City Living

Don’t do this at home!

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Fox News 8 in Ohio reported that a woman attacked both her neighbor and his car because the noise he made disturbed her sleep. She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Don’t do this at home!

Seriously, noise complaints are the leading category of complaints in New York City’s 311 system, and local police forces there and in many communities seem unable or unwilling to deal with the problems.

In the UK, police can go to court to get ASBOs–anti-social behavior orders–which allow them to arrest and imprison repeat noise offenders. U.S. municipalities lack such legal authority.

But as many cities get more crowded, at least before COVID-19 times, and as more people are stuck at home working or not because of COVID-19 lockdowns, it’s important that we try to respect each other and be neighborly towards each other.

Especially in these troubled and troubling times.

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.

The Soundproofist podcast looks at leaf blower noise

Photo credit: Timothy Valentine licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Two Quiet Coalition co-founders, Jamie Banks, MS, PhD, and David M. Sykes, are currently featured on the most recent Soundproofist podcast. The podcast focuses on leaf blower noise and what can be done about it. Listen here:

Meanwhile The Quiet Coalition’s Dr. Arline Bronzaft was featured recently on the Freakonomics radio show and podcast, which you can listen to here:

The Quiet Coalition is thrilled to be reaching new listeners.

COVID-19, The Great Traffic Disruptor

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

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

John Stewart, the current Chair of the UK Noise Association and of the Campaign for Better Transport, has long advocated for improved public transit and reduced noise pollution. He is also the lead author of the book “Why Noise Matters,” of which I am one of the co-authors. Thus, I would say that he has the credentials to reflect on how we can move forward to a more equitable transit system with less noise pollution after the pandemic, which he calls “The Great Traffic Disruptor,” passes.

In this report for the Noise Association, Stewart simply states that we cannot go back to the “old normal” and urges us to view the pandemic as having provided us with the opportunity to reflect on what changes can be made so there will be “less noise, air pollution, climate emissions and congestion.” Stewart envisions a changed world with more reliable public transit services, reduced car speeds, increased space for walking and cycling, and increased use of e-scooters and e-bikes. He also advocates for low traffic neighborhoods and for cut-backs in traffic levels on main roads.

Stewart wants to share his thoughts and ideas worldwide and hopes to make links with others elsewhere with similar views. This post is an invitation to reach out to him to discuss his views and your own thoughts on the issue.

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.

UK & EU studies show motorcycle use booming

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

The global COVID pandemic has been driving a huge increase in the purchase and use of motorcycles, as high as 30% growth in London. Motorcycle use is surging for several reasons, such as restaurant deliveries, commuters maintaining distance by avoiding buses and trains, and to reduce fuel costs. But new research from the UK and EU shows that the growing use of motorcycles is also increasing pollution, like cancer-causing small particulate, e.g., PM2.5, emission of exhaust pollutants, CO2, and, of course, noise, which has its own effects on public health.

For motorcycle riders who modify their bikes, two of the thrills are not about transportation or convenience or fuel savings, they’re about disrupting social norms: the racket, and the public rage it leaves in its path. Unfortunately, as economists know, noise and pollution are “negative externalities”—that is, the noise and pollution are byproducts of the motorcyclist’s activities for which he or she does not take responsibility. Sadly, society typically doesn’t hold them responsible for either.

So how should communities address these externalities? That’s a tough question that most won’t touch. Motorcycles seem to be almost sacred and the image of the motorcycle rider seems to have replaced “The Marlboro Man” from the old cigarette billboards as a mostly-masculine, American-style icon of youth and rebellion.

Our hope is that new generation of electric motorcycles (and scooters and bicycles) will gradually replace the noisy old hogs favored by aging boomers. In the meantime, make sure you’re packing ear protection when you’re anywhere near a place where motorcycle noise abounds.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Stressed New Yorkers file record helicopter noise complaints

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

Jose Martinez, The City, reports that helicopter complaints to 311 have soared with several thousand more reported through mid-November than were reported for all of 2019–7,758 complaints up to November 15, 2020, versus 4,400 for 2019. Martinez rightfully notes that the noise emanating from the helicopters make New Yorkers feel even worse, now that so many are cooped up in their homes. Martinez quotes one New York resident as saying the “noise just makes you crazy” and another saying that “I have wanted to run into the street screaming.” I want to stress that research has clearly demonstrated that noise is hazardous to mental and physical health–it is not “just annoying.” Rather, noise is detrimental to our well-being!

