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Commission discusses taming Woodward car noise

By Grace Lovins

Birmingham city commissioners proclaimed car noise from Woodward Avenue an intolerable situation at their meeting on Monday, June 5, calling for the formation of an emergency board to build a coalition and call for action from state officials.

Commissioner Clinton Baller approached mayor Therese Longe and suggested the noise issue be declared a state of emergency, Longe said. The issue doesn’t meet the legal requirements to declare a state of emergency, but the commission decided to take action to potentially reduce the issue with the help of the state and other communities.

“The proclamation is a tool for us to state unequivocally that we believe an intolerable situation exists and that we are asking communities up and down Woodward and Oakland County to join with us to take our concerns to state government,” said Longe.

The proclamation declares Woodward as seriously and negatively impacting the health, safety and welfare of Birmingham residents. It also appoints the city manager, police chief and fire chief, who also serves as the chief health officer for the city, to an emergency board tasked with building a coalition of communities along Woodward Avenue and Oakland County to seek action from state officials.

Woodward being known as a ‘cruising destination,’ as well as car modifications have increased significantly during the last few years, per police chief Scott Grewe, increasing the sound coming from a car’s exhaust. Grewe stated that this noise is difficult to enforce for the community based on the state statute.

According to Grewe, state statute contains several redundancies and language that makes it difficult to enforce violations. Violating the regulations leads to a civil infraction, but the driver would only need to pay the fine and the car could be on the street the next day. The penalties for violations are not effective in forcing people to remove any modifications to their exhaust, Grewe said.

Exhaust noise is covered under state statute, but the city also has an ordinance regulating sound from vehicle radios, CD players and speakers. The ordinance says that a vehicle can’t have sound audible, either by ear or by feeling vibrations, more than 50 feet from the vehicle.

Birmingham police have placed a strong emphasis on Woodward when it comes to enforcement, said Grewe, utilizing traffic improvement association grants to target what they can. The $23,000 grant covers enforcement for speed, seatbelts, distracted driving and operating while intoxicated. Grewe said the department also has two overtime officers working patrol on Fridays and Saturdays in addition to the officer typically on duty.

The city has also received complaints about the noise coming from crowds that gather along Woodward, which Grewe said the department has been addressing through restricted time frames for public parking on the weekends and power of attorney for private parking lots. Power of attorney gives the department the ability to remove people from private parking lots if the owner of the property signs off. Sixteen addresses have already signed, according to Grewe.

“One of the reasons I suggested that we do this is so that [there’s] sort of a top-down thing where we say very strongly that this is an emergency, to the extent that it can be considered one, and that would hopefully redouble [Grewe’s] efforts and the efforts of everybody up and down Woodward,” said Baller.

Grewe said a proposal has already been sent to state representative Natalie Price (D-Berkley, Birmingham, Oak Park, northern Detroit) and state Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Birmingham, Royal Oak, Clawson, Detroit, Berkley, Ferndale) to remove the DBA language – decibels on the a-weighted network – from the state statute which makes it difficult for officers to enforce noise regulations.

“If a reasonable officer can articulate that the noise was excessive, that would allow us to enforce vehicle noise without doing what the DBA issues,” Grewe said.

Commissioners unanimously concurred with the proclamation calling for Grewe, Fire Chief Paul Wells and the city manager to meet as an emergency board and begin working on the formation of a coalition.


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