Anti-social behavior

New York pols seek stiffer fines for modified mufflers

Photo credit: Markus Spiske from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

New Yorkers are very likely appreciative of the lawmakers, State Senator Andrew Gournardes and City Councilman Justin Brannan, for introducing legislation, a bill at the state level and a bill at the City Council, to impose stiffer fines for excessive vehicle noise. These legislators speak for many New Yorkers when they were quoted as being “tired of moronic motorists terrorizing New York streets with deafening loud mufflers and exhaust systems.”

The bills would increase the penalties for modifying mufflers and ensure that police officers have the ability to measure the decibel sound levels emitted. The legislators have noted the blasting noises from these vehicles at night have been especially disruptive to sleep. With so many people already experiencing extra stress, sleep is especially important. But sleep is always important to health, and lack of sleep due to noise has been found to impede overall health and quality of life.

While the legislators believe higher fines and police armed with decibel meters will make people think twice about modifying exhaust systems to make them intentionally louder, the key to stopping this noise is the enforcement of the law. Will this legislation indeed bring about an increase in the issuance of violations? Have the lawmakers thought of introducing provisions in the bills that will allow for an evaluation of how the bills are enforced within a year after their passage?

Passing laws is critical in maintaining order, but without enforcement these laws carry little weight. Too often, when it comes to noise, New Yorkers have found that noise laws do not get enforced as they should, as underscored in this 2018 noise report by New York State comptroller DiNapoli.

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.

How not to deal with a noisy neighbor

Photo credit: Weatherman90 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

It was not surprising to read that Toto’s Steve Lukather decided to deal with his neighbor’s noisy landscaping equipment disturbing him in the early morning hours by unleashing “a loud solo before screaming ‘Good morning’ in the direction of his hedges.” As the Board member of GrowNYC who responds to noise queries, New Yorkers often call me to complain about noisy neighbors. Too often, they have told me that they want to bang upstairs with brooms to reciprocate for being awakened in the early morning with loud footsteps along uncarpeted floors. I am certain these callers would applaud Lukather’s actions as did many of his followers.

Before offering to assist New York City residents who call me, I urge them not to take the route that Lukather did. I add that one should not engage in the same bad behavior displayed by their neighbors to resolve the noise problem. I guess as the wife of an attorney, and the mother of two attorneys, I know that the law doesn’t look favorably on trying to stop inappropriate behavior by using inappropriate behavior.

While not resolving all the neighbor noise problems that are brought to my attention, I have been successful a large number of times. Sometimes it is a matter of having the complainant approach the neighbor and discussing the noise situation with literature noting the deleterious impacts of noise on health. At other times, it is asking the landlord or managing agent to handle the matter under the “warranty of habitability” clause of leases that provide tenants with the right to “reasonable quiet” in their apartments.

Let me stress that noises are hazardous to one’s mental and physical well-being and should not be dismissed. Before calling me, many of the New Yorkers with whom I have spoken told me that they have tried speaking with neighbors, calling 311, and asking local officials for assistance with the noise matter. When no relief follows, they very much want to handle the noise matter as Lukather did. And I am certain that many New Yorkers whom I have not heard from do.

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.

Paris takes on bikers’ noise

Photo credit: Carlos ZGZ has dedicated this photo to the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As we have written about several times, one unexpected result of the COVID-19 lockdowns worldwide was a reduction in noise–in cities, in the water, even in terms of measured seismic activity. As life has started to return to something approaching normal, noise levels are increasing.

In Paris, one cause of increased noise is motorcycles with altered exhausts. As this BBC report shows, one motorcycle riding through Paris at night can disturb the sleep of thousands of people.

In response, the police are enforcing motorcycle quiet laws, and the city is developing an automated noise monitoring system.

Maybe other cities around the world can do the same?

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Noise complaints on the rise in NYC

Photo credit: Dan Nguyen licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

New York City, the city that has long been known to be noisy, is even noisier, according to an article by Shaye Weaver. Weaver writes that since February of this year, noise complaints in the city have increased “an astonishing 279 percent.” Firework noise was the overwhelming complaint in June, but complaints about loud music and parties led the list overall. The Bronx had the most complaints, with Staten Island registering the fewest.

Weaver states that “2020 has been a year like no other.” The pandemic has indeed changed the city and the lives of the residents in this city as well as people worldwide, in many ways, and 2020 will be known from now on as the “Year of the Pandemic.”

Weaver’s article doesn’t mention how the New York agencies that deal with noise complaints, mainly the Department of Environmental Protection and the police department, have been responding to the 311 noise complaint calls that have been directed to them. As someone who hears from New Yorkers who have not had their noise complaints resolved, I can say that I have had increased calls about noise in communities. My callers have reported to me that loud parties are being held near their homes and apartment buildings and there has been no interest from police or public officials to address their complaints. I have also been hearing from individuals who are organizing groups in their areas to give them a stronger voice when they approach public officials and community boards, and I have offered advice and asked to be kept informed about the activities to lessen the din.

