Design

Is a better sounding subway possible?

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Stephen Nessen, WNYC, writes about the Second Avenue subway in New York City and the efforts that were made to improve the sound in its stations. He introduces us to Joe Solway of the international engineering firm ARUP, which designed the new Second Avenue stations.  Solway spent 15 years working on the subway, “figuring out how to eliminate squealing wheels and loud distorted announcements.” He lists the measures taken to make the experience as good as it could be given that “[t]he new system had to work with the existing system.” Among other things, Solway said that they redesigned the way the rails are fastened to the ground, encasing them in rubber that mitigates vibration, used better booths and cables and high quality speakers, and installed sound absorbing panels on the walls and ceiling.

So, did it work? Commuter Rafael Colon thought so. “It’s very quiet, like unusually quiet, not like when you take the number 6 train,” he said.

Click below to hear Nessen’s interview of Solway:

 

There’s a booming market for fancy noise-absorbing objects

Photo credit: SparkCBC licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Want to take a guess why? Yes, open offices. Sarah Kessler, Quartz, examines the world of open offices and the designers who try to fix them, like Aaron Taylor Harvey, the head of Airbnb’s internal architecture and interior design group. So what does Harvey do to control the din at Airbnb? His team hung “a series of banners set two feet apart and made out of recycled cotton” from the ceiling of a large open space, wrapped surfaces with “sound-absorbing panels that look like fabric wallpaper, and strategically placed sound-absorbing walls to separate areas of noisy collaboration from those with quiet focus.”

But these are new, cutting edge tech companies. They aren’t going to be satisfied with those beige fabric covered cubicle frames that traditional corporations use.  No, today’s designers are making the banners like those used at Airbnb with recycled denim. “[T]hey’re ideal for companies, like Airbnb, that want to be environmentally friendly,” writes Kessler. One company makes “sound-absorption panels that look like wood, and sound-permeable paint that can help disguise a panel as a piece of art,” while another “builds sound absorption into lamps, furniture, and room dividers.”

No doubt the cost of all these high-end fixes are cheaper than, say, providing a quiet space to each of Airbnb’s employees, but at what point do corporate executives and their bean counters decide that maybe the best option is to provide employees with an office where they can actually get their work done?

Want to be a citizen scientist?

HUSH CITY app Icon: ©️ ANTONELLA RADICCHI 2017

Antonella Radicchi is a registered architect with a PhD in Urban Design and a soundscape researcher.  She is currently an IPODI-Marie Curie Fellow working on her post doc project “Beyond the Noise: Open Source Soundscapes” at the Technical University Berlin. As part of her project, she has developed HUSH CITY app, a free mobile app designed to crowdsource data “related to ‘everyday quiet areas.'”

Radicchi is concerned about how cities have become increasing noisier, noting that in Europe “over 125 million people are affected by noise pollution from traffic every year.” “Quietness,”she laments, “is becoming a luxury available only for the elites.” In order to protect and plan quiet areas, Radicchi’s project applies “the soundscape approach, the citizen science paradigm and open source technology, with the ultimate goal of making quietness as a commons.”

Radicchi is currently working on a pilot study in the Reuterkiez, “a Berlin neighborhood affected by environmental injustice and noise pollution,” using crowdsourced data to target “everyday quiet areas” by using the HUSH CITY app, interviews, and group soundwalks. And she is inviting people to be “an active part of a citizen science research project to map and evaluate quietness in cities” by downloading and using the app. The information that is gathered will be use to generate an “Everyday Quiet Areas Atlas,” a “virtual, open, interactive and multi-layered map,” and “a digital report on how to protect existing ‘everyday quiet areas’ and planning new ones.”

