- A DCA jet roars above cyclists four decades ago. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The District's skies are alive with the buzz of aircraft. In a city full of the wealthy and powerful, the travel-crazy, the military, and the dignified, planes and helicopters constantly move across the skyways far above our heads. How many times have we been in the midst of a conversation while walking through D.C. and found ourselves having to pause due to a jet roaring over us? It's happened to me more than a few times as aircraft races to the Pentagon, to Reagan National Airport, to Dulles, and elsewhere.
And the frustration over plane noise is nothing new — in 1969, an article in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists even advocated closing DCA and instituting rapid transit to connect D.C. residents with the Dulles airport.
The May 1969 article, aptly entitled "Environmental Noise Pollution: A New Threat to Sanity," blasts the ongoing problem of noise from cars and airplanes, trucks and motorcycles. Anti-noise laws had begun developing through the 1960s, such as in California where vehicles were limited to 86 decibels in 1967. "The future of our cities depends in no small measure on how successful we are in reducing traffic noise and congestion," The Bulletin boldly declares. Well, D.C., it's 42 years later. Have we succeeded?
But what really bothers the author of the piece is all the noise from airplanes. In 1969, there were, he reports, close to 1,200 jet airliners and around 100,000 private planes. The FAA had struggled to establish "noise control procedures at some airports" but couldn't quite figure out how to quiet most of them down. One such procedure affected the D.C. National Airport, at which the FAA required planes to fly 1,500 feet above the ground in order to alleviate all the noise. But as the Bulletin notes, this method simply "spread the noise around to other communities." "Central Washington is still bombarded by the constant roar of jets, and communities such as Georgetown are now directly under the flight path," the author laments. "Why should residents of Georgetown be subjected to this noise while congressmen on Capitol Hill [where no planes can fly over] are protected from this din?"
In 1969, here was the answer: "Close Washington National Airport." The article points that Dulles is rarely used because it's just too far. What do we need? High-speed rail service! Apparently the Silver Line was anticipated before Metro even opened its lines. If people could easily get to Dulles, the piece reasons, then there's no need to deal with all the roaring jets that bothered Washington, D.C. back in the halcyon days of 1969.
Oh, what a dream. Read the screed against our nation's terrible noise pollution here:
Read more pieces of Metro history here.