City Living

New York City construction noise complaints soar

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

The NY Daily News reports that “[b]ooming construction and lax efforts by city agencies to control it have led to soaring noise complaints in the five boroughs.” Once again New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is the source of this information, as his office audited construction noise complaints that were called into the 311 system and found that the number of complaints soared from “14,259 in 2010 to 37,806 in 2015, with the vast majority involving work taking place late at night or early in the morning.”

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Buildings (DOB) are primarily responsible for dealing with construction noise complaints. The “DEP is responsible for responding to 311 construction noise complaints,” and the “DOB reviews and approves building plans; conducts building inspections; and issues permits, including those for after-hours work.” DiNapoli’s auditors “selected a sample of noise complaints for 50 incident addresses….including the 30 locations with the highest number of construction noise complaints in the city (29 of these locations were in Manhattan) and an additional five locations with the most complaints in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.”

Incredibly, the inspectors found there was “no excessive noise” for 211 of the 250 complaints, “and only three complaints resulted in violations being issued by DEP.”  Actually, it’s not so incredible, as the Comptroller’s Office notes that the “inspectors did not visit the locations until an average of five days after the noise was reported, and there were “no reports of meter readings performed at the sites to determine if noise levels were excessive.” In addition, “[w]hen making decisions to grant after hours work variances, DOB officials did not consider construction noise complaints made to 311, nor did they consider construction noise citations issued by DEP.” It’s not exactly surprising that noise complaints increased, given how few violations were issued.

As with his report about bars and nightclubs, DiNapoli made recommendations to address the increase in construction noise complaints. The DOB agreed to all three recommendations directed to them, while the DEP agreed to three out of six. Now we wait to see if it makes a difference.

Thanks to Jeanine Botta for the link to the Comptroller’s press release.

Attention commuters: put down your earbuds!

 

Photo credit: Pedro Figueiredo licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A recent article in The Hearing Journal should give pause to mass transit commuters who use personal listening devices (PLDs) to mask background noise. Michelle Brady, AuD, Suzanne Miller, PhD, and Yula C. Serpanos, PhD, write that “[m]ass transit commuters are regularly exposed to excessive noise levels,” and note that use of PLDs “adds further stress on the auditory system as commuters listen at high volume levels to mask the background noise encountered during their daily commute.” By cranking the volume in areas of high noise, they note, commuters are “creating further risk of noise-induced hearing loss” (NIHL).

What makes NIHL insidious is that it “occurs in stages across several years,” and “[a]s such, its effects often go unnoticed.” Until they can’t be ignored, of course. The authors conducted a study on New York City commuters and found that “mass transit commuters in NYC do not completely understand the consequences of hearing loss and the proper use of PLDs.” They conclude that hearing health professionals need “to do a better job at educating the public about the risks of NIHL and safe listening habits.”

We agree that people need to be aware of the risks of NIHL, but also think there should be a role that government must play to protect citizens. And, of course, PLD manufacturers need to work with medical professionals and government to design safe PLDs that won’t deafen a generation.

 

London’s poised to do something about noise

Photo credit: Majophotography licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 ES

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In the U.S., noise is widely considered “just a nuisance,” but in Europe noise pollution is recognized as a major health hazard. In the current political climate, and with the current administration and Environmental Protection Agency administrator, we don’t expect anything to be done about noise here–just as climate change is viewed in Washington as a Chinese hoax–but other countries and regions accept the science.

The World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease report quantified the numbers of productive years of life lost due to noise. The European Noise Directive tells governments what to do about environmental noise. And now London is proposing a comprehensive environmental strategy, which includes very strong actions to deal with environmental noise.

We think London’s comprehensive environmental strategy is a wonderful model for cities and states in the U.S. to follow.

Please share this link with your state and local representatives or your governor.

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.

Another adverse effect of traffic noise

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

New research in Denmark shows that people exercise less when they live near noisy roads. The researchers found that for every 10 decibel increase in traffic noise, people were 5% less likely to exercise.

In general, a few simple habits can have a dramatic effect on health and longevity:

  1. Don’t smoke
  2. Eat fruits and vegetables
  3. Maintain a healthy weight, and
  4. Exercise regularly.

Anything that discourages healthy habits–and traffic noise now seems to fall into this category–is bad for health.

And the reason why traffic noise seems to decrease exercise? It isn’t clear. It may be that traffic noise disrupts sleep, so people exposed to the noise just lack the energy to get moving, but whatever the reason this study provides yet another reason why cities must control traffic noise.

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.

Chicago to install noise monitors along Lake Shore Drive

 

Photo credit: Roman Boed licensed under CC BY 2.0

A new Illinois law is taking on noisy vehicles along Lake Shore Drive. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed HB2361 into law on Tuesday, August 24th, which “allows the city of Chicago to install noise monitors along the scenic expressway to study the impact of vehicular noise.” The bill’s sponsor, Illinois Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, says that the “law creates a first step in remediating the ambient noise problem along Lake Shore Drive.” Feigenholtz proposed the bill because she wanted empirical–not anecdotal–evidence about the noise coming from the drive. The city of Chicago may now enact an ordinance providing for the monitoring, which is “similar in concept to the monitoring system used to measure jet noise around O’Hare International Airport.”

