The 161 members of the community message board Quiet D.C. want a little peace. Recently, they’ve wondered if the loud sirens the D.C. police and fire department are using are always necessary. A noise abolitionist who identifies herself as Deborah writes:
The sirens from fire, ambulance, and police vehicles are non-stop and I’m sure many of them are also non-emergency. It seems every month they have a new siren—-louder and more obnoxious than the last, assaulting not just your ears but your body (there is one now that emits vibrations).
D.C. Fire spokesman Pete Piringer says he agrees that District sirens are overused: “If we didn’t have so many fires and sick patients, we wouldn’t have to use them at all,” he quips. But Piringer says the sirens are never flipped on for the heck of it. “Legally, we can only use them when responding to emergencies,” he says.
If wanting to shush an ambulance siren seems peculiar or selfish, it’s still understandable; they’re definitely ear-aching. Other, more typical gripes found on the community board include stuff like barking dogs and banging construction projects, the sort of noise pollution that can get to anyone. One poster, though, has been haunted by a sound that most people don’t even notice: “I’m planning on writing a nice letter to my neighbor about the 4′ tall wind chimes they have put up (one floor below my bedroom window),” writes Dave.
“Someone’s wonderful noise can actually drive a person another person off a cliff,” Quiet D.C. founder Bill Adler says of the chime complaint. Adler (who once wrote for Washington City Paper) and his wife started the message board in 2003 after being assaulted by various urban noises in their Cleveland Park Victorian. Adler’s current enemies are leaf blowers, which seem to be coming to his neighborhood “in herds.” He wants a total ban, though he knows some of his neighbors would object.
One way of solving such problems, Adler believes, is negotiation. He’d like to see the District open a “noise mediation office,” he says. Adler imagines that the office would help take pressure off police when it comes to say, squabbles over the tinkling of wind chimes, by acting like a small claims court. But at this point, Adler isn’t actively campaigning for the innovation.
In lieu of such an office, D.C. law caps most noise at about 60 decibels. Though he says he hasn’t used it yet, Adler keeps a “decibel app” on his iPhone.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery