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What if all the noise, noise, noise is your fault?

This week's Market Squared asks the Grinches on Mount Crumpit to look in a mirror
File photo of a vehicle exhaust.

During my brief experience in the hotel business, you come to understand the most common complaints are noise complaints. Some of those complaints were easy to solve, like a sports team being overly celebratory about a victory, and some of them are a little more delicate, like a couple being overly, ahem, amorous.

One time, a man in a room on the side of the hotel facing a highway complained about the traffic noise. He was from a very rural area and had a hard time sleeping even though the road itself was a good 20 yards away from his window. I suggested he put the fan on in his AC unit to drown out the noise and that seemed to work.

The point is that we all have different tolerances. We all feel the heat or the cold differently, and we all have a certain level of noise we can bear before it officially crosses the line to annoying. I think about that man in the hotel who couldn’t abide even the relatively relaxed traffic levels on a busy road around midnight, and how he might cope in my own bedroom with it’s view over the Hanlon Expressway.

This is my long-winded way of queuing up a discussion about a recent series of motions brought by Coun. Rodrigo Goller concerning the reviewing certain bylaws. Specifically, the prohibition on backyard fires, noisy cars, and the sale and setting off of fireworks.

Goller said the review of these three was specially requested by his constituents, and my cynical mind could only immediately think one thing… There are a lot of people in Ward 2 that want to enjoy their illegal fire pits without the intrusion of loud vehicles and fireworks.

Now before you “at” me, let me lay out a few follow-up considerations.

First, going to the local park or fairground for *one* fireworks display is one thing, but when there’s someone in every park and open space in a one-mile radius setting off fireworks it’s hard not to feel like you’re under siege. This past Victoria Day, all that was missing was Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

As for the fire pits, City staff pretty much put the kibosh on that one at the council meeting with the recommendation of senior firefighting staff that letting people set fires in their backyard is not the best idea given current conditions.

So what about those noisy cars? The motion technically asked for staff to examine the use of noise cameras, which essentially operate on the same principle as red-light cameras; if a car passes by and it’s too noisy, the camera is activated and captures a shot of the license plate of the offending vehicle. Pretty simple, but there’s one issue: those cameras are not legally allowed in Ontario yet.

That’s why the motion ratified at council a couple of weeks ago said that the mayor and staff should advocate for the cause and then initiate a review once the cameras are approved if staff decide to go that way. Given how long it took for Ontarians to accept red-light cameras as a form of speed control, I won’t hold my brief.

As for the advocacy piece, CAO Scott Stewart explained there’s only so much one-on-one time with the Minister of Transportation, and no offense to the anti-noise advocates, but if Guelph only gets 15 minutes with Caroline Mulroney at AMO, I want them to spend 14 minutes (allowing one-minute for pleasantries) yelling at her about the crap-tacular status of our regional transit options.

But that’s just the point, isn’t it? We keep nibbling at all these things – pollution, parking, sprawl, speeding, congestion and noise – and they all come back to the same cause, our love affair with the automobile.

Now this column, and its author, have no great love for the car or all the damage they've wrought to our culture, our environment and the way we plan communities, but this column has also tried to remind its readers that if you own a car and do all of your travelling in it, then you are also part of the problem.

I know you have your reasons, but so does everyone else, which is why these things never make any progress. You want more people to use transit, but you don’t want to be one of them. You want there to be fewer cars on the road so that we dedicate less space to parking, but you want to have as much space as possible in your own yard for all the cars in your household.

It’s the same with the two areas that people want more action on, noisy cars and speeders. We can legislate all we want, but people are making the choice to speed, and they’re also making the choice to have a loud car. Sometimes that’s intentional, and sometimes that’s negligence, but it all adds up to the same thing, which is that people think driving a car is a right and not a privilege.

Don’t believe me? Look at how many times a week in the Guelph police media release where someone gets stopped driving a car when they’ve been prohibited to do so, it’s almost a daily occurrence.

I see people complaining about traffic calming – ballards, speed bumps, raised medians, barrier curbs – but I never see them complain about the root cause, too damn much speeding! I never seen any self-analysis, “Have I been speeding?” I never see any proactive action, “I will make an effort to use a car less and walk more. Or take transit.”

I won’t deny that cars are generally noisier now, I have a proverbial ton of anecdotal evidence from outside my own window, but can we nag each other to the point where we get better behaviour out of drivers? Are noise cameras going to make people change? Does the threat of getting a parking ticket make people follow parking rules better now?

The answer is no, and in a world where nobody wants to change, nothing ever will. The problem isn’t the noise, it’s that no one thinks they’re to blame for it, and a ticket from a camera isn’t going to change that.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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