City Living

A quieter world is possible

Photo credit: Leon Macapagal from Pexels

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

As a long-term researcher and writer on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health, as well as a strong advocate for a quieter and less noisy world, I was delighted to read two articles in this Sunday’s New York Times real estate section today, March 29th, that focused on the appeal of more quiet and less noise in our lives.

The page one article, entitled “A Window of Opportunity,” states that “[t]hanks to noise reduction technology, living near train tracks is not a problem.” It goes on to explain that developers are now building near rail tracks and people are more willing to live near these tracks because improvements in window technology such as double-pane windows can significantly lessen the intrusive noise from passing trains.

The second article, entitled “Built-In Quiet is Part of a Suburb’s Appeal,” focuses on how living near a cemetery brought considerable quiet to a community of home dwellers because so much space in this New Jersey town is taken up by the cemetery. As one resident said about the cemetery, “to me, it’s beautiful.”

Apparently, these two articles mean that people are more conscious of the hazards of noise and more desirous of living in quieter surroundings. Furthermore, the articles should be reassuring to the anti-noise messengers in that people have been listening to them regarding the dangers of noise and the positive effects of quiet.

As a New York City resident, most of my attention today is focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the effects it has had on people around the world. Yet, I can’t stop from thinking about my noise work because it has taken up so much of my time these past forty years. I have also read articles that this pandemic has resulted in less air pollution and less noise in New York City and other cities as well.

So, I began to wonder if this quiet, to which more people are being exposed, may be comforting to them, especially when there is so much around them to fear. If so, is it not possible that after the pandemic passes and people are able to get on with their lives again, that they might remember the comfort and pleasure quiet brings into one’s life? Is it not possible, that we might see more people joining in to lessen the noise around us? I can dream, can’t I?

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.

 

Women’s noise complaints often ignored

Photo credit: Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

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

For the past thirty years, as a member of the Board of GrowNYC, I have been charged with responding to New York City residents who reach out to our organization seeking help to resolve noise problems. My research and writings on the deleterious effects of noise on health and well-being, as well as my willingness to work with communities on their noise issues, have provided me with the experience to assist New York City residents with noise problems. With noise ranking high on the list of calls to the city’s 311 Helpline, it’s clear that noise is a major issue in the city and it should not be surprising when I report that I have been asked to assist many people.

Both men and women from all neighborhoods in New York City have contacted me but many more of those reaching out to me have been women, especially older women. What I have also noticed is that a large number of the women who contact me, most complaining about residential noise, have been generally dismissed when they contacted their managing agents or landlords. Thus, I decided to write about the dismissal of such complaints by women for The Woman’s Connection, hoping to call attention to a type of discrimination that has received little attention.

I believe that readers of Silencity, both men and women, will find my article on women’s noise complaints being dismissed worth reading. This knowledge may result in more attention being paid to women’s noise complaints, and, more importantly, lead to a greater number of them being resolved.

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.

 

Realtor.com claims to have address-specific noise data

Photo credit: Daniel Frank from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to Realtor.com, the most important considerations for a home buyer are price, schools, commute, crime, and noise. The site now claims to have address-specific noise data and other features that allow the prospective home buyer to assess the noise level and noise sources online.

Experienced real estate professionals, and homeowners who have learned the hard way, by experience, advise prospective homebuyers to check out a property at different times of the day, and different days of the week. What is a quiet residential street at mid-day may be a busy thoroughfare on a school morning, or a commuter cut-through during the evening rush hour. A quiet suburban property one day may be under a flight path when the wind direction changes another.

We can’t speak to the accuracy of the noise measurements, or the validity of the information now available online. We’re just happy that more and more attention is being paid to the damaging effects of noise.

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.

Nature’s sounds calm urban anxiety

Photo credit: Gabriela Palai from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this personal essay, printed in the Washington Post, writer Paige Towers discusses how New York City’s noise worsened her anxiety, but a move to Milwaukee, where nature’s quiet was more accessible, helped her regain her calm.

Some people claim to love urban noise. New York City is famously “the city that never sleeps.” But its noise is loud enough to cause hearing loss and for many people, noise is stressful.

In Japan, doctors can prescribe nature therapy, which they call forest bathing.

But you don’t need a doctor’s prescription to go out and enjoy nature’s quiet on your own. Try it!

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.

A noise control cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis

Photo credit: Owen Barker from Pexels

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

In a 2019 article titled “Why is there no cure for tinnitus?” the authors looked at whether studies had dentified if participants have a history of significant noise exposure that could cause decreased sound tolerance, like hyperacusis or tinnitus. A cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis, the authors noted, could be very different from a cure for tinnitus or hyperacusis from other causes, like aging or head injury.

The article shows that it’s important for research to identify noise sub-types when evaluating potential cures. The underlying hearing health damage for sudden high level noise like acoustic trauma is different than damage from chronic moderate level noise over time. That is, the cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis from bomb blasts or firearms is likely different than the cure for noise-induced tinnitus and hyperacusis from being exposed to unhealthy noise at school, on public transit systems, or at noisy workplaces.

High level public noise pollution in daily life can impact hearing health of all ages from babies to elders. Fortunately, the solution for tinnitus and hyperacusis caused by public noise pollution is not a cure–it’s better than a cure, as the solution is preventing the noise from happening in the first place.

How? There must be noise control for human manufactured unhealthy noise sources like personal listening devices, aircraft, road vehicles, railways, consumer products, and even MRI machines. There is no need for a cure if the source noise is never manufactured to be loud enough to cause decreased sound tolerance in the first place.

Controlling the source of noise would have other positive effects. Moderate levels of public noise pollution can significantly affect the quality of life for people with tinnitus and hyperacusis by causing poor sleep and making it significantly harder to understand speech in the presence of background noise. This, in turn, can increase stress levels, making it harder to cope and potentially interferring with available treatment.