This is an exciting first step for a U.S. city, and something that London is doing this in its draft London Environmental Strategy, which strongly addresses the problems of highway noise. Chicago can take the lead among American cities in monitoring and controlling road traffic noise.

 

 

 

 

Noise is the excreta of technological civilization

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

Jonathan Power, author and former foreign affairs columnist for The International Herald Tribune, writes about favorite sounds and the scourge that is noise. Power’s favorite sounds “are the quiet sounds of the English Lake District,” which he contrasts with the sound of noise: cars and trucks, airplanes and builders, canned music in cafes, a symphony playing an atonal concerto.  “Noise,” he concludes, “is the excreta of technological civilization,” adding that “[o]ne study predicts that exposure to loud music will cause 50 million Americans to suffer heavy hearing loss by 2050.”

Power looks at the health effects of noise–not just damage to hearing, but also “high blood pressure, disturbed sleep and even heart disease.” He writes about the fight against another runway at Heathrow and the political fight that was lost–or is it?–by the tens of thousands living near the airport, while noting that smaller battles can be won. And while noise “is never likely to compete with other political issues such as unemployment and nuclear weapons in North Korea,” Power notes that politicians are sensitive to political pressure. Moreover, he lists measures that have been tried and tested in various places which can be borrowed wherever we live, like Switzerland’s ban on the driving of heavy trucks at night and on Sundays, or the U.S.’s and UK’s modification of noise regulations in 1976 which required older aircraft to comply with noise limits set for new aircraft.

Power calls for us to put these and other examples on social media and, more importantly, to “demand MORE, and distribute your demands far and wide.”  In the end, if we want to enjoy our favorite sounds, we have to fight for the right to hear them.

NYC’s DEP launches sound and noise education program

Photo credit: Arline Bronzaft, PhD

By Arline Bronzaft, PhD, Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition (introduction by G.M. Briggs, Editor)

The educational arm of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has recently launched a sound and noise education module.The module consists of:

Interactive, multi-disciplinary, STEM lessons and activities [that] introduce students and teachers to the study of the New York City sound environment, New York City’s Noise Code, and the public health issues, both mental and physical, associated with noise.

One element of the elementary lesson plan is the book “Listen to the Raindrops,” by Dr. Arline Bronzaft, noted noise activist, GrowNYC board member, and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition. Dr. Bronzaft writes about her involvement in the DEP’s groundbreaking noise education efforts:

For years I have conducted research and written on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health, including the impacts of noise on children’s learning. One day discussing noise with a children’s book writer, she suggested that I take a stab at writing a book to teach children about the dangers of noise. My first response was that I was not suited for the task, but she said, “if not you, who?” When I left her apartment, I took pencil to paper and during the hour trip back to my home I completed the book “Listen to the Raindrops.” The book, which was written in rhyme, aimed to teach children about the beauty of the good sounds around them and the dangers of noise, especially to their ears.

A children’s book requires illustrations, of course, and I was fortunate that Steve Parton, an illustrator, and the father of a daughter who had received one of the first cochlear implants, agreed to provide the illustrations. After reading the book to a number of classes and listening to the children’s comments, it was clear that Steve’s illustrations beguiled the children.

For years I have worked closely with DEP in our joint efforts to bring the decibel level down in this city. Much still needs to be done, but I was delighted when the DEP’s educational arm added a sound/noise component to its website and asked to include “Listen to the Raindrops” to its curriculum.

The DEP has recently launched its sound and noise curriculum–it is online and all are invited to go to the site to see it. Now we need you to spread the word about the curriculum. Noise is not just a New York City problem. Cities and towns worldwide can include noise education in their school curricula. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also has materials on its website that educate elementary school children about the harmful effects of noise ( e.g., Listen Up!), but at one time the agency made a greater effort than today to reach out to schools nationwide about teaching children about the dangers of noise.

Let us alert public officials, educators, and all citizens to the importance of teaching children early on that noise will harm their ears, their learning ability, and their overall health. Promoting these educational materials will also inform the general public about the deleterious impacts of noise, as the children will undoubtedly bring home the sound and noise information they learn at school and become spokespersons for quieting our surroundings. And the children shall lead!

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 to deal with noisy neighbors

By Arline L. Bronzaft, PhD, Board of Directors, GrowNYC

Alexandra Levine’s recent article on noisy neighbors revealed how New York Today readers have dealt with noisy neighbors. While simply speaking to your “noisy” neighbor may result in a lessening of the din, there are many times when polite requests don’t work. Some residents, we learn from the article, turn to shaming their neighbors into quieting down. I have heard about others who “fight back” by inflicting similar intrusive sounds on the offensive neighbors. I do not suggest this latter response because I believe people inflicted by noise have a better case when they don’t engage in similar offensive behavior.

