On a quiet residential street near Arlington Blvd, cars can be heard accelerating as they turn a corner, with their aftermarket exhaust giving off a loud “roar.”
Meanwhile, near Columbia Pike, cars rev up and drag race on S. Columbus Street by Wakefield High School.
“I’m eight stories up — not at street level, so to speak — so maybe you expect the noise to dissipate,” Betsy Thomassen tells ARLnow. “It’s Wednesday, and it’s happened five to six times… it’s just incredibly loud and a nuisance. In my condo, my furniture sometimes vibrates. That’s kind of incredible really.”
According to residents who have spoken to ARLnow, and who’ve posted on social media sites like Facebook and Nextdoor, there been a surge in modified cars speeding through neighborhoods. Some residents say the uptick is particularly bad along the Columbia Pike corridor and in the Clarendon area, and along the highways that crisscross the county.
“Anywhere there’s a corridor, you have high performance cars,” said Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association President David Cheek, who even compiled a video, below, of modified cars roaring through his neighborhood. “It’s really rude to accelerate in an area with a lot of people, in a loud car, but there’s a ‘do whatever you want’ mentality.”
After nearly a year of receiving more complaints than usual, the County Board is preparing to take a number of steps to mitigate noise in Arlington and enforce noise maximums on cars and motorcycles, according to Board member Takis Karantonis.
One avenue members are pursuing is via the state legislature. The Board aims to have something on their legislative agenda for the next regular session in January, Karantonis said. They’re also looking to train police officers to engage drivers in conversations and get them to change their attitudes.
“I think that the County Board as a whole is interested in a way to enforce and discourage overwhelmingly noisy motoring in Arlington, especially in neighborhoods,” he said.
Diagnosing the problem
A lot of the especially noisy cars are running aftermarket exhaust systems made for racing, Cheek said. He theorizes that with extra time on their hands during the pandemic, more folks got interested in car modifications.
There is an entire, sophisticated industry around these mufflers, but there is very little regulation, Karantonis said, adding that he understands that modified cars sell like hotcakes in motoring and touring fairs.
One reader told ARLnow that the new noise isn’t always associated with higher speeds.
“They often ‘sound’ as though they are also speeding, yet I’ve seen several that are loud, but didn’t appear to be speeding,” one said. “I suspect that those nature of the modifications.”
As a car and motorcycle enthusiast, Cheek said he understands the appeal of modifying a vehicle and wanting to enjoy it.
“I feel for them,” he said. “But they have to understand there are a lot of people who’re upset about it — on Columbia Pike and in Clarendon — and that it’s not fair to everyone else.”
He added that noise pollution “isn’t just annoying — it impacts your mental health, and it actually affects your life.”
Karantonis said there are a few paths on the table, from enacting legislation to educating drivers.
Legislative action will be somewhat tricky, in part because a new state law went into effect in March that says police officers cannot initiate a traffic stop for, among other things, loud mufflers. The code still allows drivers to be ticketed for noise if they were pulled over for a violation such as speeding.
The law, sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), was passed to reduce racial disparities in traffic stops, as some police officers historically used pretextual reasons — such as a loud car or expired tags — to pull over residents and search their cars.
Locally, a police reform group found that reducing traffic stops would likely reduce the number of negative conflicts between the police and people of color in Arlington, and as a result, the county is installing more traffic cameras to enforce driving laws without creating possibly dangerous police encounters.
“We are asking our legislators for advice and guidance to make clear what is our goal, and what are some of the unwanted consequences of taking away the enforcement completely, as it is today,” Karantonis said. “You will see something on this with the Board’s legislative agenda at some point in November, beginning of December, but we have to find the best and the most effective way to get an amendment there, so that our law enforcement here will have something to work with that is effective, without the downsides of having traffic stops that are biased.”
Hope tells ARLnow that he is open to amending the law, in order to strike the proper balance between necessary law enforcement and eliminating “pretextual” traffic stops.
“We need to understand if this is related to speed, which needs to be enforced, or if it’s an emission issue, and see if we need to make an amendment to the law,” he said.
Hope said he has asked constituents to report where and when they’re hearing exhaust, to see if there is an uptick from after the legislation passed.
“Because I’ve asked for complaints to come to my office, I’ve heard a lot more about it, mainly around I-66 and Route 50, and people seem to think speeding involved,” he said.