Martinez reports that Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney introduced a bill in the House to regulate helicopter noise, but we join in her frustration that there is no comparable bill in the Senate and  the Federal Aviation Administration has essentially ignored the problem. Let me add that the FAA has been negligent overall in curbing aviation noise, despite the growing body of evidence on the health hazards of noise.

New York City has regulations covering the city’s helicopter travel and the accompanying noises but neighboring states do not and their helicopters fly over our city. Martinez notes that Borough President Gale Brewer will be convening a task force next month to address tourist flights and has invited officials from New Jersey to join this task force. She will also explore helicopter use by the city’s police department and television stations. New York City had introduced legislation last July to amend the New York City’s administrative code to reduce noise by chartered helicopters, but it was put on hold due to the pandemic. I would hope that members of the City Council will be part of Ms. Brewer’s task force.

Considering the many hardships that New Yorkers are dealing with related to the COVID-19 pandemic, one might question why attention is being paid to the city’s helicopter noise problem. Let me point out again that noise serves to exacerbate the overall stress that we are now feeling. and this is definitely not good for our health.

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.

The pandemic’s changing soundscape

Photo credit: Sanaan Mazhar from Pexels

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

Bridget Read, The Cut, identifies the past eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of the dimmed and heightened sounds in her environment. She associates the start of the pandemic with the silencing of many of the customary sounds in the environment, e.g. less horn honking, no din from restaurants, the absence of the voices and shouts of children as they leave school at three p.m. On the other hand, the increase in ambulance sirens reminded her, as it did many of us, of the people who had fallen victim to COVID-19. This thought also brought us greater fear.

April brought on the sounds of clapping in the evenings to say “Thank you” to our hospital workers, postal workers and grocery store employees. In late May, Read writes that there was the explosion of sounds that accompanied the marches and demonstrations after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. July 4th is generally recognized with fireworks, but July 4, 2020, brought about many more localized fireworks that actually started before the 4th and went on for weeks afterwards. But as the summer ended and autumn approached, Read writes that there was a quieter period as if people were holding their breath as they reflected on a potential second wave of the pandemic.

November was ushered in by long lines of people waiting to vote and quietly reflecting on who would be elected the next president. Then, on a warm Saturday in early November, Read was overwhelmed by cheers, clapping, car honking, and loud talking from the streets. Everyone seemed to be making lots of noise. What brought about all these sounds–Donald Trump had lost the election.

More excitement followed for the next few days with people rushing out into the streets to celebrate the election of Joseph Biden. Music seemed to be everywhere as people danced in the streets. These sounds that accompanied joy may have been brief, according to Read, but the joy was real.

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.

The sound of cities before and during the pandemic

Photo credit: Jonathan licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

Stuart Fowkes, a UK based artist, has been mapping out the sounds of cities since 2014. I would guess that he never imagined that a worldwide pandemic would provide him with the opportunity to hear “lost” sounds in a city that had been overtaken by increasing noise pollution. He comments about the return of the sounds of birds, insects, and other sounds of nature. His recordings of sounds during the past six years from cities around the world has resulted in a map featuring a wide variety of sounds. His recording project titled “Future Cities” features the sounds of several years ago but now includes the sounds during the pandemic.

In writing about the sounds of cities, Fowkes recognizes that the increased traffic and noise from construction sites, as well as the activities associated with tall buildings, has resulted in environmental stress which can adversely affect health. Furthermore, according to Fowkes, noise has also drowned out certain sounds that defined specific cities. For example, the sounds of the bells ringing at Westerkerk church in Amsterdam at one time played an important role in helping “people mark out kind of where they need to be at any given time.” He fears that these sounds that characterized specific cities will be lost after the pandemic passes.

Fowkes hopes that his project will bring attention to the important role auditory elements play in defining cities and as a result lead to noise reduction becoming a significant goal in future urban policy decisions. With noise having drowned out sounds that at one time were identified with specific cities, I wonder how many people can remember what these sounds were.

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.

