City Living

Searching for quiet in New York City

(c) Hush City app 2017

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

In his search for quiet in New York City, John Surico, writing for CityLab, turned to Dr. Antonella Radicchi’s Hush City app in an attempt to find a slice of serenity in the din. Surico joined Dr. Radicchi in a soundwalk of lower Manhattan, and discussed her ressearch. She would like to expand “equitable access to natural urban sounds,” noting there is a difference “between the human sounds of urban living…and the mechanical din of development, which hops up the decibel scale quick.”

During Antonella’s stay while conducting research mapping quiet areas in New York City, we met a number of times and were in contact regularly. As a researcher on the adverse effects of loud sounds and noise on our health and someone who has written and appreciated the wonderful sounds of our city, I welcomed my time with Antonella and enjoyed my Soundwalk with her.

Antonella understands well the sounds of our city that make it “New York”, e.g sounds of Times Square, Macy’s parade, and roars of fans at ball parks. But she also wants us to be able to continue to listen to the sounds of birds, the laughter of children playing, the hum of conversation. With her Hush City app, Antonella spent time mapping out the quieter areas of New York City and stressing the need to protect these spaces, especially the many parks in our city which provide us with the requisite quiet and the opportunity to enjoy more natural sounds.

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 subway noise is excessive

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the London Post reports that loud noise on 37 London Underground routes exceeds 85 dB. The World Health Organization recommends only one hour of 85 A-weighted decibel noise exposure to prevent hearing loss. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive recommends posting of warning signs if the noise exceeds 85 decibels. Despite this, Transport for London, the agency that operates London’s subway lines, states that it believes “Health and Safety Executive guidance suggests Tube noise is highly unlikely to cause long-term hearing damage.”

They’re wrong. If one’s commute is 30 minutes or greater each way, the total daily exposure from subway noise alone exceeds the WHO’s safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. And, of course, the Londoner is undoubtedly exposed to other noise sources, such as loud music in restaurants and shops.

When I visit London, I wear earplugs when taking the Tube. You should, too.

Because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

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.

Increasing urban noise affecting Dublin

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece from the Dublin Inquirer reports that noise levels have doubled there in the past four years. The Quiet Coalition’s Rick Neitzel, on the faculty of the University of Michigan, is cited in the piece. His work showed that noise levels in New York City are high enough to cause hearing loss. This is also true in other large cities.

Some urban noise is a necessary concomitant of modern life.  But cities can be made quieter.

As the article states, most urban noise comes from traffic. Enforcement of muffler regulations, appropriate combinations of tire and pavement materials, elimination of horn-based alerts, and enforcement of laws against horn use except to prevent an accident are all options to make cities quieter, as are more trees and bushes to help absorb and block road traffic 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.

How to protect your hearing

This image is in the public domain.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This short piece in The Guardian gives sound advice on how to protect your hearing. The Guardian reporter interviewed audiologist Gemma Twitchen, from the UK advocacy group Action on Hearing Loss, about how people can avoid damaging their hearing while listening to loud music, going to the cinema, or taking public transportation, among other activities.

Twitchen says that “[m]any new devices display the safe sound level and warn if you go above that,” and encourages readers to keep an eye on the reading.  She adds that noise-canceling headphones allow users to listen to music at lower volumes. This is important, because as Twitchen notes, temporary auditor symptoms after noise exposure indicate that permanent auditory damage will probably occur with repeated exposure.

I would go a step further and say that there probably is no such thing as temporary auditory damage and any symptoms after noise exposure indicate that permanent damage has already occurred. But I agree entirely with the audiologist’s advice to wear hearing protection.

And as we have been saying for a while, if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

Protect your hearing today to preserve it for tomorrow.

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.

Is the modern soundscape damaging our health?

Photo credit: Luis Dalvan from Pexels

Listen to Part 1 of a fascinating two-part series on the impact of city noise on our health by 99% Invisible, a podcast that focuses on “the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about.”  Part 1 looks at our soundscape and how much of it is created without much thought.

The show interviews an interesting mix of people, including design critic Kate Wagner who notes that the sound of cars has a huge impact.  “It’s inescapble,” she laments, adding that car sounds “drown out other things like bird song, human speech, the rustling of leaves, conversation — things that maybe are more personal or that we hold [to have] a higher aesthetic value.”

Dr. Erica Walker discusses the impact of noise on communities, stating that with city sound, volume is not the only thing that bothers. Rather, it’s the character of the sound and, importantly, “whether or not you have control over the situation.” Dr. Mathias Basner, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies how noise affects sleep, agrees, adding  that “health problems come in part from a lack of agency.” “Noise casues stress,” says Basner, “especially if we have little or no control over it.”

Part 1 then looks at how noise in cities discriminates because poorer neighborhoods tend to have higher noise profiles, but notes that if the city has a noise code, those laws tend to get applied more vulnerable, powerless people, particularly in areas undergoing gentrification.

