Residents of the 100 block of Fairmount Avenue in Northern Liberties have one noisy beeping neighbor: A Greyhound bus- maintenance facility.
They say they're driven to distraction by the incessant, piercing beep of buses in reverse, the shrill ring of a telephone broadcast over a loudspeaker and some strange noise that sounds like "100,000 vacuum cleaners strapped together," said neighbor David Witz.
There's activity past midnight or at dawn. "That's always a nice way to start the day," said neighbor Debbie Rudman.
During the day, residents said, they're used to the constant buzz of the area. I-95 is right around the corner, so there's lots of traffic sounds besides the noise of the maintenance facility. But when the sun goes down and the facility is still going strong, neighbors get upset. They say they've been dealing with the disturbance for a few years, but in the last year, it's gotten worse.
Lara Kelly, quality-of-life coordinator with the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, has been leading the effort to fix the problem. Last year, she discussed ways to mitigate the noise with the facility's day manager, but the situation never got better.
Kelly, an official 3-1-1 "neighborhood liaison" (this means she can input service requests online without having to go through an operator), has also filed a number of noise complaints through 3-1-1, but that hasn't helped, either.
Kindly shut the bus up
Help Desk went straight to the source and called Greyhound. Spokesman Timothy Stokes said the company hadn't had any complaints since last year, so they thought the problem had been fixed. When we told him otherwise, Stokes said the manager would be happy to meet with the neighbors again to try to figure out a solution.
We also called the Health Department, whose Air Management Services division deals with nonresidential-noise complaints. Spokesman Jeff Moran told us the facility had been inspected and cited a number of times for idling buses (an air- quality issue), but not for noise.
For some reason, the Health Department hadn't received any noise complaints about the facility, Moran said. But if the department does get complaints, an inspector will measure the sound levels from the residence closest to the facility. The inspector first measures the background noise and then the noise level of the disturbance. If the level of the disturbance is five decibels over the background level, the department would issue a violation and a fine ranging from $100 to $300 (if it's the facility's first violation).
The neighbors said they'll try this if speaking with the facility manager doesn't work.
The cracks of 3-1-1
But what happened to Kelly's 3-1-1 complaints? The most recent was deemed "unfounded," according to 3-1-1 records, though the Health Department never even got it.
Help Desk looked into it, and it turns out the complaint was sent to L&I, which doesn't monitor noise complaints, so someone there marked it "unfounded."
Why does a complaint's being sent to the wrong department result in that complaint being dismissed, instead of rerouted?
We called Rosetta Lue, director of 3-1-1. She said that if a complaint goes to the wrong department, it's up to that department to send it back to 3-1-1 and mark it as a mistake. So 3-1-1 messed up by sending the complaint to L&I, and spokeswoman Maura Kennedy said that L&I should have sent it back.
It seems obvious to Help Desk that no matter whose job it is to get a complaint classified correctly, it shouldn't disappear before reaching the correct department.
Lue said 3-1-1 is working on getting new technology that would allow citizens to classify their complaints and prevent this problem. In the meantime, citizens shouldn't be shy about hounding 3-1-1 if they're unhappy with results.