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KSL Investigates 'unbearable' street noise, lack of enforcement

Cars drive State Street in Salt Lake City. Noise has been making life miserable for nearby residents. (Josh Szymanik, KSL-TV)


4 photos

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – Cruising State Street in Salt Lake City has been a popular pastime for decades. But over the past few years, ear-splitting engines have been making life miserable for the residents who live there.

The KSL Investigators started asking if all that noise is legal. Now, Salt Lake City police say they're planning to do something about it.

'Unbearable' noise

Neighbors who live on Capitol Hill said the noise from motorcycles and vehicles with modified mufflers isn't just a nuisance – it's unbearable and it's affecting their quality of life.

"It's just every night. Night after night after night after night for months at a time," said Sydney Fonnesbeck.

"It's like modified mufflers that sound like you're in a war zone," said Ryan Beck. "You want to duck for cover because it sounds like a gun is going off in the street."

Residents said vehicles are constantly cruising State Street and making a lot of noise, sometimes until the early morning hours.

"It's hard to be outside, we can't open our windows at night," said Fonnesbeck.

"I've never lived anywhere with this level of noise pollution, and we've lived in a lot of big cities," said Beck.

A sign in Salt Lake City reminds people to respect the neighborhood. Vehicles constantly cruise State Street, sometimes until the early morning hours, residents say.
A sign in Salt Lake City reminds people to respect the neighborhood. Vehicles constantly cruise State Street, sometimes until the early morning hours, residents say. (Photo: Josh Szymanik, KSL-TV)

The county does have a noise ordinance — Salt Lake County Health Regulation No. 21: Community Noise Pollution Control. But residents said the problem has been going on for years and despite multiple complaints, no one seems to be paying attention, including those who should be enforcing it.

"I get so frustrated and so angry," said Fonnesbeck. "I have a handicapped husband. We're pretty well stuck here. There's not much we can do."

Fonnesbeck said she's called the police more than a dozen times in the past year and a half.

"A lot of times the attitude is, 'This is nothing, why are you bothering us with this kind of thing?'" said Fonnesbeck.

Over 100 complaints

Salt Lake City police acknowledged the noise is an issue.

"It's a citywide problem. It's a countywide problem," said Deputy Chief Lamar Ewell with the Salt Lake City Police Department.

But they also said there are reasons behind not enforcing the noise ordinance.

"On the priority list, this may not be as high as some of those other calls and as people well know, our staffing numbers have dropped over the last year," said Ewell.


On the priority list, this may not be as high as some of those other calls and ... our staffing numbers have dropped over the last year.

–Deputy Chief Lamar Ewell, Salt Lake City police


The KSL Investigators found Salt Lake City police have received 113 noise complaints along State Street since the beginning of 2020.

Not all the complaints are about noisy cars and motorcycles. Still, KSL's Mike Headrick wanted to see how big the problem was, so he went out to State Street on a Friday night with Cooper MacCourtney, an environmental health scientist with the Salt Lake County Health Department who specializes in noise.

Cooper MacCourtney, an environmental health scientist with the Salt Lake County Health Department, prepares his decibel reader.
Cooper MacCourtney, an environmental health scientist with the Salt Lake County Health Department, prepares his decibel reader. (Photo: Josh Szymanik, KSL-TV)

Both armed with decibel readers, they measured how many vehicles were breaking the law. Anything above 80 dBA and under 40 mph is a violation.

Turns out, a lot of vehicles were well above the limit. In just 30 minutes, they counted 15-20 noise ordinance violations.

Police claim despite what residents may think, they are paying attention.

"Over the last few months, it has kind of risen to the top," said Ewell. "It's an important quality of life issue that we would like to fix."

Plans for enforcement

After the KSL Investigators started asking questions, the police department said it found money to buy decibel meters for their patrol officers. They plan to start issuing citations to noisy vehicles as soon as possible.

"We've put together a plan. and we're moving forward fast," said Ewell.

Ewell said the department has been involved in conversations about the noise problem with city, county and health officials over the past few months and they're happy they've come up with a solution.

Photos

Tania Dean
Mike Headrick

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