Noise is not a new issue in Providence, and complaints about excessive sound levels are not a function of any recent changes or events, as demonstrated below by residents citing the same recurring sources for decades.
1969 — The Providence City Council passes a noise ordinance prohibiting “unnecessary noises or sounds by means of the human voice, or by any other means or methods which are physically annoying to persons, or which are so harsh, or so prolonged or unnatural or unusual in their use, time, and place as to occasion physical discomfort, or which are injurious to the lives, health, peace and comfort of the inhabitants of the city.”
September 1985 — The City Council drafts a new noise ordinance that includes prohibitions on playing loud stereos after 10:00 p.m., and operating cars with loud mufflers.
January 1988 — After a year of debate, the City Council approves an updated noise ordinance. The Providence Journal describes it as a “response to neighborhood complaints concerning blaring stereos, roaring motorcycles, and early-morning sounds from construction projects, such as jackhammers.”
June 1994 — The police department receives four noise meters, with eight more due to arrive, and train dozens of officers to calibrate and use them, in response to what then-Mayor Buddy Cianci describes as “noise pollution [emanating] from car radios, large hand-carried radios, barking dogs, loud parties, and the like.”
“As the warm months get under way, the Providence Police Department must deal with great numbers of calls regarding excessive noise in our neighborhoods,” Cianci said. “With the windows of our homes and cars open to the warm air, we want to be assured that the city will remain pleasant and peaceful during the summer months.” — Providence Journal, June 6, 1994
July 1995 — Complaints about noise outnumber all others in the city, according to several members of the Providence City Council, while police say they are issuing dozens of tickets a day to motorists who violate the city’s noise ordinance. Joining Councilmembers DiRuzzo (Ward 15) and Nolan (Ward 9) in a plea for more enforcement of the ordinance are fellow Councilmembers DeLuca (Ward 6), Igliozzi (Ward 7), and Young (Ward 11). The police respond by issuing more citations for noise violations:
“At Atlantic Avenue and Mitchell Street, two officers were so busy that at least a half dozen
motorists — with radios blaring — were able to get by without being pulled over because
[the patrolmen] were too busy writing tickets for other motorists. Residents crowded around,
applauding the officers. A man said, ‘I wish you guys could do this here for a couple of hours
every day. This is great’.” (Providence Journal, July 10, 1995)
September 1998 — City Council member Joseph DeLuca (Ward 6) asks the city’s legal department to prepare an ordinance prohibiting drivers “from using car horns as door bells,” saying his constituents are fed up with motorists who repeatedly blow their horns outside of houses to get the attention of people inside.
July 1999 — The Providence City Council revises the noise ordinance to clarify that “any person, including a police officer, may be a complainant for the purpose of instituting action for any violation” of the noise ordinance (Sec. 16–109). It also removes time in jail as a potential penalty for noise offenses.
May 12, 2000 — An op-ed by retired Municipal Court Judge Keven McKenna notes that “in Providence neighborhoods, there is a daily rash of house invasions by noise marauders driving motor-vehicles blasting … music from over-powered, specially-constructed-and-installed car sound-systems purchased from local electronic-product stores. These vehicles contain woofers and sound boosters that produce noise in excess of that from jet planes flying overhead …”
May 19, 2000 — Rhode Island Rep. Joanne Giannini and Sen. Catherine Graziano, both representing Providence, say noise emanating from car stereo systems has reached intolerable levels in the state, and especially in the city. “The outrageously loud noise pollution is destroying the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Giannini says. “The music coming from some of these cars is so loud I can feel my house shake when they drive by.”
They propose two bills specifically targeting car-stereo systems. One would declare stereos that can be heard more than 25 feet away — and even closer if they can be heard inside a home or business — a health hazard and public nuisance, and authorize the police to tow the vehicle to a repair shop to have the sound system removed. The second bill would prohibit businesses from selling car-stereo systems that exceed 86 decibels, and regulate the sale of car stereo amplifiers.
January 2002 — RI state Rep. Joanne Giannini (D-Providence) introduces the Neighborhood Improvement Act to address residents’ complaints about litter, public drinking, and over-amplified car stereo systems. In addition to declaring stereos that that can be heard inside buildings 20 feet away a public nuisance, it would create a legislative committee on vehicle noise pollution to study laws designed to curb excessive noise and report back to the General Assembly.
September 2004 — A Providence Journal editorial observes that “motorcycle noise trashes the tranquillity of neighborhoods across the region. Police efforts to monitor noise and crack down when it rises above legal levels don’t work. A more effective approach is required.” It goes on to say:
“Providence Mayor Cicilline and the City Council know that residents of many of the city’s
neighborhoods — not just College Hill — have lost patience with the city’s ineffective response
to this problem. Most people have no objection to bikers gathering on Thayer Street, or anywhere
else; it is the noise many of the riders make on their way to and from their gatherings that sets
people off. It‘s time for all communities to take stern action against motorcycle noise.”
2009–2015 — The Providence Journal’s coverage of noise-related issues drops precipitously, from an average of about 400 articles per year referencing noise to approximately 200 articles per year.
Either the city suddenly got much quieter from one year to the next (which seems unlikely), the Journal abruptly decided its readers stopped caring about noise (also unlikely in such a short time), or lay-offs in its newsroom forced it to reduce coverage of a wide range of issues, including noise.
The drop also roughly coincided with the administration of Mayor Angel Taveras, who was elected in 2010. A rebound in the Journal’s noise coverage during Mayor Jorge Elorza’s first term indicates it remained an issue of public concern.
September 2016 — In a scathing report to the Providence City Council, former RI Attorney General Jeffrey Pine says the city’s Board of Licenses, which oversees commercial venues with entertainment licenses to play amplified music, is not operating “at an acceptable or required standard” and needs to substantially change how it does its job — including a “substandard” effort to collect fines.
June 2020 — The Providence Police and Fire Departments and the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal’s Office organize a taskforce to respond to increasing complaints about illegal fireworks in the city.
April 2021 — Citing the public health effects of noise from modified mufflers, over-amplified stereos, leafblowers, fireworks, and ATVs — and its disproportionate impact on “vulnerable populations and neighborhoods” — the City Council unanimously passes a resolution calling on Mayor Jorge Elorza to commission an independent panel or consultant to develop a plan to address noise pollution. Mayor Elorza offers no public response, and ignores the resolution.
November 2021 — The City Council’s Ordinance Committee holds a public hearing on a bill to limit noise from gas-powered leafblowers to 65 decibels and prohibit their use from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 a.m.