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Business & Developmentby Fern Shen11:31 amSep 2, 20110

How loud will the Baltimore Grand Prix be?

Above: Earplugs would be wise at Paca and Russell streets on Sunday: a study projects the roar of race cars could reach 118 decibels.

Anyone wondering how loud downtown is going to get on Sunday – when the Baltimore Grand Prix race cars zoom down Russell Street as fast as 175 miles an hour – has two good ways to find out:

You can read a summary of a study prepared for race organizers that has been quietly floating around on the Internet, or you can go Sunday to the corner of Paca and Russell streets where, the study predicted, maximum sound levels will reach 118 decibels.

That puts the weekend’s centerpiece event, the IZOD IndyCar Race, at nearly the top of the National Institute of Health’s sound chart – somewhere above “chain saw, rock concert” and just below “ambulance siren.”

Another high-decibel spot? The 226-year-old Old Otterbein United Methodist Church on Conway St., which is also on the two-mile race course.

Baltimore’s second oldest church building will get a maximum of 113 decibels, according to the study, conducted by Harris Miller Miler & Hanson Inc., of Boston, and presented at a July 2010 of a committee of the Transportation Research Board.

For residents like Ronald Huber, who lives in Ridgley’s Delight about a block from the 118-decibel spot, the strategy will be to find a way to experience a minimum of those decibels. Huber, who was walking by on a recent sunny day at lunchtime, says he plans to be out of the house at key points during the weekend.

“I am excited about the race, but concerned about getting in and out of the neighborhood,” Huber said, explaining that the mechanism whereby true residents will be recognized as such, and allowed onto closed-off streets, is still a little murky to him. “I hope it’s worthwhile for the city, after all this.”

Noises Off

In the run-up to this weekend’s race, there hasn’t been much talk about the possible noise levels in nearby neighborhoods. Traffic snarls have taken center stage (including yesterday’s epic gridlock in downtown Baltimore.)

It’s striking considering that in 2002, just down the road in Washington D.C., officials signed an agreement to have a similar event, “The National Grand Prix” held near RFK Stadium for the next 10 years, but it was canceled after one year, after complaints from neighbors about the noise.

Residents of Kingman Park, “infuriated by three days of overwhelming noise during last year’s event,” presented the DC sports commission with a petition signed by about 90 residents who opposed having the Grand Prix in their neighborhood, hired a publicist and filed a lawsuit.

“The community was being exploited,” Frazer Walton Jr. told the Post.

$100K Check to Community Groups

The difference in Baltimore could stem from the efforts of race organizers and city officials to include neighborhoods, early on, in discussion about the race.

It’s a strategy referenced in the study, which includes some observations about why Long Beach, Calif. and Denver, despite running races with similarly loud cars, had “no complaints about noise from race cars!!”

“Why?” the study asks, going on to list some reasons: “Community expectations well-managed – they know in advance. The event occurs only once per year. Home rental may be lucrative. It’s exciting for race enthusiasts.”

Another possible reason for the silence about noise in Baltimore? The race organizers last month cut a $100,000 check for the nine neighborhoods surrounding the race course.

Last week Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (in blue) presented a ceremonial $100,000

Last week Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (in blue) presented a ceremonial $100,000 "mitigation" check to communities affected by the race. (Photo by Baltimore Business Journal)

The biggest slice ($18,000) went to the Ridgley’s Delight Association. Harborwalk Townhouse Association, Harborway East Condo Association, Harborway Condo Association and the Otterbein Community Association each shared $12,500.

Rounding out the list are Federal Hill Neighborhood Association ($10,000), Sharp-Leadenhall Planning Council ($10,000), Federal Hill Main Street ($6,000) and Pigtown Main Street ($6,000).

The money comes from the Community Impact Mitigation Fund, which is part of the agreement between the city and Baltimore Racing Development LLC, the organizers of the race. The funds are supposed to go to neighborhood beautification projects.

Festival of Speed – and Sound

If the roar of the cars’ high-performance engines is what attracts some to racing, they’ll be treated to beaucoup decibels this weekend, according to what appears to be a Power Point presentation on the race noise study.

Using sound recorded at the Long Beach Grand Prix race as a reference, the study comes up with projected sounds levels at about a dozen locations along the course that will be winding through Baltimore’s city streets.

The study authors come up with a range of maximum noise levels during the big race, including, at the low end, 95 decibels near the Babe Ruth Museum around Dover St. and, on the high end, 118 decibels across from the Maryland Science Center, near the hairpin turn at Light St.

It’s hard to say precisely what spectators’ experience of these sounds will be, since these are maximums. The study gives lower readings for “loud hour” averages –  at the corner of Paca and Russell streets, for example, that would be 109 decibels.

The race is scheduled for more than a loud hour: it runs between 2:46 p.m. and 4:46 p.m., according to the schedule, and goes for 75 laps.

For more context, here are some reference points from the NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

  • 110 Decibels – Regular exposure of more than 1 minute risks permanent hearing loss.
  • 100 Decibels – No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure recommended.
  • 85 Decibels – Prolonged exposure to any noise at or above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss.

To put these sound levels in further perspective, the study includes measurements of the existing noise levels in the various spots studied along the race route. The South Paca Street spot, for example, came in at 70 decibels.

No Church This Sunday

The only place where any noise discussion has surfaced is the Old Otterbein Church. In June, church officials talked to The Daily Record about their concern over the effects of race vibrations on the church, including its crystal chandelier, hung in 1897.

Baltimore Racing official Lonnie Fisher told the Record that “a regular 18-wheel truck” that rolls by the church is tougher on the building. City Councilman William H. Cole IV, in whose district the race is being run, said his visit to Long Beach for the Toyota Grand Prix proved to him that the noise will be “tolerable.”

“It’s a really loud hum, but they don’t create vibration,” Cole told the Record’s Rachel Bernstein. “They go by so fast, you don’t even feel them.”

According to the study’s examination of noise-induced vibration effects, they will be “minimal.”

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