With files from Matt Lee
Noise. In the city, it’s a fact of life. And with summer here, it’s on everyone’s mind.
Vancouver Police have launched their annual crackdown on noisy vehicles, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Construction, patios, aircraft, buskers, and commercial vehicles paint some of the rest of a sonic picture that fills the background of our everyday lives. And not everyone is wild about it.
According to data from the city’s 3-1-1 service, in 2015, Vancouver saw 2,148 noise complaints, nearly half of them in just three neighbourhoods.
Click to see Vancouver’s noisiest neighbourhoods (by 3-1-1 complaints)
- Downtown: 421 complaints
- West End: 264 complaints
- Mount Pleasant: 230 complaints
- Kitsilano: 161 complaints
- Grandview-Woodland: 124 complaints
- Oakridge: 24 complaints
- South Cambie: 29 complaints
- Arbutus Ridge: 30 complaints
- Shaughnessy: 38 complaints
- Marpole: 40 complaints
The City of Vancouver’s Noise Control bylaw limits noise by where you are in the city and what time of day it is, with particularly noise-intensive activities like construction strictly constrained.
Breaking them can net you a fine of between $250 and $500.
Chief Licensing Inspector Andreea Toma says it’s part of the equation is where the noise is being made, with the city broken into three noise categories: quiet areas, intermediate areas, and activity areas.
“Depending on the use of the property, in terms of how much noise is being generated, and at what times of the day and to what level.
Essentially, the busier the area, the more latitude for noise.
“It’s a bylaw we may need to look at as the zones that we’re creating and the densification changes in the city. But it’s not unheard of to think that noise is increasing… but to what level is it acceptable? Some people expect complete quiet when they got to sleep. You don’t get that in the city. Even with the emergency vehicles… it’s very, very unusual that you get complete quiet.”
Thoma says three main concerns top the list of complaint calls to 3-1-1:
- After hours construction
- Noisy nightlife
- Building mechanical equipment such as HVAC or air conditioning.
She acknowledges complaints have been growing in recent years, but suggests that’s because Vancouverites are getting more comfortable and familiar with the 3-1-1 service. She adds the neighbourhoods with the most complaints may not actually be the noisiest per-se.
But she says the city is looking into a new measure to target repeat offenders.
“We are looking into creating a nuisance bylaw, whereas let’s say a party house… the police and the fire department they get called because they usually happen after hours, where we have the ability to put a charge onto the property owner because they keep becoming a nuisance to the neighbourhood. We’ve been called there once, twice, three times.”
That said, the city says in 2013 it handed out 20 fines for infractions, and in 2014, just 13. It was unable to provide complete data for 2015.
Vancouver noise restrictions
- Private property: 7:30 am and 8 pm weekdays, 10 am – 8 pm Sat. Not allowed Sun. and holidays.
- Street construction: 7 am – 8 pm weekdays and Sat, 10 am – 8 pm Sun. and holidays.
- Outside downtown: 7 am – 8pm weekdays, 10 am – 8 pm weekends and holidays.
- Downtown: 6am – midnight weekdays, 10 am – midnight weekends and holidays.
- Banned in West End.
- Must be “low noise.”
- Allowed 8 am to 6 pm weekdays, 9 am – 5 pm Saturday within 50 m of a residential property.
- Must not cause an unreasonable disturbance.
- Radio, TV, musical instruments or amplified sound mustn’t cause unreasonable disturbance.
Toma says that new bylaw would require a change to the Vancouver Charter, meaning provincial approval.
LISTEN: Vancouver’s noisiest neighbourhoods
On top of the city’s rules, police are also now on the lookout for excessively noisy vehicles and motorcycles, a common summer complaint. Unnecessary exhaust, engine, or brake noise could land you a fine of $109 plus three demerit points.
But the VPD says during last summer’s crackdown just 11 tickets were handed out. In a statement, it says part of that is because officers much catch offenders red handed.
“Part of the campaign is to make motorcyclists aware of how disruptive the noise is – that can come in the form of a ticket, or a notice and order or warning.”
But even when everyone is playing by the rules, things can get pretty noisy.
A CKNW spot check found some surprisingly high noise readings out on the street.
- Beatty and W. Pender (street construction): 87 decibels. That’s the equivalent of having a freight train fly by only fifteen metres away.
- Broadway and Kingsway (traffic): 88 to 90 decibels. That’s as loud as a propeller plane flying over you at a height of a thousand feet, or running your garbage disposal at the sink.
- Davie and Bute (traffic and construction): 98 decibels. That’s a little less than the sound of a Boeing 737 getting ready to land a mile away.
Unsurprisingly, the summer months saw the most 3-1-1 noise complaint calls last year, peaking in July with 303 calls.
That, as the city hits patio season, more people head outside to party and play, and windows are left open to deal with the heat.
Charles Gauthier, president of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association says he’s not surprised to learn Downtown is the noisiest borough of the city.
The neighbourhood, as defined by the city, includes diverse areas such as Yaletown, Coal Harbour, and Gastown- all going through a development spurt, and many with thriving nightlife.
“Partly because [our members] are the ones that are generating them, or they have customers that are perhaps sitting on outdoor patios, or especially in the Granville entertainment district…. I suspect we also have the greatest number of people that come to live, work, and play here.”
Gauthier says as a growing, densifying city the issue is about finding a balance, along with acknowledging that people who choose to live in the core need to accept that noise comes with the territory.
And it could get noisier. Gauthier says the DTVBIA is actually lobbying the city to allow late night commercial delivery or trash pickup, as was permitted during the Olympics, in a bid to cut down on road congestion during the day.
He adds, if anything, city rules may be too restrictive on downtown businesses.
“My understanding is that one complaint is enough to generate city action. And I have to question whether or not that’s the best way of approaching this. We need a more balanced approach to that and understand that businesses need to be able to do what they need to do. They provide employment oportunities for a lot of people.”
Right to quiet
That’s not an opinion shared by Hans Schmid, president of the Right to Quiet society.
Schmid has been fighting noise in the city for more than three decades, during which he estimates he’s filed more than 300 noise complaints.
“The noise is getting worse. For one thing, the population continues to grow, and consideration in humans is decreasing and the combination of these two factors makes for more and more noise every year.”
Schmid says a little peace and quiet is psychologically important to people as humans, a fact he says is being lost as the city drowns in the sounds of motorbikes, amplified buskers, aircraft, and construction… what he likens to an “acoustic mess.”
“[They] take it for granted that you need to be immersed in noise or else its not a normal condition, and they feel strange in a quiet situation.”
Schmid says he’d like to see more enforcement… But before that, education about the value of quiet and the effects of noise on people.
That said, he admits he’s sometimes fighting a lonely battle.
“I have a lot of friends who either ignore what I do, or agree with me but wouldn’t do it themselves. But as I say, I meet other people who say you are nuts. You’re getting angry for nothing.”