London deploys noise cameras to combat “antisocial supercar drivers”

Photo credit: Adrian Dorobantu from Pexels

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

The BBC reports that “[m]ore than a hundred people have been threatened with fines after London’s first noise cameras were set up to combat antisocial supercar drivers.”  Drivers who have been using Knightsbridge streets as racetracks will first receive warnings but second offenses will carry fines. The cameras identify cars exceeding a threshold of 74 decibels, and fines are imposed ranging from $130 to $3,230 (U.S. equivalent of pounds noted in article)–persistent offenders may have their vehicles taken. It should be noted that the Council member of Transport recognized that most drivers are considerate.

In an earlier post, I wrote about a group in Washington Heights and Inwood who has set up a task force to address the increase in noise levels in the community, including noise from drag racing. I have also spoken with other groups in New York City and Westchester that have noted an uptick in noisy vehicles racing down their streets. These groups, as well as many other New Yorkers, would welcome legislation calling for noise cameras on their streets to combat noise that is increasing and detrimental to their health and well-being.

New York bill S.B. 9009, introduced by State Senator Andrew Gounardes, would increase fines for loud car and motorcycle exhaust systems and mufflers. This law would require police vehicles to be equipped with decibel meters to measure the sounds of passing vehicles and would issue violations in excess of decibel limits set by the law. The current law sets a fine of a maximum of $150 for after-market violations but this bill would increase the maximum fine to $1,000. Also, under the current law police officers are to determine whether noise is excessive, but under the proposed bill police officers would be equipped with decibel meters to measure the actual sound levels.

State Senator Gournades’ legislation clearly indicates an awareness of the hazards to health brought about by loud vehicle equipment as well as a desire to remedy this problem. But enforcement of legislation is key and enforcement of noise regulations often falls seriously short as underscored by New York State Comptroller DiNapoli’s 2018 report regarding the New York City’s Noise Code. I would suggest that New York State legislators look into the UK program and consider a pilot project to identify loud vehicles by cameras which might make enforcement easier, and, more importantly, curb a dreadful noise pollutant.

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.

COVID-19 and the city soundscape

Photo credit: Craig Adderley from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, and David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, wrote a very nice essay about COVID-19 and the city soundscape, which was published in New York City’s Our Town, the local paper for the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is known and published worldwide for her expertise and teaching on community noise. But noise is personal too, a cause. So she’s never lost sight of its impact on her own home town, New York City, where she has been an adviser to five mayors. Nor the effect it has on her own neighbors on the upper east side of Manhattan, even during the recent COVID lockdown that brought life to a standstill an an eery quiet punctuated only by the frightening sounds of ambulance and police sirens at any hour of the day or night.

In her essay, Dr. Bronzaft notes that sound and noise received a great deal of attention during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. In the absence of the usual hustle and bustle of noisy New York City, she writes:

There was talk about hearing and seeing more birds; not being awakened by overhead jets in the early morning hours; not being subjected to loud construction noises; and no music from nearby bars. However, an increase in loud ambulance sirens disturbed our ears and upset our minds because this meant more people were likely suffering from COVID-19.

She goes on to discuss possible future outcomes as urban activities return to normal, and expresses the hope that everyone–including city officials–will remember, when normality returns, what this period of calm and quiet was like.

Dr. Bronzaft’s piece dovetails very nicely with an editorial by Dr. Antonella Radicchi in a special issue of Cities & Health about sound and the healthy city.

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.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Sound and the healthy city

Image © Marcus Grant 2018

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wonderful and thought-provoking editorial from Antonella Radicchi and colleagues appears in the special issue of Cities & Health about sound and the healthy city. Dr. Radicchi was the lead guest editor for this issue and the Quiet Coalition acts as special issue partner.

One of the many things I was reminded of reading the editorial is that although urban noise has serious and well-recognized health consequences, a broader perspective on the urban soundscape is needed.

Perhaps my single-minded focus on decibel levels is misplaced? After all, I like the sounds of birdsong or fountains or many street entertainers just as much as anyone else.

As Dr. Radicchi and her colleagues write:

We hope that through a soundscape approach we can encourage fresh thinking about urban sound, including how people perceive and relate to their sonic environments, and show how sound can contribute to health. We believe that this approach can provide a collaborative platform for sound artists, sound technologists, urbanists and local people to work together with public health and create healthier urban environments.

They certainly encouraged some fresh thinking and self reflection for me!

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.