The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

23 Jan 2016

Noise pollution, Auckland edition

Last time I told you we have a bit of a noise problem in Auckland City. Now, your first reaction may be, well duh, you’re not in the wop-wops, mate! And you’d be correct. Expecting heavenly silence 24/7 in a city centre is ridiculous.

But sometimes it’s a bit excessive. And unneccesary.

It gets interesting if someone from Belgium (and probably much of the rest of Europe) asks. It is hard to explain this to them. Because the worst sources are a bit like 91 octane fuel. You just don’t encounter them over there.

Trucks and engine brakes

This is already one of those cases. Trucks in Belgium are loud, but the trucks here are in an entire different category of loud. Not sure how to explain that. Think about the harsh sound from the old tractors on the countryside.

And then there is engine braking. Remember seeing these “no engine braking” signs at every little town?

No engine braking

Indeed… but didn't driving school tell me to brake on the engine?

Emmm no, not that kind of engine braking.

Well, kind of. A lot of heavy trucks over here brake on their engine by opening the exhaust valve of your engine at the top of the compression stroke. Which is a very loud way to brake, loud enough to feel it. A stone grinder produces only a gentle purr in comparison. (I know because I have heard both of them during the night.)

That’s why you have these signs at every little and big town in New Zealand. Or almost, as there is one council which can’t be bothered: Auckland.

In comparison, trucks in Belgium are almost silent. They have exhaust mufflers, and they use a different system to brake on their engines (I guess an exhaust brake, I’d have to ask the truckies over there).

The police

I sometimes find it hard to sleep through the sound of a siren. Which makes sense, being loud is the whole point of a siren. So in Belgium the police (and ambulances and the likes) generally don’t use their sirens after 10 pm.

But here, well, there is a police station on the corner of Cook and Hobson Street. And the police cars, they come and go with blaring sirens 24/7. Yes, come. Policemen, just like other people, get annoyed at having to wait at a traffic light. Luckily for them police cars have a siren. I guess the idea that there are actually lots of people living in this area *1 hasn’t filtered through yet.

The after-market car exhausts

Most often spotted on these old cars you can buy for a couple of $1000 on TradeMe. On the back you see that big exhaust pipe hanging there in some awkward way, as if it is just dangling off a bit of number 8 wire. And they always produce this ridiculous wannabe-race car sound.

Some people really like their car better when it is loud. Maybe because it “almost” feels like a real sports car. At least while at full throttle for 3 seconds until the next traffic light. You may witness the occasional near-miss with a pedestrian. If you ever do a road trip in New Zealand and see some funny waiving tyre tracks on a back road, it is probably from one of these guys doing burn-outs.

And lucky for these guys, there are two really big one-way streets in the heart of Auckland. Hobson and Nelson Street. The best time to race your car around? 2am, when there are no other cars tripping the traffic light sensors.

Sigh. Maybe 16-year old boys shouldn’t be allowed to drive a car.

The Harley Davidsons

Ah, let me introduce you to an odd species of humans.

They are riding certain kinds of motorcycles, often Harley Davidsons. Some internet legend has us believe their egoism and lack of courtesy towards other people is so terrible, they are not able to figure out what would possibly be the problem with producing 110 dB *2 from their open pipe exhausts.

Not sure that species actually exists, but those motorcycles are definitely here.

You can hear them coming from three blocks away. If they come around the corner you know it’s time to cover your ears. You can feel the noise pounding your chest. For some reason they also need to rev up their engine while standing at the traffic lights. Pretty sure it’s not due to crappy engine tuning.

If you drive a car, the maximal noise level from your exhaust is 90 dB. I wonder what would happen if the council would enforce the same limit for motorcycles.

The guy with the loud car radio

Yes, probably just one guy. But that is enough to be seriously annoying.

Maybe you’re thinking boom, boom, boom… someone with a loud car stereo is driving past with his windows down. Boom, boom, boom…

I’m not talking about that. I have no idea about what kind of soundsystem he has in his car. Sounds a bit like music played through a megaphone. If he fires it up you can hear it from half a kilometre away. That is how loud it is.

And a while ago the guy decided to spend a few hours of the night circling a few blocks of the CBD and firing up that sound system every couple of minutes. Right in front of the police station, two nights in a row.

So either there is nobody at that police station during the night, or this is actually not illegal.

Tolerance

Yeah, I’m whining again. I’m such an intolerant prick. Of course if you move into a city centre you have to put up with some noise.

But we should still expect a minimal amount of courtesy from people.

Suppose I would go in the middle of the night. I could bring an air horn so I can blast it every few seconds. Or maybe we can go from door to door and ring the doorbell until someone wakes up. How funny.

Should we just tolerate that? Or who knows, maybe we have to tolerate that to make Auckland a better city.

What about those boy racers, or our loud car radio guy? What’s the point of that? Am I the only one who finds that equally ridiculous?


(*1) 

This is a fairly recent change. In the early 90’s just under 1500 people lived in the CBD.

(*2) 

Not sure about the exact number. It’s definitely much louder than a jackhammer.

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