Monthly Archive: January 2016

Mapping New York City Noise Complaints

The Atlantic’s City Lab reviews a new map by CartoDB that maps how noise is perceived in New York City.  CartoDB “[p]rogrammers mapped publicly available 311 noise complaint data from 2015 by Census tract, and layered on a dashboard that allows users to study those complaints against more than a dozen different metrics.”  City Lab notes that, “[i]t’s certainly not the only map made from 311 data out there, but it offers a lot more opportunity to play with the data yourself than most others.”  Definitely worth checking out.

Mapping noise complaints must have been the idea du jour this month, because The New Yorker also addressed 311 noise complaints in Mapping New York’s Noisiest Neighborhoods.

The New Yorker article also mentions an exciting development in the noise pollution front:

Margaret Chin, a councilmember from lower Manhattan, introduced a bill that would require the Department of Environmental Protection to start sampling noise across the city. The bill notes that “noise pollution is widely prevalent in urban areas” and that “transportation systems are the main source”—though it adds that bulldozers, air compressors, loaders, dump trucks, jackhammers, pavement breakers, loudspeakers, plumbing, boilers, air-conditioners, fans, and vacuum cleaners also bear considerable blame.

This is excellent news.  Before noise pollution can be properly controlled, we need to see the data.  Who knows, maybe city council will finally implement and enforce a noise regime that will make lilving in the city just a little bit easier.

Everyday noise: Hand dryers

In For drying out loud: Noisy hand dryers cause issues for some, the Dallas Morning News addresses one of our personal nemeses, hand dryers in public restrooms.  While the noise generated by a hand dryer may be merely annoying for most, they are a source of distress for people who suffer from tinnitus, hyperacusis, and sensory disorders such as autism.  The article discusses an Oregon State senator’s proposed legislation to limit public hand dryers to 84 decibels, “because louder models are ‘extraordinarily obnoxious and disruptive’ to people with sensory disorders, including [the legislator’s] autistic son, who cries and covers his ears when he’s near loud hand dryers.”

The problem is that the newer, more robust hand dryers are also louder:

[S]ome hearing experts have already made up their minds on high-decibel models like the Excel Xlerator and the Dyson Airblade.

“They’re a real cause for concern,” said Dr. Deanna Meinke, an audiologist and a professor at the University of Northern Colorado. “It’s just one more unnecessary source that adds to our cumulative exposure to noise.”

And there’s the problem in a nutshell.  Hand dryers are sold as an ecologically sound alternative to paper towels, but one wonders if the real reason for their use the cost savings associated with no longer purchasing paper towels and the less frequent need to remove trash/clean restrooms.  Sadly, no one puts a price on the discomfort (if not damage) suffered by those affected by loud hand dryers, which, unsurprisingly, are often placed in small tiled spaces.  As Dr. Meinke noted, it’s just one more unnecessary source of noise.

Thanks to Bryan Pollard for the link.  Bryan is the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the goal of developing effective treatments.

The danger to hearing posed by restaurant noise is so obvious

even the NY Post has written about it.

Steve Cuozzo of the NY Post reports that “leading otolaryngologists — better known as ear, nose and throat specialists — warn that dining at the city’s noisy restaurants can lead to hearing loss.”  In his piece, Cuozzo interviewed Dr. Darius Kohan, director of otology/neurotology at Lenox Hill Hospital and its affiliate Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, who states that, “[he tells his] patients to avoid these places,” adding that loud restaurants are the number one complaint he gets as an ear doctor.

Cuozzo visited a number of Manhattan hotspots where he recorded decibel readings from 90 to 101, all of which have the potential to permanently damage hearing over time.  Again quoting Dr. Kohan, he writes that “[w]ith repeated, prolonged exposure, ‘you start losing high-frequency sounds such as women’s and children’s voices,’ adding that “[i]f damage to the cells advances to a certain point, ‘a consequence is that you begin to lose hearing.’

Importantly, the article highlights the insidious nature of this aural abuse, particularly with respect to the customers.  Namely, that “[u]nlike restaurant employees, whose ears take a beating night after night, customers might not even know it’s happening.”  As a result, if and when customers begin to suffer hearing loss, they may “think it’s just from age.”

Equally important, the reporter takes care to note that not everyone who complains about the noise levels “are old fogeys.”  As noted in an earlier post, one reason that restaurants are so loud is the misguided belief that younger customers are drawn to loud spaces.

One hopes that the recent spate of articles decrying the levels of noise in American restaurants encourages city governments to regulate indoor noise pollution at places of public accommodation.  One thing is becoming increasing clear: loud restaurants are not a mere annoyance, they are a health issue.

Thanks to M. Slice for the link.