Downtown living comes with bustle

Like buffalo to the watering hole, every Thursday evening they came – scores, perhaps hundreds of motorcyclists drawn to the neighborhood pub for build-your-own tacos and cheap suds.

And not just motorcycles – very loud ones. You know the kind. At idle, the bikes produce the dull rumble of an oncoming avalanche; at open throttle, the cacophony deafens anyone hapless enough to be passing by. So thunderous was this weekly migration – and so disruptive for nearby residents, many of them new to the neighborhood – that the West Seattle pub and its patrons caught the attention of police and city officials, touching off a debate over just when a business and its patrons stray from legitimate commerce to become a public nuisance.

That dust-up, well publicized in the Seattle papers a decade ago, echoes in the recent debate over a new noise ordinance for Bainbridge Island. What began two years ago as a discussion of annoying car alarms around the ferry terminal has turned into a referendum of sorts on our expectations for acceptable activities, commercial and otherwise, in our downtown core. Last week, the City Council failed to reach consensus on new standards regulating what one member described as “the line between rudeness and rowdiness.” At issue are “public disturbance noises,” defined by the draft ordinance as frequent or intense alarms or horns, shouting in the public streets, over-amped car stereos, and the various clanks and clatters associated with the handling of goods and containers. Specifically exempted – and only after intense lobbying by the Chamber of Commerce and its members – are the delivery of wares to stores and restaurants, and the pickup of garbage and recycling items.

In these exemptions, the council is showing good sense. Delivery vehicles have been the whipping boy of peace-and-quiet types for some time now, and unfairly so. If the trucks come too early, they’re chastised for making noise at ungainly hours; if they show up in the middle of the day, they’re seen as plaque clogging the artery of Winslow Way. Yet these deliveries are the lifeblood of a functioning downtown, keeping shelves stocked for the same folks who too often gripe about their presence. Make allowance for them.

Yes, a community needs clear standards for nuisance noise. At the same time, we might all examine our expectations for downtown Winslow – the growing, thriving one envisioned in the Comprehensive Plan, not a moribund, roll-up-the-sidewalks-at-5 burg. It seems axiomatic those living downtown are willingly putting themselves into an environment of some bustle and babel. The trade-off for easy access to downtown services is that others will avail themselves of those same services, at hours not necessarily of our own choosing. A few of those places might even stay open late, and generate some noise in the course of doing business. That noise is not, in and of itself, a nuisance – worth remembering as downtown Winslow gets more populace and bustling still.

We’d be hard-pressed to improve on a recent observation by a Bainbridge councilwoman: “living closely means we should expect to hear, as well as see, more of one another’s activities.” We might add: for those who find that anathema, the island still has plenty of long driveways down which to sequester oneself.

Ask the folks living around that West Seattle watering hole, and you might find that our Bainbridge noise really isn’t all that noisy.