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Whose 'rights' have priority?
Karen Owen's op-ed column on noise, compromise, and our rights in America.

Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 2/24/2013

By Karen Owen

BEFORE MOVING to our lovely, quiet abode in the city of Fredericksburg, my husband and I lived in a high-rise building overlooking Monroe Park in Richmond, right on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, and within easy eyesight of the city street that is both U.S. 1 and 301.

When we moved to our condo, we joked that we could hardly have chosen a more "downtown" location.

When it was not raining, or when temperatures soared to the 50s, or when VCU was in session, noise was an issue. The homeless on park benches, the students walking to their dorms, and the not entirely up-and-up patrons of the gas station/convenience store behind our building--conducting "businesses" of different sort--could be heard talking loudly, shouting, or jumping skateboards during all hours of the day and night.

Drivers often parked their vehicles on Franklin Street without turning off the ignition, their engines and sound systems, making the windows rattle.

It was an adjustment for us suburbanites, but a strategically placed white-noise machine on my bedside table helped us to cope. When a fire engine or an ambulance drove by, sirens blaring, we reached a point where we didn't even notice.

By far the worst offenders in the cacophony--Richmond claimed to have a noise ordinance--were the small, high-decibel, high-speed (always!) motorcycles whose drivers work overtime to never miss an opportunity to make the maximum amount of noise. The revving-up just before and soon after the light changed to green could set one's teeth on edge.

These motorcyclists were often a hazard--to other vehicles, pedestrians, and to themselves. Drivers lost control of their conveyances, rear-ending parked vehicles on the street. On at least one occasion, an out-of-control driver lost his life through no fault but his own.


So, yes, we had a noise ordinance but apparently it was unenforceable. Conversations with police--all of whom seemed sympathetic to the plight of someone seeking a good night's sleep--indicated that other methods than ticketing drivers were preferable to control speed and noise on city streets.

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