For Cheek, speeding is a top concern. He said that the noise often comes with higher speeds and an aggressive driving style in residential areas that makes his neighbors feel unsafe to have their kids playing outside.
“You can hear people hitting 100 miles on Route 50, you can hear people full open throttle on Wilson Blvd,” he said. “This is all about family and pedestrian safety. My number one thing is safety.”
A possible amendment that would allow for some kind of enforcement is welcome news to Thomassen. She said that after taking the temperature of neighbors through conversations in-person and online, she sent notes to the County Board and reached out to Del. Hope, but hadn’t gotten many answers.
“Wherever we go, we get stonewalled,” she said.
Finding other solutions
Legislation alone will not solve the problem, according to Karantonis.
“Civic persuasion and soft measures will have to be in place as well,” he said.
He noted that in Canada, a trained specialist works with the police department so that if police come into contact with the driver of a modified car they can try try and persuade them to change their attitude. In Arlington’s sister city in Germany, Karantonis said he watched a specialized police patrol arbitrarily stop cars, ask drivers to follow officers to a noise-measuring unit, where the car’s noise levels are measured and a ticket could be issued.
“This is very complicated,” Karantonis admitted, suggesting that the auto modification industry will find a way to work around even this solution.
Here in Arlington, Hope said the complaints along I-66 and Route 50 may be higher because there is a shortage of state police to enforce speeding. But the current special session, which is putting more funding to state police, could “go a long way” toward hiring more deputies to patrol I-66 and other roadways to stop speeders.
In France, meanwhile, there are “noise cameras” that track and immediately ticket those with loud vehicles on city streets.
Nice, #Nantes, #Toulouse and 5 other cities in #France are launching "radars anti-bruit" (noise cameras) to automatically ticket drivers whose vehicles exceed a certain number of decibels on city streets.https://t.co/AccVKZM5Ks pic.twitter.com/OM4isTBy9p
— Taras Grescoe (@grescoe) August 2, 2021
Karantonis said the county is also considering measuring noise levels along arterial streets and roads in general, the way pollution, air quality and traffic are measured. For now there’s no proposal for any type of automated noise enforcement.
“In Arlington, we have certain neighborhoods under permanent noise stress, living close to I-66, I-395,” he said. “We are working with staff to find whether it makes sense to do that.”
In loving memory of Joseph Robert Kapacziewski, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 41.
In loving memory of James Stuart Edmonds, who passed away in 2023 at the age of 84.
A man was shot in front of a lounge on Columbia Pike early this morning, continuing a string of violent incidents.
Good Friday evening, Arlington. Today we published articles that were read a total of 17124 times… so far. 📈 Top stories The following are the most-read articles for today —…
YULA’s ultimate frisbee spring season is now open for registration. We offer programs for middle and high schoolers – open to all players, whether they are new or have previous experience.Middle SchoolIn the Middle School league, mixed-gender teams practice once during the week and have games on Sunday afternoons. Spring league is a fun, safe, and positive environment. The season begins mid-March and wraps up with a tournament in early June. There are several options for practice days, so we can often work around schedule conflicts with other sports & activities.High SchoolThe High School program is organized by school of attendance and teams are classified by gender. New players will learn the basics in a supportive, welcoming environment. Experienced players will continue to develop their skills, and enjoy competition with other high school programs. The season concludes with a state level championship tournament in late May.All players are guided by experienced coaches who emphasize sportsmanship and good spirit. Ultimate is a fun sport with great camaraderie!YULA does not want finances to limit anyone from participating. Our middle school program offers a “Pay What You Can” cost structure and our our high school program is offering a $50 discount to new players.Visit our website to register and learn more. Sign up with a friend, but don’t delay, the season starts in March!http://www.yula-ulti.org
The Arlington-Aachen High School exchange is returning this summer and currently accepting applicants.
The sister-city partnership started in 1993 by the Arlington Sister Cities Association, which seeks to promote Arlington’s international profile through a variety of exchanges in education, commerce, culture and the arts. The exchange, scheduled June 17th to July 4th, includes a two-week homestay in Aachen plus three days in Berlin. Knowledge of the German language is not required for the trip.
Former participants have this to say:
_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._
Valentine gifts for someone special or for yourself are here at George Mason University from noon -4pm on February 14, 2023. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Kingsbury Chocolates, find a handmade bag from Karina Gaull, pick up treats from Village