Ah, but I don’t live or work in Berlin, you may be thinking. Not a problem, as you don’t have to be in Berlin to participate. You can identify “everyday quiet areas” in your neck of the woods because HUSH CITY app can be used wherever you are.  If you want to join others to identify, preserve, and create quiet spaces in your community, here’s how to do it:

  • Download the Hush City app–it’s free!
  • Go to one of your favorite quiet spots
  • Record the sound where you are in the quiet spot
  • Take a picture of the spot where you recorded the sound
  • Answer the questionnaire about this quiet spot
  • Share this information with your community.

You can download HUSH CITY app at the iTunes Store or Google Play. And for those of you who wonder what happens to the data that is collected–and you should for every app you download–Radicchi states that “all data collected will be stored and shared anonymously and in respect of privacy issues.” You can contact Radicchi directly via @firenzesoundmap or @HUSHCITYapp.

 

Looking for a quiet restaurant? Wall St. values this “quiet” chain at $7.5 billion

Photo credit: Mike Mozart CC by 2.0

By David Sykes, Vice-chair, The Quiet Coalition

Yearn for a quiet spot to dine where you can chat (or read) without clamour? If that seems hopeless in America’s noisy restaurants don’t give up—change is on the way.

It’s true that for decades restaurants in America have gotten louder and more cacophonous on purpose. Why? Restaurateurs and their designers say data show that profits climb when noise levels are high because their patrons are:

  1. attracted by the “buzz,”
  2. drink more alcohol,
  3. consume more food faster, and
  4. leave quickly, allowing more patrons to sit down and repeat the process.

True or not, those crowded, noisy eateries are designed to be that way. The good news is that, just as easily, they can be designed to be quiet. The bad news is that so many restaurateurs still don’t understand that the racket drives away large groups of potential patrons, and also alienates restaurant reviewers, some of whom now even carry sound level meters.

Is there such a thing as a successful quiet restaurant chain? One that profits from allowing patrons to converse with each other or read a book, or put a laptop on the table and work quietly–even at peak dining hours? Amazingly, yes. It’s one that already has 2000 stores, is the hottest “fast-casual” chain in America, and is growing faster than Starbucks. The name? Panera. Panera’s stores don’t pretend to be fashionable bistros nor do they serve alcohol. But the food is healthy, natural, fresh, and tasty and the atmosphere is definitely—and, according to acoustics experts, very consciously—designed to provide a haven where people can enjoy quiet conversations and each other without cacophony.

Quiet dining matters to lots of us—more folks than you might imagine. In fact, about 20% of people in their 20s suffer from hearing disorders (which can include hypersensitivities to noise with names like tinnitus, hyperacusis, and misophonia, conditions that make it impossible for them to enjoy restaurants or clubs). And about 50% of people in their 60s and an extraordinary 90% of people in their 80s suffer from an inability to understand speech when background noise levels are elevated. These are not “fringe” groups. Collectively, there are 40 million Americans who probably avoid dining in restaurants because they literally can’t stand the noise.

Do restaurant owners understand that? If they did, they might create quiet sections to broaden their market appeal. Many apparently do not. For those who do, the market opportunity may be considerable.

It just could be that “quiet dining” is the next trend.  For customers looking for quiet, the prospects are mouth-watering.

If you’d like to know how to make a restaurant quieter, check out: Why Acoustics are Important in Restaurant Design and Restaurant Acoustics: Restaurant Noise Reduction by Audimute.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Yeah, this will happen

I believe I can fly.   Photo credit: sv1ambo CC by 2.0

In “Uber’s Flying Car Chief On Noise Pollution And The Future Of Sky Taxis.,” Fast Company tells us that Uber has a shiny new thing to distract its billionaire investors from its extraordinary burn rate and man-child CEO.  What is this game changer?  FLYING CARS! No really, they are coming and Uber is on it. Fast Company’s Sean Captain writes that “Uber is taking the technology seriously and this week it takes another step forward with a summit meeting that lays out its vision.”  A vision that surely will make up for all of the bad press Uber has garnered in the last couple of months.

