Chronic and daily exposure to excessive sound from street performers is impacting residents and workers throughout the city. Those impacted can offer numerous, consistent, and specific examples of how these excessive sound levels affect their everyday lives, health, and well-being. These individuals and businesses are seeking a thoughtful, enforceable, and balanced approach to address the issue of excessive sound.

The advent of COVID-19 has changed the culture of work and social interaction in the District. For many residents, during the day their homes are now their place of business. At the same time, outside the home, crowds are now discouraged to avoid the spread of the virus, which impacts the potential audiences for street performers. Once our city begins to return to whatever the new “normal” may be, there is every indication that in addition to office workers many residents will continue to work either full- or part-time from their homes. As a result, the need to address the issue of excessive sound levels is of greater importance than ever.

Washingtonians have regularly documented street performers exceeding sound levels of 100 decibels, for usually hours at a time. For comparison, 100 decibels is similar to the volume of:

▪️ Jet take-off
▪️ Motorcycles
▪️ Farm tractors
▪️ Jackhammers
▪️ Trash truck – crushing a load
▪️ Car alarm
▪️ Fire truck/ambulance/police sirens
▪️ Capital One Center (formerly Verizon) – Hockey game after a Caps goal is scored
▪️ Nationals – after a home run with a full park
▪️ Washington Football Team – after a touchdown – with a full stadium 

Below are a few examples of how excessive volume from street performers impacts health care providers, businesses, and District residents.

Becky, DC Public School Teacher

“I have no problem with street performers performing in the city, and often enjoy the music they are playing. But the amplified bands that play for hours on end on the corner near my apartment have caused me to change my daily routines and work schedule. As a DC public school teacher, I generally have several hours of work at night in support of my students. I have to work wearing noise cancelling earphones because I cannot concentrate over the unbearably loud volume, and I have on several occasions decided to go out or work elsewhere instead of sitting in my apartment and waiting for the bands to stop playing at 10pm.”

David, Chinatown

“My daughter and I both use wheelchairs and she relies on voiceover software for access to all print materials as she is blind. Despite the fact that we live on one of the higher floors of the building, the street performers below often deploy massive amplifiers set up on poles and run by gas and electric generators. The operation and amplification of this elaborate apparatus turns a street performance into something more akin to a Sensurround stage event. The noise is so significant that our daughter cannot use her software voiceover programs to complete her homework, read, or perform other tasks of daily living.”

Nancy, Therapist, Downtown

“I was with a patient whose three-year-old grandchild had just died from cancer. Her grief was profound. She could barely get the words out to describe her pain. Suddenly loud music blared. Aside from its being so incongruous it was impossible for us to continue the session…Truly, this was a devastating experience to be a therapist unable to help a longstanding patient in pain who was sitting right in front of me because the volume of sound wouldn’t allow us to speak or hear each other.”

Leonard, Woodley Park

“The street performers persistent, blaring music around the Woodley Park Metro station has significantly diminished the quality of life for residents and harmed small business owners by causing diners to avoid outdoor cafes. The amplified music outside the Woodley Park Metro station often exceeds 90 decibels in volume and drowns out the soft music and conversation at these wonderful outdoor cafes, many of which are owned and managed by minority and small business owners. In our apartment, I am very hesitant to invite friends or family over for quiet conversation and meals due to the blaring music.”

Street Performer outside of G. W. University Hospital

Street Performer Performance Audible from Inside Building
John, Physician, Chinatown

“Over the last couple of years, the sound has become too much. I’m a Physician and a lot of times I work overnight. Whenever I’ve been on a long, stressful call, I come back home to rest and I cannot sleep. I can hear the drums, horns, and amplifiers over our TV on the 9th floor perfectly clear. Often all the way up to 10 O’clock at night. After a 72-hour shift, the noise is so loud, and it just does not let you sleep. I have to rest because the next day I’m going back in to work long hours. City sounds don’t bother me one bit and I’m not a light sleeper. But I’ve spent time in Times Square and the noise does not come close to the levels of volume I’m experiencing in my home or on the street.”

Marco, Pod Hotel

“A hotel room is supposed to be a sanctuary and that’s not the case in our situation. We’ve only been open since April 2017, but with the neighborhood becoming more vibrant and new restaurants moving in it seems that the foot traffic increases and along with it the duration and level of noise from musicians and other performers. This is absolutely a concern when it comes to our bottom line. Noise is one of our biggest topics of discussion. Noise is the biggest customer complaint we get.”

ANC2C Resolution No. 104

“The Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C, (“ANC2C”), Advises the Council of the District of Columbia (“COUNCIL”), to Enact Legislation that will establish a reasonable and enforceable standard for the sound level of Street Performers (“BUSKERS”) that ensures their ability to perform for contributions and the rights of Residents, Employees and Businesses to the reasonable use of their homes, work and businesses.”

Doug, Navy Yard (recently relocated to escape noise)

“We were forced to change our kids’ bedtime to accommodate the performances and buy a noise machine to help take the edge off the drum sounds. Despite those countermeasures, our children rarely could sleep during the group’s performances. My wife and I would wait for the group to finish for the night before we went to bed.”

Maura, Chinatown

I am a single mother of a DCPS student. While we love street performers and the vibrancy of the inner city, we have experienced excessive, amplified noise that is routinely at 90 to100 decibels for hours on end, seven days a week. It has noticeably and negatively impacted my child’s physical and mental health, and he is unable to do his homework or get to sleep at a reasonable hour. There are easy fixes for this that accommodate the rights and livelihood of the performers, while still protecting the health and well-being of children. Please help us!

Amplified Street Performance Outside Metro Station
Street Performers Obstructing Pedestrian Walkways

Click here to view more testimonials of how excessive sound is impacting DC businesses, residents and health care providers.

Share your story about how you have been impacted by excessive sound levels from street performers below. 

2021 DC Harmony Coalition