British Columbia

Ban on leaf blowers is rarely enforced, West End residents say, as gas-powered drone continues

A noise bylaw in 2004 prohibited the use of gas-powered leaf blowers within the West End, making it the first neighbourhood in Canada to ban the machines. But the bylaw appears to have been rarely, if ever, enforced since it was enacted.

Vancouver neighbourhood was 1st in Canada to ban the gas-powered machines — but they've never really gone away

Gas-powered leaf blowers have been banned in Vancouver's West End since October 2004, but residents say the noise bylaw is rarely, if ever, enforced. (Kiran Singh/CBC)

Like many, Stephen Wahl started working from home when the pandemic hit. But he didn't expect he would have to reschedule meetings because of one loud culprit: the gas-powered leaf blower. 

Wahl, a real estate agent who lives in Vancouver's West End, says he feels affected by the noise even though he doesn't live near any lawns or parks — and says even hearing them while walking around the neighbourhood is annoying. 

But Wahl shouldn't be hearing them at all, according to a city bylaw that banned gas-powered leaf-blowers in the West End almost 20 years ago.

A noise bylaw in 2004 prohibited their use within the area bounded by Stanley Park, Burrard Street, West Georgia Street and Beach Avenue, making the West End the first neighbourhood in Canada to ban the machines.

Gordon Price, a former Vancouver city councillor who was involved in calling for the ban in 2001, says the proposal was a matter of reducing noise within a densely populated area.

"The argument there was very straightforward, and it wasn't about pollution. It was definitely about noise," Price said, adding that the low frequency sound of the gas-powered leaf blower can be irritating to many.

A city noise bylaw in 2004 prohibited the use of gas-powered leaf blowers within the area bounded by Stanley Park, Burrard Street, West Georgia Street and Beach Avenue, but their use is still allowed in the rest of the city. (Kiran Singh/CBC)

But the bylaw appears to have been rarely, if ever, enforced since it was enacted.

Work-from-home nuisance

That might be changing as the city faces a growing number of complaints from people who find their working days at home disrupted by the noise. 

Long-time West End resident Carste McEmbling says leaf blowers have been nothing but a nuisance since he started working from home during the pandemic.

"If I am on a Zoom call, I make sure to close the windows," he said.

Vancouver Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung says she has seen frustration build over the gas-powered landscaping tool as the city has grown — and has experienced the leaf blowers' wrath herself.

"At the city council we have been doing all of our meetings virtually. ... It can be incredibly difficult to try to hear yourself think, let alone work and participate in a council meeting," she said.

Vancouver Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung said she's been distracted by the noise of leaf blowers while attending virtual council meetings from home. (CBC)

City seeks compliance

According to data from the city, noise complaints concerning leaf blowers this year started pouring in from July. The city has received 41 leaf blower-related noise complaints so far.

The city says once it receives a leaf blower complaint, a staff member will follow up with the complainant to collect as much information as possible, then contact the contractor or operator in question and seek their compliance. 

It did not say whether it has handed out fines since the bylaw was enacted in 2004. 

Wahl says it's frustrating that the city frequently enforces bylaws around parking, for example, but not others that directly affect residents.

Sarah Kirby-Yung's motion calls for a ban of gas-powered gardening tools by 2025. (Kiran Singh/CBC)

Calls for citywide ban

In June, Kirby-Yung presented a motion to council requesting outdoor gas-powered tools be banned citywide by 2025.

She wants gas-powered gardening equipment banned in favour of non-emitting electric alternatives, which are considered quieter.

"This is noise pollution and the impact on livability in the city, as well as the increasingly growing concern around GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions," Kirby-Yung said.

Another city councillor, Adriane Carr, is also calling for a ban by 2025 on the two-stroke gasoline engines found in leaf blowers, hedge trimmers and other power equipment.

Both motions will be heard in a council meeting in January 2022. 

Kiran Singh investigates how this noisy tool returned to a neighbourhood in which it was banned.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kiran Singh is CBC's Surrey pop-up reporter and a story producer with The Early Edition at CBC Radio Vancouver. Reach him at kiran.singh@cbc.ca or @vancitysingh.

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