Potato, potato, potato, potato, potato, potato....we all know that sound. It’s the trademarked, often attempted to duplicate, gut-rumbling, and yes even romantic and evocative sound that an idling Harley-Davidson motorcycle makes. We can recognize it when we hear it coming down the block. It fills our ears when we are riding. And yes, the louder it gets, the better it sounds right? A former neighbor used to say she lived for that sound, and it was a sad day when I moved away and she couldn’t hear Angus coming up the road. And as we all know; loud pipes save lives. Next to being seen, being heard is the best defense against oblivious motorists in cars.
But the Seattle City Council, succumbing to pressure from a few of the folks who live along Alki Beach in West Seattle, think that loud motorcycles are something that needs to be fixed. Now Alki Beach is the closest thing we have in the northwest to a California style beach, and by nature, it is a place folks congregate to enjoy sun and the ocean, to cruise in cars and on motorcycles, watching scantily clad folks play volleyball and sunbathe and walk the beach. By nature, it’s a place where there’s going to be cars and motorcycles and yes, noise. I mean, it’s what you do! Or used to anyway.
When I first moved there in 1989, and up to now, a few of the folks along Alki have been complaining about noise and cars and cruisers. It comes with the territory I suppose. But to me it’s complaining about one of the elements that makes Alki the cool place that it is, and they’d much rather have it be a private enclave for them to enjoy alone. And they just won at the Seattle City Council, thanks to West Seattle’s councilwoman, Lisa Herbold.
Earlier this spring the Seattle City Council took time away from their busy agenda of making things in the city worse as they drive off the cliff on the left end of the political spectrum, so they could pass a revised noise ordinance that would ticket “loud vehicles” $126. What’s more it’s the most poorly written ordinance I’ve ever seen. Noise ordinances are a tough one anyway, and this one is perhaps the worst one ever. It’s doubtful it can be enforced at all, and if it is, it’s impossible to enforce it objectively. And therein lies the problem. It’s designed to be used subjectively and unfairly.
For instance, the ordinance doesn’t have any objective measurements for a violation such as a specific measurable noise level. It does not require a police officer to measure the sound in any quantifiable way or even measure the distance with any accuracy. It merely states if it can be “heard” from 75 feet away my someone with “normal hearing”. So what the heck is “normal hearing”? And if you can hear it from 74 feet away and the officer steps back to 75 and he can’t hear it it’s OK? Really now?
Even the police department conceded in a hearing in June before the City Council that it can’t really objectively enforce it. Their officers don’t have decibel meters and would they have to measure out 75 feet to determine if they could hear it? And even they couldn’t tell you what “normal hearing” is. But logic and reasoning never seems to enter into the thinking of the Seattle City Council.
We all know that this will be used as a tool to go after motorcycle riders and hot-rod car lovers. And it’s a shame too. The “beach culture” is part of the charm of the Alki Beach area, and there’s nothing more American than cruising down the beach boulevard on one’s motorcycle or tricked out car. The years I spent living above Alki it was never an issue for me, I love the sound, the sun, the surf, the people watching, and eating a good burger at sunset on the beach.
As a city grows and changes it’s interesting to see how attitudes and things change. For instance; the manager of the venerable Spuds Fish and Chips – a Seattle institution the likes of Dicks and Ivar’s and that’s been on Alki since before I moved there way back in 1989 -- said to the Seattle Times “it does affect us – in a positive way – the more cars the better” and she lives and works on Alki too! Meanwhile the manager of new kid on the block, Blue Moon Burger which was took over an old service station, said “if someone passes by with a loud car or motorcycle it interrupts our service with the guest.” Oh give me a break! Folks sit on their patio, eat an overpriced burger, for the experience of eating on a beach and people and car watching – or did they forget that? I mean it’s Alki! People go there to cruise, to see and be seen! That’s what you do! Or should we all now conform to the “yuppie over-priced burger with avocado and sprouts” crowd who show up in their uber quiet Prius or Tessla? Are Seattle police going to ticket every garbage truck or Metro bus that goes by now too? I doubt it – just the bikers and the muscle car crowd.
For now, Seattle PD will, they say, focus on “public education” and they don’t plan on issuing citations just yet. We’ll see. But while the weather is glorious this summer, you might want to take one last beach cruise down Alki before the Tessla/Prius crowd eating their yuppie burgers at Blue Moon take over and lock up Alki beach for themselves. Do it while you can now. And please, make sure you rev it up a bit while enjoying the sun, surf and scantily clad folks on the sand. It seems those times are going to come to a close soon. Nothing better than hearing a rumble of “potato potato potato potato potato….”