by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
Sarah Sax’s recent article in City & State New York, “New York City Needs to Better Regulate Noise,” joins the growing number of articles that have recently appeared stressing the adverse impacts of noise on mental and physical health. These articles have acknowledged, unfortunately, that the federal government has essentially abandoned its role to regulate noise in the U.S. as called for in the 1972 Noise Control Act. That Act, still on the books, established a national policy to protect citizens from noise that jeopardizes health and well-being. As a result, Sax writes that curbing noise is essentially a local matter.
While recognizing that New York City has passed and updated legislation for many years to restrict noise impacts, Sax notes that noise complaints rank high on the city’s 311 complaint line. Sax cites State Comptroller DiNapoli’s 2018 report highlighting noise complaints to 311, which surveyed a sample of New York City residents on noise and found the majority of the people completing the survey were not satisfied with how their noise complaints were handled. And the noises complained about continued. In response to this report, the City’s Department of Environmental Protection added more agents to deal with noise complaints.
The New York City Noise Code was updated, in large part, in 2007, but there have been some recent updates regarding construction noise. Still, there is increased talk among the members of the New York City Council that the city needs to go further to improve its code, especially as it relates to regulating noise related to construction.
As Sax reports, New York University’s Sounds of New York City program, which is placing sensors around the city to more accurately measure sound levels, may be a tool that would enable the DEP, with whom SONYC is sharing sensor data, to better act on noise violations. This remains to be seen, as Sax states.
Sax also writes about how loud traffic noise is, and I am confident she will agree with me that the “Don’t Honk” signs reminding drivers to restrict use of their horns–which were removed years ago–should be put in place again. There are fines associated with honking and signs reminding people to limit honking are good prompts for appropriate driving behavior.
That said, large numbers of noise complaints also come from residents complaining about their neighbors and from people living near New York City’s three airports. These sources were not discussed in Sax’s article but also require greater attention. State legislators should study how strongly the “warranty of habitability” section of leases, which covers noises in apartments, is being enforced. Aircraft noise complaints have grown with recent changes in flight patterns, and despite efforts by some New York Congress members, to address this problem, there is still little being done to curtail airport-related noise.
In the end, I agree with Sax’s conclusion that public officials must acknowledge that noise is a significant health hazard and act to limit it.
Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press. In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.