After rolling our eyes at the thought of “an urban flying taxi system” somehow maneuvering through Manhattan without killing anyone, we focused on the claim of Uber’s Flying Car Chief, Mark Moore, that “the slower-spinning electric motors will keep noise to a hum.” “What were (sic) looking at is, in the next several years, being able to bring experimental aircraft into and test them in the relevant environment of the city,” says Moore, who fails to mention that Uber had to stop its self-driving car program in California because they were operating their test vehicles without proper permits.

So back to noise. Captain tells us that “Uber plans to use electric VTOL planes that briefly tilt their wings and propellers up to take off vertically like drones, then tilt them forward to fly forward.” Uber is opting for planes because helicopters are too noisy. Moore assures us that Uber’s planes “will be higher-pitched..blending into the hum of car traffic in cities rather than rumbling on over a longer distance and rattling windows.” Then a discussion follows about the difference between helicopter blades and airplane blades, with Moore asserting that plane propellers are “as much as 32 times quieter.” “That’s where the magic happens,” says Moore.  Hey everyone, Uber’s flying care are going to be quiet because of magic!

Sadly, there are naysayers who counter Moore’s rosy view. Says Brien Seeley, founder of the Sustainable Aviation Foundation, “the sound of a plane or helicopter has to be below 50 decibels, about the volume of a conversation at home, at a distance of 40 meters from its landing area.” Why? Because “[o]therwise either the noise will annoy neighbors or the airport will have to be too big to create a buffer.” Seeley has proposed a competition to develop air taxis “that meet the 50-dB at 40 meters target.”  A competition?  Surely we will have a quiet air taxi in no time! Or maybe not–Seeley describes the development effort as a “Herculean challenge.”

The article then focuses on Uber’s “mini-airports, called vertiports (complete with fast battery charging),” that will be put on top of buildings “to minimize the noise.” And there is a discussion about gridlock. All of this while Uber is effectively out of the self-driving car market because of the California snafu discussed above, and that little matter of Google’s Waymo lawsuit against Uber for allegedly stealing its self-driving technology, which Wired suggests could “kill Uber’s future and send execs to prison.”

We will believe in Uber’s magical noise-free airplane taxis after Uber makes an actual profit.

Update: Noise aside, Popular Mechanics offers “6 Reasons Why Uber’s Flying Taxis Are a Mirage.”

 

 

 

Well, here’s one way to deal with a noisy world

Image courtesy of Knops

 

Introducing “Knops – The volume button for your ears.” What are Knops exactly? According to their Kickstarter page:

Knops are acoustic adjustable hearing solutions that reduce noise in four steps. No electronics, comfortable to use and easy to carry.

Essentially Knops are adjustable earplugs that allow you to increase and decrease the amount of sound filtering you need for any given situation. If they work as promised, they could be really useful for someone who is exposed to different soundscapes in the course of a day (e.g., a quiet home, noisy gym, chatty workplace, and loud restaurant). What makes Knops interesting is that the Kickstarter story suggests that hearing protection was a motivator and not just being the master of your personal soundscape.

Knops are on offer for €58 ($62) during the Kickstarter pledge phase, with a “normal” price of €99 ($107.50).  It’s unclear how many people will be willing to part with about $100 for a pair of adjustable earplugs, but as of 10:00 p.m. EST on April 24th they have $137,386 pledged in their Kickstarter campaign, which is $100,000 over their $32,532 goal.

Progress Made Against Hospital Noise

By The Quiet Coalition

Some people care most about airport noise. Others focus on noise in schools or restaurants or stadiums. But one group of about 500 professionals has spent twelve years reducing noise in America’s hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Of course, airport noise is a public health problem—especially for people living near America’s 5,194 airports–but noise is a serious public health problem indoors too. This is particularly so for people whose health is compromised, i.e., the millions of patients in America’s 62,414 hospitals and healthcare facilities, not to mention the quarter-million medical and support staff who work there amid the din.

