Along with location and money, noise is one of the most common concerns while talking about the new skatepark. In some cases, residents that lived on busy arterials or adjacent to train tracks have objected to skatepark proposals for fear that the noise will impact their comfort and reduce property values. Once the skatepark is open, however, these claims go unfulfilled and those concerned citizens find some other imaginary fear to get behind.
While it’s true that in some cases skateparks can be noisy, but the definition of “noise” is unclear. Skateparks are noisy like playgrounds. Some people may find the sound of volleyball annoying and others won’t. From skateparks you hear people applauding good tricks and the clack of skateboards popping against the ground. Skateparks don’t produce the kind of shrill, sustained cacophony that its opponents imagine. Skatepark noise, according to every study conducted on the subject, consistently falls well below ordinary recreational standards and is completely appropriate for residential areas. Unfortunately for most skatepark opponents, it doesn’t matter how many studies have been conducted on the subject… they “know” skateparks are noisy and will not be convinced otherwise.
One of the earliest and most comprehensive skatepark noise studies was conducted by the City of Portland, Oregon in 2001. The chief noise officer for the Portland Sheriff’s department concluded in a report that skateboarding noise was negligible at 50 feet but that sounds from some tricks (like ollies) could reach 65 to 71 decibels; about the sound of a bat hitting a ball. Other tricks (like grinds) reach between 54 to 65 decibels. Overall, a skatepark is about as “noisy” as a playground.
For context, here are some other average decibel readings:
10: Threshold of good hearing
40: Household noise
50: Office noise
60: Conversational speech
70: Normal street noise (i.e., passing cars, outdoor conversations)
85: Noisy restaurant
100: Passing truck
105: Snow blower
115: Football game
130: Threshold of physical pain
Some exceptions exist and those are the result of decisions made early in the development process. For example, steel ramps are notoriously loud. Steel quarterpipes create a sort of drum so that sound is amplified within the structure. Thankfully one skatepark manufacturer in the nation is currently marketing prefabricated steel skateparks, and evidence suggests that few communities are buying them. As municipalities move away from prefabricated ramps and toward concrete, concerns about skatepark noise are becoming less common.
If sound abatement is a priority, there are several approaches one might consider. The best noise reduction techniques are introduced to a skatepark project early in the process as it can impact the skatepark budget. Landscaping and earthworks are a terrific way of responding to concerns about skatepark noise and can provide additional benefits by beautifying the area surrounding the skatepark. Positioning the skatepark in such a way as to orient sound-reflecting walls away from nearby residents is another way of addressing neighborhood concerns about noise. A professional skatepark designer should be experienced in managing these types of concerns.
The solution many communities settle on is to locate the skatepark in some distant area far from any residences. This can certainly eliminate any concern about noise but might invite other kinds of unwanted behavior, or be less accessible to local skaters.
There is no fool-proof strategy for shutting down an ungrounded noise accusation except to request (politely) that the concerns be produced with some evidence. If a person is claiming that skateparks are noisy, ask them for evidence in the nicest terms possible.