North Portland’s Noise Problems (by Keith Ball)

th-2In North Portland there is an issue of noise that affects the neighborhoods of, Arbor lodge, St. Johns, Portsmouth, Kenton, University Park, Overlook, Hayden Island, East Columbia, Piedmont, and Bridgeton. Firstly what is noise? Noise is any unwanted sound ( noise wikipedia). This definition is very subjective; there are lots of sounds I don’t want to hear. What about noise pollution? It is defined in this way; the disturbing or excessive noise that may harm the activity or balance of human or animal life. (wikipedia) This definition is more helpful, but still open to interpretation. The city of Portland has noise ordinances that regulate noise. These limits are measured in decibels (dBA).

So what is a decibel? A decibel is a unit used to measure the intensity of a sound. (howstuffworks) This unit is a little strange as it is measured with a base ten logarithmic scale. This means from total silence (0 dB) a sound ten times as intense would be a dB reading of ten, from silence to a dB reading of twenty the sound must be one hundred times more intense. To put things in perspective: fifteen dB is a whisper, sixty dB is a normal conversation, ninety dB is a lawnmower, a car horn comes in a one hundred ten dB, a jet engine or a rock concert is approximately one hundred twenty, And a gunshot is approximately one hundred forty dB. Prolonged exposure to eighty five dB can result in hearing damage; and levels over one twenty five dB can cause pain. The human ear is quite remarkable, and very sensitive; it can detect a change in intensity of three dB. The city of Portland’s noise ordinance is sixty five dB, or about the same level as a normal conversation.

As sound travels it becomes less intense, because of this the distance from a noise source must also be considered. Using the inverse square law the sound level for a particular distance can be estimated. A general rule of thumb is that, the intensity drops twenty dB when the distance is increased ten times.  

North Portland has a lot of potential noise sources: Portland International Airport, Portland International Raceway, the I-5 corridor, train traffic, and truck traffic. All of these factors were studied in 2006, in a telephone survey of 600 North Portland residents. This survey was conducted by Friends of PIR. The survey was conducted twice, once in June (300 residents), and once in October (300 residents). Seventy three percent of residents surveyed said noise does not affect them, while twenty seven percent say that noise affects them. The survey breaks down the potential sources into greater detail, the formal results of the survey can be found on the Friends of PIR website.

Portland International Raceway was one of the potential sources. This is an excerpt from an article in the Portland Mercury: “THEY CAME STONE-FACED, the leaders of the Kenton Neighborhood Association, bearing tales of woe. Babies kept awake at night. Backyard picnics ruined. Closed windows on warm summer nights—no matter the cool breeze blowing outside.

And they had a villain: the Portland International Raceway.” (Theriault)

The vehicles that use the track are often loud, but how much of a problem is this? If it is a problem what can be done about it? How does it compare to the other noise sources in the area? What benefits does PIR offer to the community?

One of the byproducts of horsepower is sound. The drivers of racing vehicles are looking for a competitive advantage; replacing the restrictive exhaust system with a more free-flowing system is one way to do just that. However the vehicles are subject to restrictions and rules. PIR imposes a sound limit that can’t be exceeded; likewise the clubs that use the track also impose their own sound limits. PIR’s sound restrictions regulate vehicles to one hundred and five dB at fifty feet. The official sound meter at PIR is always running. Most clubs will take it a step further and limit participants to ninety five dB, at fifty feet. Vehicles are removed from the track if they violate the sound rules. For special events the track can request a variance from the city, this allows the sound limit to be raised to be one hundred fifteen dB. Up to four variances can be requested per year. There were two variances requested for 2014. At the closest residence to PIR the intensity heard would be about sixty five dB, while on a variance day it would be about seventy to seventy five dB. Any events held at night are subject to further noise restrictions. During normal events PIR’s noise levels fall within city imposed limits with respect to its nearest residential neighbors. So, PIR is no noisier than any other industrial site that is close to residential neighborhoods. According to the survey PIR was less of a concern than truck and industrial traffic, and less loud than a train horn.

PIR is a multi use facility owned By the Portland Parks department. The track (the leftover streets from the flooded city of Vanport) has been in use since the 1960’s. Since then the track has been steadily renovated. Many types of events are held at the facility at PIR. The track facilitates many types of racing, from walks, and runs, to bicycles, motorcycles, and cars, the paddocks often hold autocross events, show and shines, as well as driver training, the police often use the paddock and the track itself for training. The infield holds a motocross track. In the winter the track is transformed into the largest drive through Christmas light display. In the fall PIR and the neighboring expo center host the largest automotive swap meet on the west coast. In the past the track has played host to professional racing series, such as: Champ Car, and the American Lemans series.

PIR is a valuable resource to the community; the events bring people and money to the communities of north Portland. In my experience I have met people who have traveled from as far as north as Vancouver B.C, as far south as L.A and as far east as Montana, to attend an event. Overall the track contributed an estimated 4.5 million dollars to the Multnomah County’s economy in 2004 (Theriault), and is the only park in the city that generates a net profit.

PIR is a great training facility, the Pro Drive school resides in the facility; they offer classes in race driving as well as skid control, and defensive driving techniques. I took a performance driving school offered through cascade sports car club; it offered me a chance to drive my car at speeds that would be unsafe on the highway. This experience has allowed me to feel the limits of my vehicle while in a safe environment, and has made me a safer driver. Many of our law enforcement agencies practice high speed driving and chase interventions; such as the PIT maneuver and the use of spike strips, at PIR.

The late night drag program allows people to drag race their street cars; this has reduced the amount of Illegal Street racing in Portland. There is a large list of clubs and organizations that hold events at PIR; Sports Car Club of America, Cascade Sports Car Club, Porsche club of America, National Auto Sports Association, and many more (too many to list here, a full list can be viewed on

While Portland International Raceway falls within the noise limits set by the city, some neighbors feel that the noise PIR emits affects their lives negatively. PIR also has affected many lives positively, and has provided a venue where people come together to race. “Racing is life, everything before or after is just waiting” (McQueen). This is my favorite Portland Park.

Works Cited

auditor, office of the city. title 18. 6 August 2014 <;.

howstuffworks. 12 August 2014 <;.

Le Mans. Dir. Lee H. Katzin. Perf. Steve McQueen. 1971.

PIR, Friends of. 8 August 2014 <;.

Raceway, Portland International. 12 8 14 <;.

Theriault, Denis C. “Stop Your Engines.” Portland Mercury 07 October 2010.

unknnown. wikipedia. 11 August 2014 <;.

unknown. noise wikipedia. 11 8 2014 <;.

—. wikipedia. 11 August 2014 <;.



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