for others to try and eradicate the public problem.

• Lauren Stott is a Maple Park native and a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the master of public administration program. She can be reached at lauren_stott@yahoo.com.

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