BELFAST, Maine — The bikers may have come into the City Council meeting Tuesday night ready for a debate and wearing their leathers, a lot of Harley-Davidson gear, mirrored sunglasses and do-rags.
But most left wreathed in smiles after city councilors decided to back off their crackdown on motorcycle noise. The decision came after councilors heard many impassioned comments from the public, most of which urged the city not to put up the controversial signs asking bikers to ride quietly through the downtown.
The decision at the last regular council meeting to install the signs — as well as an offhand comment by Councilor Roger Lee asking if it might be possible to keep motorcycles off certain streets — had caused a furor among motorcycle riders who said they felt singled out by the city. Some even called for a boycott of downtown Belfast and stated, incorrectly, that they believed councilors had moved to ban motorcycles.
But the bad feelings seemed to have changed Tuesday night, according to Dan Murphy, who organized a Facebook page for the boycott.
“I think it’s a positive step in the right direction,” he said outside Belfast City Hall. “As far as I’m concerned, the boycott can go away.”
Council chambers seemed to be filled with 20 or so motorcycle enthusiasts. One who spoke about the controversy was Chris Knight of Belfast, who said that some of the hurt feelings might stem from a sense among some longtime Belfast residents that they don’t have a voice in the city anymore.
“I think this is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said, adding that the signs matter to him. “It’s more of a boycott of people saying, hey, our rights are being taken away. The signs aren’t good for this community. I’d feel like I’m profiled.”
Another motorcycle rider whose words fired up the crowd was Phil Brown of Belfast, who said that he has put a lot of miles under his two wheels in 70-something years.
“It’s a very, very small group that makes all the noise,” he said. “We’re being discriminated against, and so are truckers. I guess I’m getting so old I don’t care. I don’t think a boycott is the answer. I don’t think antagonizing the people who live here is the answer. It doesn’t behoove us.”
Resident Tony Kulik stood up to say that he would like the city to have less unnecessary noise.
“I didn’t complain about the motorcycles,” he said. “I complained about the noise. The law said the bikes shouldn’t be loud, and not all of them are. It’s a matter of the law.”
Many of the councilors responded positively to the concerns of the bikers, including Lee, who explained that he was just thinking out loud when he asked the question about keeping bikes off the streets.
“You made some change just by showing up,” he said. “This council listens. We will try to do the right thing, but if we don’t hear from you, we can’t.”
He said that he thought they had a valid point with their dislike of the pointed signs.
“We shouldn’t be discriminating against motorcycles,” he said.
Councilor Mike Hurley said that he understands how they don’t want to be singled out by signs — but added that the boycott “really ticked me off.”
“What did downtown Belfast do to you that you think you could take all those businesses … hostage?” he asked the bikers in the crowd. “Do I think you should be ashamed of yourselves for taking those businesses hostage? Yes. I do. I do want to see that boycott pulled.”
Many in the audience as well as councilors said that instead of signs aimed at motorcycle riders, the city would leave enforcement of the state’s noise ordinance laws to local police officers.
Chief Mike McFadden said after the meeting that he thought the attention paid recently to the issue of motorcycle noise is positive.
“I think this is a big step in the right direction,” he said.