Ideas that could help reduce noise pollution in Barrhaven

Trains. Planes. Buses. Cars. Lawn mowers. I’m sure you could think of a few more items to add to this list. Let’s face it, if you’re looking for peace and quiet, Barrhaven only offers the former.

We’re located right next to an international airport, host to a major rail corridor and dependent on mass transit for transportation to the inner city. All of these ingredients make our suburban paradise a somewhat noisy place to live. But there may be a few ways to significantly lower the decibel count in our otherwise Utopian community.

Barrhaven plane noise
Can plane noise over Barrhaven be reduced by shifting takeoffs over to the greenbelt?

Barrhaven airplane noise

Lets start with everyone’s favorite source of noise pollution – airplanes. A simple glance at a birds eye view of Barrhaven shows that the east-west runway at MacDonald-Cartier International Airport is perfectly lined up with a large swath of residential properties in Barrhaven. But the map also shows that Barrhaven is surrounded by lots of green space, which begs the question – can planes not be slightly re-routed to fly over the green belt in an effort to cut down on noise pollution.

Turns out, as with most things in life, the devil is in the details.

The western edge of Barrhaven is located 10km from the runway that is lined up over our community. Most commercial aircraft make use of ILS (Instrument Landing Systems) to properly align incoming aircraft with their designated runway, and to ensure a proper glide path for the aircraft’s final approach. ILS communicates with planes at a distance of between 5-20 nautical miles – or as we know it, about 10-36 kilometers. This essentially means that incoming planes cannot be re-routed over the greenbelt because they are already on their designated flight path long before they reach the western edge of Barrhaven. The only consolation is that incoming planes are often less noisy than their outgoing peers. Some studies claim that steeper approaches result in both lower aircraft noise and considerable savings in aviation fuel, but these theories and practices are mostly confined to flight simulators.

Where there might be some room for improvement is airplane takeoffs. Anyone who’s flown in a commercial aircraft knows that once airborne, pilots immediately begin to adjust their trajectory based on their pre-planned flight path. It is therefore theoretically possible for outgoing planes to nudge over to the north a few degrees and channel the majority of their noise pollution over the greenbelt. Given that the bulk of the noise we are subjected to comes from outgoing aircraft, this slight path adjustment on takeoff could result in a significant reduction in noise pollution over our community.

Another avenue for aircraft noise reduction is modern technology. Planes, as indicated in the chart below, are getting quieter all the time. Problem is, aircraft have an average lifespan of 25 years, therefore it will take some time until the skies are populated with quieter aircraft, and even then, they will only be 25% quieter.

Plane noise by Manufacturer
Planes are getting quieter, but marginally so.

Now, I agree with those who proclaim that if you don’t like aircraft noise, you shouldn’t buy a house in Barrhaven in the first place. But I also feel that if affordable solutions can significantly improve our quality of life, why not take a closer look at them? We have nothing to lose, and all to gain.

Barrhaven Noise Pollution – it’s a seasonal thing.

Before I move on to other forms of noise pollution, we need to address the issue of when this phenomenon affects us the most – late spring, summer and early fall. Yes, we do hear outdoor noise in the winter, but with our windows closed, the impact is somewhat more tolerable. Therefore we can take some comfort in knowing that we’re somewhat shielded for noise pollution for about 6 months a year.

OC Transpo

Let’s move on to transit buses. This is a significant source of noise pollution and one where substantial progress can be made. For starters, we can make noise pollution a criteria when purchasing new buses. I’m very happy with the new double decker vehicles in the OC Transpo fleet. They are significantly quieter than the models they’ve replaced. It’s a good start.

But it doesn’t beat the champs when it comes to quiet bus transit. That title goes to Quebec City and their fleet of ultra quiet electric buses. How many times have you seen large OC Transpo buses rolling down the street with only a few passengers in them during off-peak hours? Quebec City runs 100% electric mini-buses that emit zero emissions and very little noise – in fact, they’re so quiet, you don’t even hear them coming!

Quebec city Ecobus
Quebec city Ecobus – quiet, clean transit for off-peak use.

Another benefit is less diesel fuel emissions. Not only do these emissions stain the exterior of our homes, they also do the same to the interior of our lungs. Smaller electric buses would go a long way to reducing noise pollution during off-peak hours while helping to keep our children’s lungs clean. Let’s make it happen.

Via Rail Trains

The next area I want to talk about is trains. They come farther down the list because the noise they produce is somewhat brief and infrequent, and mostly affect people living within close proximity to the tracks. That’s not to suggest that the level of noise produced isn’t a nuisance; it is – but with the recent reliability problems plaguing Barrhaven train crossings, I think most would agree that a every little bit helps.

Looking ahead, newer vehicles will be equipped with collision avoidance technology. Vehicles will become aware of other vehicles speed and trajectory, warning drivers of upcoming perils. There’s a good chance that this technology will become mandatory on all new vehicles within a few years. It’s not a stretch then to imagine that trains will also be equipped with similar technology to warn cars when they are close by. Who knows, maybe they can use the technology to trigger the rail barriers.

Another avenue for train noise relief might come from the construction of over/under passes on high volume roads. Woodroffe, Fallowfield, Greenbank and Strandherd come to mind. Once these level crossings disappear, so will a significant amount of horn blowing by train conductors.

It all starts with us at home

Last, but not least, is the noise emitted by our own personal devices, be it lawnmowers, motorcycles or cars. This boils down to a question of respect for your neighbors and the community at large. It’s about making informed decisions when buying products. And it’s the easiest way to affect change when it comes to noise pollution.

If everyone made noise pollution part of their purchasing criteria, we could significantly decrease the local decibel level while increasing our quality of life. Let’s try to become a community of a thousand points of silence. It will make our suburb a better place to live and play.

Disclaimer: I’m not a pilot, bus driver or train conductor. The views expressed above are based on personal observations and research. If you work in the transportation industry, your comments would be most welcomed. Please feel free to chime in!


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