• Startup founder: City center uniquely suited to noise camera system
  • Church breathing new life into old Royal Fork
  • With new lights, Old Town flags can stay up all the time.

Startup founder: City center uniquely suited to noise camera system
Just a few months have passed since the City Council approved a bill aiming to bring noise cameras - the auditory equivalent of speed or red light cameras - to Albuquerque streets. It's an idea that has been tried in New York City, London, and Longmont, Colorado, among other places, but it turns out one expert on the emerging technology lives right here at home.

He is Nicholas Ferenchak, a UNM professor in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, and he says Greater Downtown's streets are "probably the best suited out of the entire metro region" for the noise camera system his fledgling company is developing.

The company, Not-A-Loud, was born of Ferenchak's frustration over the cacophony generated by street racing near his home in the foothills. He hopes his system will be among those tested in the noise camera pilot program ordered by the recent legislation.

Not-A-Loud's system combines several solar-powered components that could be placed strategically at an intersection or along a road. A "certified" sound-level monitor constantly measures noise to a degree of accuracy meant to stand up in court, Ferenchak said. When the monitor detects noise above a set decibel level, it activates the other components:

  • Up to six additional microphones spread around the immediate area to pinpoint the source of the sound, much as hearing a penny drop with two ears helps us determine where exactly the coin hit the floor.
  • One or more backup sound level monitors.
  • Another mic dedicated to producing an audio recording of the sound.
  • A camera that takes a picture of the license plate.
  • A wide-angle camera to take pictures of the broader scene. 
The resulting data could be processed by software already on the market, Ferenchak said, but if his company is chosen for the city's pilot program, it will analyze the results manually.

A local government initiating a sound camera program could choose a system, purchase equipment, and operate it on its own, Ferenchak said, or it could contract with the producer to run things. The cost of installing and operating a sound camera system is one of many aspects of the technology that is still being figured out.

Ferenchak's system is still in its infancy and not ready to digest the mass of noise data generated at major traffic centers like Montgomery and Wyoming. But picking out an offending car on Greater Downtown's relatively narrow streets that in all but a few cases have only two lanes "would be perfect," he said.

Ferenchak's particular technological method for capturing the information is one of two he is aware of, he said. The other approach is built around acoustic cameras, devices often used to locate worrisome noises in factories and even in car engines.

Acoustic camera systems are based on a diffused array of as many as sixty microphones, Ferenchak said. They measure the sound coming from many directions and produce a sort of audio handscape painting of the location and intensity of noises in a given area. Because acoustic systems require lots of power, they must be mounted where they can be wired directly into the electric grid, he said.

Ferenchak's system relies on the certified noise level monitor, plus an audio recording and cameras to photograph the offending vehicle. Because his units run on solar, he said, they can be placed in many more locations.

Informal testing of the Not-A-Loud system around Albuquerque has not produced much hard data so far, Ferenchak stressed, but it has generated some food for thought.

For one thing, he said, very loud cars aren't that common. On a major arterial over the course of an hour, just 15 to 20 vehicles will actually go above 80 decibels, the city's maximum allowable nighttime limit for an automobile. Most cars produce a "perfectly fine'' 60 to 65 decibels, Ferenchak said. That sound level is comparable to that of a typical conversation or a quiet vacuum cleaner.

Whatever the exact number of loud vehicles turns out to be, "it's honestly a pretty low percentage" Ferenchak said, adding that "it doesn't take a lot to really cause a disturbance."

Not-A-Loud's informal street-side work has also allowed Ferenchak to form an untested hunch about the vehicles most responsible for the noise problem. Vehicles loud enough to trigger his equipment, Ferenchak said, typically appeared to be modified exhaust (no-muffler) cars that seemed to have a "street racing look," even if they weren't street racing at the time. No car stereo system or low-rider car has ever triggered the equipment, he said.

—By David Lee
Church breathing new life into old Royal Fork
TOP: The fork-shaped sign has become something of a landmark. BOTTOM: Inside, the congregation faces east. City Center Church
Center City Church has for years taken a certain pride in occupying unusual locations, and their latest certainly makes the cut.

Worshipers now convene at the former Royal Fork Buffet - the building at Fourth and Coal that has become something of a landmark thanks to the large, unmissable fork sign out front.

Founded 20 years ago as a community dedicated to being Downtown, Center City senior pastor Spencer Brown said its former meeting places have included a one-time death metal music venue on Central and, most recently, one of Fusion Theatre's performance spaces.

A key driver of the church's latest move was avoiding the weekly setup and tear-down task necessary to make room for the many other events held at Fusion, Brown said. Leaders of Center City, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of America, were glad to find a place even closer to the Downtown core on one of many walks they'd taken to hunt for space. Another attraction was being closer to both an established residential neighborhood (Barelas) and to multi-family housing.

Locating in Albuquerque's center first interested the 20-year-old congregation's founders because they noticed other churches had moved away and felt "that there's a need for churches Downtown," Brown said. Even Center City moved out for several years when it couldn't find a suitable location, but later it returned to its original territory, attracted partly by ongoing revitalization efforts.

While Center City is leasing just part of the building, which also houses six condos, there's still plenty of space to work with, Brown said. The congregation is occupying what used to be a salon.

"We turned the shampoo room into a nursery. Other than that, we've just done some decorating" in the worship space, he said. The church's services are built around music, preaching, and this more unusual feature: The two pastors share their preaching role with unordained church leaders.

The Royal Fork was once part of a chain of 48 low-cost, high-volume eateries located in twelve western states and Canada. Most if not all appear to have closed. Albuquerque's buffet seems to have opened in the late sixties and operated for about fifteen years, meaning that fork sign has been standing there without an accompanying restaurant for about four decades.

"We have church members who remember eating there as kids," Brown said, who added that among the hundred or so worshippers who typically gather on a Sunday morning, there's a "really good blend of ages."

As far as the future of the iconic sign, there's been some talk about how to use it for church purposes but also "in a way to preserve some historical elements," he added. Nothing definite, he added, is yet in the works.

—By David Lee
With new lights, Old Town flags can stay up all the time
The city recently installed four special directional lights on Old Town Plaza, including the one seen here emerging out of the base of a pre-existing street lamp. 
The lights are trained on the plaza's famous five flags because protocol dictates that the American flag at least must be illuminated if it is displayed at night. For the last 50-or-so years, however, there were no lights, so the family behind Treasure House Books and Gifts took care of raising the flags every morning and lowering them every evening.

That was mainly a project of Jim Hoffsis, who died in late 2021 (DAN, 10/19/21). His son, John Hoffsis, continued the tradition on his own for about a year before asking the city, which runs the plaza as a park, to figure out a new situation.
Downtown Albuquerque News covers Downtown, Old Town, and surrounding neighborhoods. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. Click here to subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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