Volume 78 - Number 29 / December 17 - 23, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

A motorcycle parked on the sidewalk on Commerce St. at Seventh Ave. South. Its license plate had been removed, revealing black Velcro straps that allow quick and easy removal of the plate.

Gerson et al.: Motorcyclists must muffle it and park right

By Albert Amateau

The City Council had a final hearing last week on a bill drafted by Council-member Alan Gerson and endorsed by the New York Police Department that would allow the city to seize parked motorcycles that have the potential to violate the city noise code.

Existing city law prohibits operating a motorcycle that exceeds the 80-decibel limit, and the state vehicle and traffic law prohibits motorcycles with straight exhaust pipes — which lack the baffles that muffle the roar of their motors. But the existing laws require police to catch violators operating the motorcycles, often a difficult task.

The proposed Intro 416-A, heard on Wed., Dec. 10, says there will be no parking, stopping or standing of a motorcycle with a straight pipe. And to make it easier for a police officer or traffic agent on foot to determine if a parked motorcycle is in violation, the proposed law says the muffler must bear an appropriate federal Environmental Protection Agency tag.

The law takes advantage of the existing federal regulation requiring a motorcycle muffler to bear a label in a readily visible position that attests to the muffler’s compliance with E.P.A. noise and emission standards. Some bikers, however, spend upward of $1,000 to replace E.P.A.-approved mufflers with straight pipes.

“Currently, enforcement against motorcycles in operation is difficult, primarily because they are usually gone before any enforcement action may be taken,” Susan Petito, the Police Department’s assistant commissioner for intergovernmental affairs, told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Petito called the Gerson bill an “ingenious approach” to targeting parked motorcycles rather than relying on the noise they make while in motion.

Gerson said the bill was based on law used successfully in Denver. Gerson’s bill, which is scheduled to come to a council final vote on Dec. 18, “gives the city an extra tool to get at what is a truly serious livability problem,” he said.

Both the operator of an offending vehicle and the owner, if not the same person, would be jointly liable for a $500-to-$1,000 fine for the first offense, $1,500 to $2,500 for the second offense and $2,500 to $5,000 for the third and subsequent offenses.

The offending motorcycle or straight pipe may be seized and if the city’s Environmental Control Board rules there is no violation, the item would go back to the owner within five business days of the end of the E.C.B. hearing. If a violation is found, the vehicle could be returned to the owner after all fines are paid.

A seized motorcycle or straight pipe would be subject to forfeiture if the owner had been found liable by the E.C.B. of one or more prior violations of the law.

But representatives of motorcycle groups told the committee, “Straight pipes save our lives,” because noisy motorcycles let car drivers know to avoid them.

The day before the council hearing, a joint meeting of the Community Board 2 Transportation and Environmental committees debated a motorcycle-parking wrinkle in the western reaches of the Village.

Marilyn Dorato, executive director of the Greenwich Village Block Associations, and members of the Bedford Barrow Commerce Block Association told the C.B. 2 committee members that Village motorcycle and motor-scooter owners have been parking their vehicles overnight and longer on the sidewalks, apparently to prevent their bikes from being damaged by cars.

But in order to avoid being ticketed, the riders remove their motorcycle or motor-scooter license plates.

“A meter maid told me she couldn’t give tickets to motorcycles that don’t have plates,” Dorato said.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick sent a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly at the end of last month, saying that people have been parking their Vespas and other motorized scooters without license plates on the narrow sidewalks of the West Village.

“After contacting the Sixth Precinct and the Department of Transportation, I was surprised to learn that, even if these vehicles lack license plates, they cannot be given tickets based on vehicle identification numbers,” Glick said in her letter. “It seems the only option is impoundment, a process which is time consuming and therefore rarely occurs.”

If a car doesn’t have license plates, a ticket could be issued based on the registration sticker in the car’s window; but there appears to be no similar sticker for motor scooters, Glick observed.

Dorato suggested that the Department of Sanitation could impound vehicles parked on the sidewalks with no license plates. Frieda Bradlow, a public member of the community board’s Environment Committee, said the state Department of Motor Vehicles also has jurisdiction over illegally parked motor scooters and motorcycles with no plates and could impound them.

However, Bob Oliver, of the Bedford Barrow Commerce Block Association, said, “We want these people to become members of the block association and not violate the law.” He suggested that the offenders should be told that their neighbors would make efforts to have the vehicles towed if they violate the law.

“People who removed their license plates know they’re getting away with something,” Oliver said. “If they are threatened with being towed away, they’ll change.”

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