Tuesday, August 3, 2010

(One of my occasional replies to Nick Licata's Urban Politics mailer) - boom cars

Hi Nick,

As I occasionally do, I'm replying to thank you for your continued work at making Seattle a more livable and just environment for all its varied citizens. However, as I also do, I want to counter this marginal success (the midnight to 5am wedge of time won by the 'meathead ordinance' is not enough sleep for most people), by asking what you and the council are doing to make the city generally, and south-end specifically, more livable in light of the extremely bass-oriented car sound systems we contend with every day from as early as 6am to as late as 2am, 7 days per week. This is especially problematic and pronounced during the summer months.

Though we have only lived in Columbia City for a year, I have been aware of this problem for far longer. So-called 'boom cars' are a symbol of aggressive and sociopathic behavior. As far as I'm concerned, as I sit in my apartment about half a block from the intersection of S. Alaska and Rainier Ave. S., these drivers are committing assault and battery with their stereo systems. Perhaps that might sound exaggerated, but if someone came up to me and physically shook me as these sub-bass frequencies cause the entire apartment building to resonate, it would definitely count as assault. For those who think this is simply a matter of ear plugs, and that I should be more tolerant, there is no fending off or neutralizing the low frequencies these systems put out.

It's high time the city figured out a way to police these vehicles and their owners; it certainly isn't for lack of police in this area. I know there is already an ordinance stating that sound from a car audio system is in violation if it is 'clearly audible' 75 feet from the source. 'Clearly audible' - being a subjective determination dependent on who is listening and how sensitive they are to such emanations - is an unenforceable standard. The city needs to define this in actual decibels at specific frequencies (with a lower threshold established for frequencies below 200hz), and then extrapolate from there what the actual decibels would be when an officer in a police cruiser is 10-20 feet from that car. Based on that calculation, and measured with an appropriate standardized device, you would have an enforceable standard. This could then lead to an audio analog to traffic cameras and speed monitoring devices, which could then trigger issuing a citation or fine to the offending party. This is not difficult to do.

Needless to say, I have given this a lot of thought. I find it offensive in the extreme that people can drive up and down Rainier, and slowly cruise the quieter neighborhood streets as well, with their thousands of dollars of mobile audio amplification, and inflict this audio assault on the hundreds of people within range of their bass frequencies at any given time. It is antisocial and uncivil at best, a form of physical abuse at worst.


Mike Carlson
Columbia City