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Sunday, May 29, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Muffler noise; crossing yellow lines

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dear Reader


Got a traffic-related question or comment? E-mail bumper@seattletimes.com or call Charles E. Brown at 206-464-2206. Please include your name and city if you agree to publication.

Q: Contrary to what your ears might lead you to believe, there is a law against loud mufflers, whether they've been modified or not. Ed McKee of Puyallup questions whether the law is ever enforced.

"It seems that many small cars and pickup truck owners in my area have redone the muffler system to the extreme, [and] that causes the vehicle to roar at nerve-wracking decibels, causing ordinary drivers to endure ear-splitting noise that is unnecessary and alarming," he said. "Is this legal?"

A: State law requires mufflers at all times, and they can't be modified to be any louder than the original. The noise level, by law, cannot exceed 95 decibels. But, as Christine Fox of the State Patrol notes, gauging how loud is too loud may be the tricky part.

The vehicle noise-monitoring program was transferred from the State Patrol to the state Department of Ecology several years ago, she said. There is no routine, mandatory muffler noise test.

Local jurisdictions can determine how loud is too loud. But not all have a decibel meter. In fact, a lot of area muffler shops say they don't, either. Some car-stereo shops may have decibel meters.

Fox says the State Patrol or any other law-enforcement agency can issue warning notices for loud mufflers.

The best way to report a questionable muffler, Fox said, is to call your local law-enforcement agency. "But, like any other equipment violation," she added, "the officer needs to witness it."

Q: Seattle resident María Howard and her husband, Terry Howard, have been at odds about the legality of making a U-turn in an arterial street with two yellow lines. "He says it is against the law; I say it is not, as long as the two yellow lines in the center of the road have breaks in them. Who is right?"

A: Neither of you gets the prize, says Katherine Casseday, the Seattle Transportation Department's traffic-management director. A double, solid-yellow center line indicates "no passing."

It is legal to cross such a line to turn left, including U-turns, she said. A wider center-barrier stripe is used to restrict left turns or U-turns.

Casseday said both Seattle and state laws are clear that drivers may make U-turns when they can be completed safely and without interfering with other traffic. A U-turn may not be made on a curve or near the crest of a hill, unless the turning vehicle can be seen by the drivers of all other vehicles within 500 feet.

Where no turn is permitted, signs are typically posted.

Q: Some bus riders are confused by a disparity in fares between King County's Metro Transit and the regional Sound Transit system. "Patrons don't know what's going on, especially between Bellevue and Seattle," said Bellevue resident Duncan Robertson.

The fare used to be a quarter for seniors from Bellevue to Seattle. Then it was fifty cents. But upon boarding a bus recently, he says, he was told by the driver that because it was a Sound Transit bus (Route 550), the fare was $1 for seniors.

"What's the story?"

A: For more than four years the fares for Sound Transit's Route 550, the Bellevue-Seattle express, were lower than for other Sound Transit routes because that route had replaced a lower-priced Metro Transit route. The Metro fare for seniors had been a quarter during off-peak hours and 50 cents for peak hours.

But Sound Transit raised the fare nearly four months ago to make Route 550 the same as all other Sound Transit routes: $1 for seniors; $2 full fare.

Sound Transit spokesman Lee Somerstein said the agency had kept the Metro fare in place with the understanding that the route would change to ST Express fares once significant service improvements were made. Since then, Sound Transit has added 75 trips a week and better buses.

However, Sound Transit will raise fares Wednesday, and that will boost the senior fare again. The new fare will be $1.25 for seniors and the disabled.

The agency justifies the increase, its first since 1999, because of inflation and rising fuel costs.

Bumper note

• Sound Transit's fare increase Wednesday may affect passengers who transfer between Metro and Sound Transit buses. Metro Transit's fares are not changing. A Metro transfer will be worth $1.50 toward an adult fare on Sound Transit Express buses.

• Starting Saturday, Seattle's downtown transit tunnel will be closed on Saturdays, in addition to regular Sunday closures, to allow tunnel work in preparation for light rail. Buses are being moved to the street.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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