Noise control is not impossible. Protecting the general public from unhealthy noise must cost less than the combined healthcare costs of diagnosing and treating tinnitus, hyperacusis, and other hearing health damage. And new noise prevention materials are constantly being invented. Examples include an acoustic material invented by Boston University that silences or cancels out 94% of sound waves without blocking light or airflow. A Canadian company is making noise barriers that absorb noise and air pollution. Quiet electric passenger planes could be in regional operation by 2021.

But nothing will change about public noise pollution until authorities and decision makers make health and hearing health a priority. This includes real time city and transportation noise mapping and reporting to identify locations with unhealthy noise. Noise prevention and control is necessary to protect public health and it should be mandatory.

Dr. Daniel Fink describes implications for acoustic engineering and design considerations for structures and enforced noise emission regulations and restrictions. Examples could include muffling school and public hand dryers, hour restrictions or night curfews at airports, quieter leaf blowers, quiet defaults on consumer products like microwaves with an option to turn on audible alerts, quiet solutions to replace vehicle back-up beeps, or preventing new imposed noise from delivery drones or noisy audible vehicle alert systems on electric cars. New technology needs to be quietly accessible for everyone.

Preventing public noise pollution won’t stop all cases of tinnitus and hyperacusis, but it could stop millions of cases around the world. Safe soundscapes without unhealthy noise are best for everyone from newborns to elders. And prevention is always better than trying to treat the problem or find a cure for noise-induced hearing damage after it occurs.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.

 

 

How Mumbai solves its horn problem

Photo credit: CommGlobal UVA licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In India, a saying goes, you need four things to drive: a good car, good eyes, good luck, and a good horn. Honking horns are ubiquitous in the sprawling city of Mumbai. When the traffic light turns red, drivers honk their horns to get the drivers in front of them ready to move when it turns green.

The local police have figure out a solution to this noisy problem, though. They’ve hooked up decibel meters to the lights. If the drivers honk their horns, the light stays red.

The New York Times reports that other Indian cities are considering installing the same equipment.

Maybe the traffic folks in New York City will consider doing 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.

Sound and the city

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This excellent essay by on Curbed discusses urban noise levels. It’s a very comprehensive piece, discussing multiple aspects of urban noise and how it affects people.

Some urban noise is an unavoidable accompaniment to modern life, but much can be done to make cities quieter. These include enacting laws against excessive vehicle exhaust noise, horn use, aircraft noise including helicopter flights, and indoor quiet laws.

Of course, enacting laws isn’t enough. They must be actually be enforced. Crowdsourced reporting using smartphone apps can help with enforcement.

My only quibble with the Curbed article is that the author cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as recommending only 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours to prevent hearing loss, but the link is to the National Instititue for Occupational Safety and Health. While part of the CDC, NOISH is charged with making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illnes, not recommendations for the general public. So NOISH’s 85 dB exposure standard, actually 85 dBA*, is an occupational noise exposure level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace–it’s not intended to be a safe exposure threshold for the public.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, specifically addressed this concern. And my research revealed that the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is an average of 70 decibels a day.

Given the general misunderstanding of what is a safe noise exposure level for the average person, Furseth’s article raises important issues that I hope are starting to be taking seriously.  Cities have gotten louder and the effect of increased noise on residents and visitors is something that should be given serious attention.

*A-weighted sound measurements are adjusted to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech

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.

Zillow tracks noisy cities and neighborhoods

Photo credit: Daniel X. O’Neil licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in Atlanta Agent magazine, directed at the real estate industry, looks at a report by Zillow, a real estate site, that identifies Atlanta’s noisiest neighborhoods.

I wondered if Zillow tracked noise for other cities, too. The answer is yes, Zillow has a report that looks at the noise level of over 900 cities nationwide.

The only problem is that Zillow’s method is to estimate the noise level based on the National Park Service noise maps. That is, Zillow doesn’t measure actual noise levels.

I would suggest that Zillow might want to use the Department of Commerce’s transportation noise maps instead, since transportation noise is a major problem in many parts of the country. Transportation noise includes road traffic noise, aircraft noise, and railroad noise. Zillow adds that a lot of urban noise also comes from ambulances for those living near hospitals, and from sports stadiums.

Real estate professionals advise prospective home buyers to check out their properties at various times of the day. A quiet residential street may become a busy commuter cut-through during the morning rush hour, for example, or the preferred way home for parents picking up children at the end of the school day.

Renting isn’t the same long-term commitment as buying, but renters may also want to check out noise levels before signing a lease.

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.

Let’s hope this atrocity comes to an end soon

Photo credit: Sam Saunders licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The New York Post reports that relatively low cost helicopter service offered by the monsters behind Uber Copter and Blade are drowning Brooklyn residents in noise.  How bad can it be?  Residents in Park Slope say that Thanksgiving traffic was so hellish that the noise “drowned their peaceful neighborhood in a roar so loud it made windows rattle, dogs growl and outdoor conversations inaudible.” Another resident said nine helicopters flew over his home in the span of 90 minutes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, adding that the copters come in “very low,” which makes them even louder.

According to the Post, the reason why Park Slope has been especially hard hit is that the companies are avoiding an all-water route and are purposefully flying over residential areas to save time and fuel.

While residents fume, some local pols are attempting to address the increase in unnecessary helicopter rides. The Post writes that Representatives Nadler, Maloney, and Velazquez have proposed a bill that would ban sightseeing and commuter helicopters, adding that the mayor said he supports the ban.

What a shame the mayor didn’t do something about this when he had the chance.

Here’s hoping that something is done soon to stop Uber Copter and Blade in their infancy.

NYC must better regulate noise

Photo credit: Vlad Alexandru Popa from Pexels

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.