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Shawnee Protest Ride

Written by  May 31, 2005

They called it the Weenie ride to Shawnee City Hall to express opposition to the city’s consideration of a new noise ordinance that would specifically target motorcycles. Shawnee Cycle Plaza owner Barry Bunner, organizer of the ride, was hoping to get 100 motorcycles, but nearly 500 motorcyclists from throughout the area took the May 17 event to heart.

Their presence at the city council committee meeting that night, as well as at the city’s council meeting May 23 apparently had an affect. The Shawnee City Council unanimously voted not to pursue looking into creating a new noise ordinance for the city.

Bunner said he was pleased with the outcome of the council’s decision, adding that if the city had adopted the proposed new ordinance, it would have severely affected his business and could have caused him to shut his doors or even move from Shawnee.

“I would say, yes, it (the decision) turned out good,” he said. “I think there is strength in numbers, and there was a lot of publicity surrounding the event. And even after all the publicity, the two original people who complained, and two additional people came up to talk in favor of the new ordinance.

“We had 700 bikers supporting the existing ordinance.” Bunner said he understood the city possibly was considering a new ordinance that would have set a higher decimal standard for excessive noise and would have required vehicles to not alter exhaust systems.

“That’s a wide range,” Bunner said. “There are a lot of motorcycles that are not too loud, but their exhausts have been altered. What really got me about this was the fact they were looking specifically at motorcycles.”

But what Bunner, and nearly 500 of his closest motorcycling friends thought, wasn’t even close to becoming a reality, according to Shawnee Mayor Jeff Meyers. Meyers has been on the council the past nine years, and is in his first term as mayor. He said the council never considered a new ordinance, and that a lot of misinformation had surrounded the issue.

“Our noise ordinance is as adequate as anywhere else,” Meyers said. “What happened was is that a resident in Shawnee wanted to come to a meeting and make a statement about noise, and the noise he was complaining about mentioned and targeted motorcycles as being one of the main complaints around his home.

“It got out into the public that a guy had come before the council wanting us to change the noise ordinance. A gal who used to be on the council, and has one of the city’s motorcycle businesses as a client, or wants the business as a client, thought it would be a great way to get advertising and get people riled up.”
Meyers said misinformation, such as motorcyclists getting ticketed with $400 fines quickly began circulating throughout the biker community.

“People were getting some bad information,” he said. “None of that was ever brought up. The committee listened to people and then voted not to change the existing ordinance.”

Meyers said in the nine years he’s been on the council, “I’ve had less than a handful of complaints about noise, so why would we want to create a new noise ordinance? We wanted to assure the motorcycle community that we are not going to change the ordinance, and we are not going to target motorcycles.”

“For me, it was a pretty easy decision in my mind. This was blown out of proportion because of two reasons: one as an advertising ploy, and because there was so much misinformation out there.”

Bunner agreed that such an ordinance would have negatively affected his and other motorcycle businesses in Shawnee.

“Had they passed the ordinance, it would cut us off from people riding their motorcycles to our dealership if they have altered exhausts. It would send a message to motorcyclists in general that they are not welcomed in Shawnee, and anything negative in today’s business world is devastating to small businesses.”

Meyers said the council does not want that to happen. “The motorcycle community is a close-knit group, and they didn’t want the council creating a noise ordinance targeting them that would not allow them to ride their motorcycles in the city limits,” he said.

“There are some motorcycle shops here that are well known in the Kansas City area, and why would we want to do that to ourselves? “We want to invite motorcycle riders to come to Shawnee and spend their money on motorcycles or equipment.”

Meyers said the city did a study on decimal readings in 1994 to see if that could be the basis for a noise ordinance. “But that doesn’t work,” he said. “It won’t hold up in court. I used one of the readers and blew air out of my mouth and it measured 120. If you’re 35 feet from a car or motorcycle and the wind is blowing hard, is that going to have an affect on a decimal reader? “Yes it would, and it easily would be thrown out of court.”

Bunner said it doesn’t disagree with people who complain about loud motorcycles, or car exhausts, or even loud radios in the early morning hours. “I might be in agreement with them, but when two or three percent of the motorcycle population is causing the problem, you don’t attack 100 percent of the motorcycle population.”

Meyers couldn’t agree more, but added that the police have to be in the right place at the right time to cite someone for excessive noise. “It’s just like catching someone speeding,” he said. “The police have to be there to catch them. People complain about people speeding, but the police can’t be on every corner. Bunner began working at Shawnee Cycle Plaza as a parts manager in 1978. He purchased the business in 1990. “I was really happy so many motorcycles showed up,” he said. “I was hoping to get 100 and we ended up with more than 400. We were on all four news stations and in three newspapers. We got a lot of publicity.”

Bunner said he had talked to all the Shawnee council members prior to the committee meeting on May 17. “I got a favorable response from everyone,” he said. “I think all of them understood. Councilman Neal Sawyer said he was concerned that the noise ordinance that is in place now is not being enforced. “My position is that it’s not a noise problem.”

Before the May 17 ride to city hall got under way, Bobby Smith, ABATE District 5 representative, said it was important for motorcycle riders to come together. “It’s about personal freedom,” he said. “Because one person complained, the Shawnee City Council is considering enacting a noise ordinance that would allow police to ticket anyone riding a motorcycle who doesn’t have stock pipes on their bike.

“So not only will you have to spend $1,000 on engine adjustments in order to get stock pipes back on your bike, but the ticket will cost you $400.”

Riders converged on Shawnee Cycle Plaza, 13010 Shawnee Mission Parkway. It was one of three motorcycle businesses sponsoring the ride to Shawnee City Hall. The others were Central Harley-Davidson in Western Shawnee, and Alter Ego Cycle Shop in downtown Shawnee.

Motorcyclists began arriving at 5 p.m. While they waited, there were petitions to sign, hot dogs to eat, and soda to drink, compliments of the three sponsoring motorcycle stores.

At about 6:10 p.m., Bunner used a bullhorn to begin addressing the group. “We’re going to be leaving in a few minutes, and I know some people will have the urge to hit the throttle,” he said. “Please resist all temptations to do that. We don’t want to give the opposition any ammunition.

“This has to be a quiet and peaceful protest. It is extremely important that we show strength for our cause, and it is extremely important that we idle past city hall.”

The riders started their bikes and began lining up while a television news helicopter circled above. They rode to the city hall in broken groups to minimize traffic flow interruptions.

The bikers parked throughout the downtown area in front of and near Shawnee City Hall, and then converged inside for the city committee meeting. It was standing room only and the crowd overflowed out the doors and onto the steps of city hall.

“It was just important for them the city to see and hear that the entire motorcycle population shouldn’t be penalized because of a few,” Bunner said. “I think our voices were heard.”

And they were, according to Meyers. “It was impressive,” he said, seeing all the motorcycles. “I have a couple of friends who own Harleys, and I pulled up along side them on my way to city hall. They asked me if I wanted an escort, and I said, 'Sure!’

“Before the meeting, I went out into the parking lot. I was wearing my shirt and tie, and someone said, “You don’t look like one of us, what are you doing out here?” I told them I just wanted to look at all the bikes. It was almost like being at a bike show.”

Meyers said despite the misinformation, the publicity will be beneficial. “I think that now there is an awareness that Shawnee police will be more attentive to noise problems,” he said. “And I think that is what the people (of Shawnee) want. People just have to use common sense.

“One noise problem that is a greater nuisance than anything are the high school kids with the loud speakers in their cars, blaring with heavy bass. People like that will have to be more careful because the police are going to be more sensitive to that and probably write a few more tickets.”

Story and photos by Chuck Kurtz