As a member of the board of directors of GrowNYC, where I oversee its noise activities, I am often asked to intervene on behalf of New York City residents whose requests to their neighbors–and even to the managing agents of their buildings–to “quiet it down” have gone unheeded. In writing to the managing agents on behalf of the people who have sought my assistance, I urge them to direct their attention to my research and writings on the adverse effects of noise on health. I explain that noise is not just an annoyance—it’s a health hazard–and that those in charge of managing buildings must familiarize themselves with the deleterious effects of noise so that they do not dismiss noise complaints, as many do.

When we talk about noise we are not necessarily talking about loud sounds, as bothersome sounds can disturb sleep, rest, or simply reading or watching television. Noise is defined as unwanted, unpredictable, and uncontrollable sound. Short of the harmful effects of noise on health that are discussed in the research, noise diminishes one’s quality of life.

I include GrowNYC’s Noise brochure which discusses health effects of noise and ways to lessen noise with my letters to managing agents. I also point out that under the the warranty of habitability clause in their leases residents in both rental buildings and cooperative dwellings are entitled to “reasonable quiet” in their homes. In follow-up phone calls to my initial letters, I explain the word “reasonable.” One could say that a reasonable person would be bothered by footsteps from the above apartment at six a.m. in the morning. Unreasonableness, on the other hand, would be a complaint of a toy dropped by a visiting grandchild once and only once.

I will then direct the telephone conversation to the specific noise problem and ways to abate it. I ask if the required carpeting is in place in the apartment and if the superintendent or managing agent has gone to the apartment to hear the noise. I, too, have dealt with a sex complaint that was handled by suggesting that the couple who was the source of the noise move their bed several inches from the wall so that it would no longer bang against it during sex. Often, I suggest that all residents receive flyers that speak to the harmful effects of noise and what can be done to lessen noises in their own apartments.  Finally, I stress that neighbors should be informed that living together in a building means respecting the rights of others, and this includes greater quiet in apartments.

New Yorkers face so much noise as they traverse the streets of our city. When they get to their apartments and close their doors, they hope for some quiet. Let’s join together and provide quiet for our neighbors and in return hope they will do the same for us.

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.

Do not do this

Rosemary Behan, The National, writes about the shockingly common use of smart phones for entertainment, sans earbuds, in public places. Behan starts her piece by recounting a recent encounter with a stranger in which she had to ask him to turn down the volume of his smart phone. Why? Because he had “casually been using his smartphone as a home cinema, without earphones” for five minutes and she decided that she “didn’t want to spend any part of my Friday morning listening to the loud film clips of a random stranger.”  We have all been there.

What follows is Behan’s lament about how often we are subjected to this kind of behavior and her wish that “hotels, restaurants, cafes, or airline managers” would “lay down the rules about this kind of thing” or, perhaps, keep “a supply of disposable headphones on hand, for this purpose.” If only.

The problem, of course, is that the miscreant with the loud phone can completely focus on whatever he or she wishes to without a worry about annoying others (seemingly), while the annoyed others cannot concentrate on their immediate interest or concern because of the miscreant’s use of his or her phone for entertainment. Hence quiet cars on trains, which Amtrak introduced at the urging of regular commuters who “had become fed up with obnoxious cell phone chatter,” and which have since been adopted by other train systems.

Count us among those who are grateful for the quiet car, but isn’t it a concession by the train operators that they are unable or unwilling to police the anti-social behavior of some percentage of their riders? Separation is probably be the best option–it’s relatively free of friction and more certain to reward those seeking some quiet–but why is it even necessary to complain about this frankly selfish behavior? By trying to find ways to accommodate both those who want some control over their soundscape and those who don’t give a damn who they distract and offend, are we not rewarding bad behavior? In the end, do we make the problem worse tomorrow by not discouraging this anti-social behavior today?

 

The Sounds of Protest

Photo credit: John Hilliard licensed under CC BY 2.0

are getting louder. Alastair Boone, City Lab, writes about Stuart Fowkes, the founder of a new project called Protest and Politics, “a sound map that documents the sounds of protest, as they grow louder in cities around the world.” Boone reports that “from Brexit to Trump’s election, the past year has known more protests than many before it,” but he adds that Fowkes’ project includes sound from as early as the Gulf War in 1991.

Protest and Politics is part of a larger program founded by Fowkes, Cities and Memory, which is essentially a world sound map. What makes his new project different is that it is “the first to document the sounds of history.” “What’s great about this project is that it’s little slices of history,” Fowkes explains.

Listening to his recordings of protests in the United States, one can hear the same chants across the country. The “same sort of unity is present abroad,” where “casserole protesting, for example, using pots and pans to make noise in lieu of voice,” which originated in Latin America, is also heard in recordings from Europe and Canada.

Taken together, Fowkes hears “something of a unified voice that’s becoming stronger, becoming louder.” He concludes that “[m]ore and more, people feel like they’re part of something.” And that is what Fowkes hopes people take away from listening to his project. Says Fowkes, “I think there’s a general feeling that we need to rise up and make our voices heard.”