The show concludes with a discussion by Joel Beckerman, a sound designer, who thinks we need a “new approach to sound,” one in which we decide what we want to hear rather than have sound thrust on us.  He calls this new approach “Sonic Humanism.”

Part 1 of this series covered a lot of material in under 20 minutes. It’s well worth listening to.  We will be sure to post about Part 2 when it’s published.

 

 

 

 

 

Why noise pollution is more dangerous than we think

Photo credit: Shawn Carpenter licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The May 13, 2019 issue of The New Yorker magazine has a wonderful article about noise by staff writer David Owen. Complementing the article is this 8-minute YouTube video in which Mr. Owen talks about what he learned writing the article:

It’s well worth spending the time to watch.

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.

Urban noise is “the absolute scourge of our time”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Guardian recently published a fascinating article by Thomas McMullan in which he said that cities are louder than ever and noted that the poor suffer the most. That article got an enormous amount of attention and “prompted a huge response,” so there was a follow-up piece in which the newspaper shared some of the best responses.  While one of the respondents embraced urban noise saying that “cities are people and life and they make noise,” every other commenter disagreed, with one exclaiming that “[n]oise pollution is the absolute scourge of our time.”

Some noise is a necessary accompaniment to urban living, but excessive noise isn’t. And solutions are available if the political will exists. Namely, enforcement of existing noise ordinances, especially for vehicle exhaust noise, revision of building codes to require sound insulation and double-paned windows, and quieter sirens would be good first steps.

I believe that if enough people complain to their elected officials about urban noise, something can be done about it.

And something must be done about noise, because urban noise isn’t just a nuisance–in many cities it is loud enough to damage hearing, and the World Health Organization recognizes is as a major health hazard.

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.

San Jose tackled two noise problems in one meeting

Photo credit: Tim Wilson licensed under CC BY 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In San Jose, California, the City Council recently considered two separate community noise issues in the same meeting: leaf blowers and train noise. Either the Council members are brave, because they’re willing to take on two typically nasty and intractable battles at once, or they were in for a nightmare meeting they didn’t anticipate!

Read the San Jose Spotlight article above closely and you’ll see that California actually has some tools available to regulate noise that many other regions of the U.S. do not, such as the California Air Resources Board and a statewide cap-and-trade program. Either of those programs could fund a “buy-back/Buy-Quiet” program that would remove polluting gas-powered leaf blowers and other gas-powered outdoor maintenance equipment and substitute electrical alternatives. That could accelerate the state-wide regulation of small gas-powered devices. In fact, California is far ahead of the rest of the country in regulating this equipment, with about 70 cities in the state having already addressed this problem

According to the San Jose Spotlight, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Palo Alto, and Mountain View have already banned gas leaf blowers and roughly “70 cities across California have some restrictions on gas leaf blowers, including Los Angeles, South Pasadena, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.”

What about train noise? The train-noise issue is entirely separate. But it turns out that the regulatory agency did NOT consult with local neighborhoods before they increased night-time train schedules. So San Jose caught the agency on a technicality.

Either way, this must have been an interesting City Council meeting in San Jose, and we wish the city’s citizens good fortune!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Is Boston too noisy? One city councilor says “Yes!”

Photo credit: Henry Han licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from Boston.com reports that city councilor at-large Althea Garrison is concerned about the adverse health impacts of high urban noise levels.

She’s right to be concerned. There can be no rational doubt that urban noise levels in many American cities are high enough to damage hearing, disrupt sleep, and cause hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and stress.  Anything that interferes with or disrupts sleep will cause adverse health and productivity impacts.  And noise causes stress and anxiety, too.

Kudos to Councilwoman Garrison for looking out for her fellow Bostonians. If enough people in other cities complain to their elected officials about noise, I can guarantee that laws will be enacted and enforced to make cities quieter. Because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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.

San Francisco’s BART has been made quieter

Photo credit: Luis Villa del Campo licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Dianne de Guzman, SFgate.com, reports that the San Francisco area’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system trains have been made quieter after repairs to track and wheels. More importantly, BART has ordered 775 new cars to be delivered in 2022, and these cars have specifically been designed to be quieter.

I have hyperacusis.  Sounds that don’t bother others are uncomfortable or even painful to me. I rode BART from the airport to downtown on a recent trip to San Francisco. It was certainly quieter than the subways in New York and London, but I still put on my noise-cancelling headphones (which were in my backpack for the flight up to SFO) because it was loud enough to be uncomfortable for me. I didn’t measure the sound pressure level, but I would estimate it to be 80-85 decibels, and that’s loud enough to cause hearing loss.

Subway noise is a problem in many cities, New York and London among them. But as New York City’s newest subway line and BART show, public rail transit can be made quieter. As The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, wrote: if there’s a will to make subways quieter, there’s certainly a way. This isn’t rocket science, simply bread-and-butter acoustic engineering.

And that’s perhaps the most important point. There seems to be a growing awareness that urban noise is a problem, and that it’s actually relatively easy and not all that expensive to make cities quieter.

Because if the subway sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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.