City Living

A novel approach to addressing noise pollution

 

Photo credit: The All-Nite Images licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A Brooklyn startup ‘listens in’ on downtown Brooklyn noise. Mary Frost, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, reports that “NYU’s startup Sounds of New York City is developing an acoustic sensor network and installing it on lampposts along Fulton Street.”  The sensors are a “collaboration between Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and local tech startups” that are working together to bring “smart city” technology to downtown Brooklyn.

No doubt the data Sounds of New York City collects will be useful for those who want the city to do more to address noise.  But the startup wants to do more, as it aims to analyze “patterns of noise” across the city and–this is exciting–“maybe track violations through an automated system.”

The best of luck to you Sounds of New York City.

Is Boston getting too noisy?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is Boston getting too noisy? The Boston Curbed site has asked its readers to weigh in.

It’s been a few years since I’ve visited Boston, so I don’t know if it’s quieter than other similar-sized American cities, but my guess is that the answer will be “yes.”

Urban noise is a major health problem, causing hearing loss in urban dwellers and non-auditory health problems–hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and death.

Much if not most of urban noise is transportation noise–aircraft noise, as Boston Curbed points out, road traffic noise, and for those living near tracks railroad noise–but music from restaurants, bars, and clubs for those living near them, horn-based alerts, and any other noise that disrupts sleep is a health hazard as well.

We can’t return to a bucolic rural past, so noise is an inevitable part of modern life, but there is much that can be done relatively inexpensively to turn down the volume of modern life.

Starting literally with turning down the volume of amplified music in restaurants and stores, but also in terms of enforcement of vehicle sound laws, street plantings, and many other urban design features.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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. Erica Walker takes on Boston’s noise

Photo credit: Robbie Shade licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Boston Globe looks at the important work conducted by Dr. Erica Walker, research scientist and creator of the NoiseScore app, who is tackling Boston’s noise head on.  As writer Chris Berdik states, “Walker may know more about noise in Boston than anyone.” And because she also knows about the dangers of noise, Walker is dedicated to informing the public about this “little-studied pollution.”  As Berdik writes:

New research by Walker and others suggests that noise doesn’t just hurt our hearing. Chronic noise exposure floods the body with stress hormones that can lead to higher blood pressure, more blood clots, and a greater likelihood of heart problems and stroke.

Berdik says that Walker believes public health researchers “don’t take noise seriously enough, particularly in the United States,” and that her goal it to change that by “starting with creating a more comprehensive measure of noise exposure”

We applaud Dr. Walker’s hard work and dedication in protecting our public health.

Federal judge upholds city’s noise ordinance

Photo credit: Tony Hisgett licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

From time to time The Quiet Coalition gets inquiries or requests for help in dealing with local noise problems. Each one of these situations is very different, from airplane noise to noise from factories, and TQC can only offer general advice:

1. Research the local noise ordinances.

2. Figure out which person at which agency is responsible for handling noise complaints.

3. Document each and every violation of the noise ordinance, with copies to elected officials for the jurisdiction(s) involved and to local news media.

4. Involve local news media if possible.

5. Involve local schools with noise measurement, documentation, and reporting being part of class projects beginning with fourth or fifth grade and going up through high school.

While this advice doesn’t always get the result the inquirer wants, things are beginning to change and decision makers–whether at the city, state, or federal level–are starting to take noise seriously.  And as this report shows, sometimes the courts will uphold enforcement of local noise control and nuisance abatement ordinances.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Calgary councillors take aim at motorcycle noise

 

Photo credit: Calgary Reviews licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Calgary Herald Editorial Board writes that “city politicians are once again turning their attention to the excessive sound of motorcycles and other vehicles with noisy mufflers and other needless modifications that are an irritant to all but the self-absorbed owners themselves.”  This year, the pols are looking at Edmonton, where there is a test underway that uses “a new photo-radar-style noise gun [that] is showing promise.”

If Edmonston’s test is successful, it’s possible that Calgary will adopt the technology and both cities could consider automating the device “to issue fines to too-loud users of public roads, including at nighttime, when the disturbance is particularly upsetting to residents trying to get a good night’s sleep.”

And the city of Calgary will heave a sigh of relief.

 

Using “thick data” to make a smart city

 

Photo credit: IK’s World Trip licensed under CC BY 2.0

Adrian Smith, The Guardian, writes about Barcelona, a “pioneering Smart City,” that has been using sensors in various city infrastructure along with citizens via mobile devices “to monitor and anticipate urban phenomena in new ways, and, so the argument goes, efficiently manage urban activity for the benefit of ‘smart citizens.’”

Enter the residents living around Plaça de Sol, a popular square that has become, for residents, a bit too popular, especially with bars, restaurants, hotels, and tourists.  And with the addition of more bars, restaurants, and tourists, comes more noise, always. So back in 2017, a group of technology activists got in touch with residents and started a project under which residents were given “tools to measure noise levels, compare them with officially permissible levels,” with the aim of reducing noise in the square.

And what followed shows how complicated the embrace of thick data and citizen engagement can be, as the residents’ desire to reduce noise has to be considered along with the needs of bar and restaurant owners.  As a city councilman pointed out:

Beyond economic issues are questions of rights to public space, young peoples’ needs to socialise, neighbouring squares worried about displaced activity, the Council’s vision for Gràcia, and of course, the residents suffering the noise.

Click the link above to read this fascinating article.

The “new secondhand smoke”

Photo credit: Kris Arnold licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Mindy Fetterman, Governing.com, writes about what cities and states are doing to cut noise. The short answer is “not enough.” But at least they are starting to address noise, as cities go after the low hanging fruit, like helicopters and leaf blowers.

So click the link and see if your city is doing anything to address noise.  And for those who think noise is a mere annoyance, consider the comments of Rick Neitzel, Ph.D., director of environmental health policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, who said:

“The consensus is that if we can keep noise below 70 decibels on average, that would eliminate hearing loss,” Neitzel said. “But the problem is that if noise is more than 50 decibels, there’s an increased risk of heart attack and hypertension,” he said. “Noise at 70 decibels is not safe.”

Edmonton, Canada cracks down on loud street noise

Because, as this editorial in the Edmonton Journal opines, “there are limits to the noise that Edmontonians will put up with — and should have to put up with.” So how will the city deal with loud vehicles on their streets?  With this exciting project:

Edmonton has started testing automated enforcement for loud vehicles. City officials will continue that project this summer, hoping to be ready to start issuing tickets after.

The city council voted to test “photo-radar style noise guns that can detect, photograph or video excessively loud vehicles,” and eventually the city will develop a program to fine offenders. The program won’t just be sprung on residents and people passing through, as the city council want a education component that will use digital noise displays and “a public-awareness campaign to encourage noisy motorists to tone it down.”