I thank Weaver for her timely article and hope that she would do a follow-up focusing on the agencies responsible for addressing noise to ask how they are dealing with this large increase in noise complaints. We have laws on the books that have been written to curtail noise but unless they are enforced, they have little, if any, value.

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.

People in PA fed up with fireworks

Photo credit: Steve Morgan licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Reading this report from WNEP television about Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania residents who have had enough of fireworks displayed, I learned that Wilkes-Barre is called the Diamond City. Who knew? Wilkes-Barre got that nickname in the 19th century, when it was a center of anthracite coal mining. But now, apparently, Wilkes-Barre is known for something else.

Fireworks have long been available in Pennsylvania, from where they are often illegally imported into communities where they are banned, especially New York City. In 2017, Act 43 repealed and replaced the Fireworks Act of 1939, allowing adults to buy and set off Roman candles, bottle rockets, and firecrackers.

This year’s July 4th celebration in Wilkes-Barre started early and continued after the holiday ended. Local police received more than 300 noise complaints. Community groups and the mayor are fed up, and are moving to have Act 43 repealed.

Kudos to the community groups and Wilkes-Barre’s mayor. Repealing Act 43 won’t just benefit the citizens of Pennsylvania, New Yorkers would be pleased to see fireworks sanity restored there, too.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Neighbor noise and violence

Photo credit: Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Recent articles examining the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the soundscape have reported that while complaints about sounds from overhead planes, construction, and bars have been reduced, neighbor to neighbor noise complaints have increased. This is explained, in part, by the fact that more people are staying in their homes over longer periods of time. The Japan Times addresses this issue squarely in its story, “Gripes about noisy neighbor boil over in Tokyo as stay-home drive drags on.” But this article adds another element to these neighbor complaints–violence.

The story highlights two incidents in which people stabbed their neighbors because they could not stand the noises the neighbor was making. Violence following noise is not new. There have been articles written over the years detailing individuals acting violently against neighbors who have imposed their loud music, footsteps, or voices on them. But what has been happening in Tokyo with 2020 noise complaints during the pandemic is that they have exceeded by over 25% the number of phone calls reporting noise during the same period last year. While noise, according to this article, has already been a leading cause of trouble between neighbors in Japan, it appears that the increase in complaints during the pandemic has resulted in a greater interest in trying to resolve such complaints.

The Japan Times cites Professor Emeritus Norihisa Hashimoto, who explains that people who are the subjects of noise complaints believe such claims are unreasonable while those who make the complaints feel frustrated as the noise continues unabated. He calls for “a specialized organization for hearing their stories neutrally.”

This difference in perception between those who are making the complaints and those who are accused of being noisy has always been the case. I know this because as a member of GrowNYC’s Board of Directors I have been asked frequently to resolve neighbor to neighbor noise complaints. While not always successful, the large numbers of times I, as a neutral listener, have succeeded in reducing the noise strongly suggests that it is worthwhile trying to mediate such noise problems. I believe public officials in New York City who have also assisted their constituents with noise complaints will say the same. I would also like to point out that New York City’s leases stipulate that landlords should provide residents with “reasonable” quiet. Thus, landlords and managing agents can limit intrusive neighbor noises as well.

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.

What to do when people shout into their cell phones near you

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

What should one do when people shout into their cell phones and you are nearby? The New York TimesPhilip Galanes, who writes the Social Q column, suggests (scroll to the last query) politely asking, “Could you lower your voice, please?”

He also advises us to be prepared for a range of responses from accepting to, well, click the link.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

How to handle an anti-social neighbor with a lawn mower

Photo credit: Sepp Vei has released this photo into the public domain

by G.M. Briggs

Call the cops and haul him to jail, apparently. According to the Washington Post, one Florida man spent Christmas Eve in jail for disturbing the peace with his lawn mower. That may seem harsh, but if you read past the weird news lede, you’ll see that Robert Wayne Miller of Zephyrhills, Florida, earned his night in the pokey. Namely, he allegedly was using his riding mower at night for hours on end, making it impossible for his neighbors to sleep. And according to one neighbor, Miller used used the riding mower “for transportation at times,” adding “that it [wasn’t] actually capable of cutting grass.”

It seems pretty clear from the story that Miller enjoyed tormenting his neighbors. So while calling the cops to deal with an obnoxious neighbor should be the last resort, when you’re dealing with someone who is using noise as a weapon, there are few other (nonviolent/dangerous) options.

Here’s hoping Miller’s neighbors finally got a good night’s rest.

Thanks to Jeanine Botta for the link.