Healthcare facilities are oftentimes the noisiest, most sleep-deprived places you will find anywhere. Have you tried sleeping in an older-style hospital recently? Furthermore, the noise problem has escalated steadily for decades thanks to the burgeoning use of new technologies such as alarmed medical devices.

Fortunately, a group of about 500 professionals known as the FGI Acoustics Working Group has been working continuously for twelve years to address noise in healthcare facilities. So this story contains good news.

The group published it’s first comprehensive noise control criteria in 2010, which were quickly adopted by most states. To hear the difference, visit just about any recently constructed hospital and compare it to an older hospital.  The group’s criteria have now been “exported” to eighty-seven other countries that struggle with the same indoor noise problems (this was accomplished through partnerships with the International Code Council, the US Green Building Council’s LEED for Health Care initiative, and other groups).

But this group’s crusade against noise is not over. This November 2017, they and their hosts will publish more detailed and updated noise control criteria in three separate volumes, one covering America’s 5,564 hospitals, one for the country’s 25,750 healthcare clinics, and another one for it’s 31,100 residential care facilities. If you’re interested you can see their latest work here, FGI Bulletin #2, and here in their first edition (published in 2012).

The Quiet Coalition is proud that its chair, vice chair, and another TQC co-founder are both involved in leading this important work. According to our vice chair, David Sykes, “this decade-long work shows that a broad coalition of interested professionals–in this case, consisting of doctors, nurses, patients and families, public health advocates, hospital administrators, researchers, regulatory agency personnel, lawyers, planners, architects, engineers, designers, and contractors–can achieve meaningful, national progress toward ending the long-ignored public health problem of noise by taking a focused approach and addressing the needs of people who are particularly vulnerable.”

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

An explainer on noise cancelling headphones:

How do noise cancelling headphones work? Royce Wilson, news.com.au, writes about noise cancelling headphones, the cure-all to our modern noisy world.  But have you ever wondered how they actually work?  Wilson reports that there are “two types of noise cancelling technologies for headphones — passive and active,” and he asked University of Queensland School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering research fellow and lecturer Dr Konstanty Bialkowski about the different approaches.  Dr. Bialkowski said that the passive technology is “like having a cup around your ear that reduces high-frequency noise” (“people talking or high-pitched squealing”), while active cancellation is for low-frequency noise (e.g., low-pitched hum like a car engine, aeroplane engine or a fan).  With active cancellation, the headset, which has a microphone, “knows the distance between the microphone and your ear and it makes [a] complete opposite noise” to cancel out the distracting noise.

Click the link for the full article, which includes a review of the Sony’s MDR-1000X wireless noise cancelling headphones.

 

Is your home too noisy? Here’s a useful guide to help make your space more peaceful:

How to solve common sound problems in your home. Kate Wagner, a graduate student in Acoustics writing for Curbed.com, has written an interesting piece on room acoustics that is very accessible for the layperson.  She describes basic acoustic principles and examines common sound problems and solutions.  Whether the issue is your entertainment system or an open plan space, Wagner offers straight forward suggestions you can use to make your home as aurally comfortable as possible.

If you want to learn more about about sound absorption, reflection, diffusion, and transmission to see how they affect the sound quality of a room, watch this short and informative video Wagner linked to in her piece:

 

Can Subway Noise Damage Your Hearing?

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Sadly, the short answer is yes. And the longer answer is that some subway stations are more dangerous to your hearing than others.  Anil Lalwani, MD, an otolaryngologist at Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and his colleagues prepared a study that examined whether subway station design influenced noise levels. Dr. Lalwani and his team went to twenty stations in Manhattan and discovered “that the noisiest platforms shared one thing in common: curved tracks.”  Click the link above to view Dr. Lalwani’s video about this study, its conclusion, and to hear Dr. Lalwani’s recommendations about “what we can do to reduce the risk of long-term hearing damage from subway noise exposure.”