Disorderly Sound

Noise as a weapon, the bad neighbor edition

What happens when an entitled someone moves to the countryside next to a neighbor who has chickens? This: Skynews reports that a neighbor dispute over a noisy ‘foreign’ cockerel led Millionaire ‘harassed lesbian neighbours by blaring ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ when their new cockerel crowed.’

If you move to the country, you will hear chickens and roosters and other livestock. What you don’t expect to hear is a cranked up sound system being blasted by a monied asshole. Fortunately the story has a happy ending, because in the UK they take this sort of anti-social behavior very seriously. While the miscreant was not found guilty of harassment, he is barred from any contact with the two women, directly or indirectly, for two years. Added the judge, “[y]ou have to live as neighbours, you need to behave and stop being stupid or petulant.” Hear, hear!

 

Football stadium noise still here for another season

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

It’s been years since I’ve been to a college football game. The last games I attended were at the Los Angeles Coliseum, one of the quieter big-school stadiums, during the Pete Carroll era at USC. But I have read about and written a number of stories on stadium noise. Here is the latest story about the stadium noise at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

This article, like every other article about stadium noise, says the same things: the noise is distracting so the coaching staff makes the team practice with loud music being blasted at them. Why is it understood that the coach should “condition” his team rather than demand that the noise level be controlled? Simply put, crowd noise shouldn’t be a factor in a football game. What Coach Riley (and everyone else attending the game) doesn’t know is that if it’s loud enough to impact play on the field, it’s loud enough to cause auditory damage.

The Quiet Coalition is still waiting for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and its member colleges and universities–many of which have medical schools, schools of public health, audiology programs, or all three–to do something to protect the hearing of their student athletes and those attending the games. At least this University of Tennessee audiology professor understands the problem, which is why she recommends that students use earplugs when they attend UT football games. Kudos Dr. Patti Johnstone! But rather than having students block the noise, why not demand that the university control the noise in the first instance?

And as this article shows, stadium noise is a factor in professional games, too. In fact, stadium noise probably contributed to the Los Angeles Chargers recent loss in Denver.

Should football games be decided on the field, or by the home crowd purposefully making too much noise for the visiting team to hear the play being called? Whatever happened to good sportsmanship?

Sadly, it appears the NCAA, professional football teams, and stadium owners won’t address noise until and unless someone sues them because they developed sudden hearing loss or tinnitus after attending a game. Let’s hope that happens before many players and fans suffer significant hearing loss or develop tinnitus.

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.

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.

Who is to blame for noisy restaurants?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noisy restaurants seem to be in the news these days. Almost every week, The Quiet Coalition comes across another article or television report about them. This piece from the Daily Mail is one of the few that provides names and numbers–the names of the restaurants and actual decibel readings from a sound level meter–and the sound levels they reported were loud enough to damage hearing.

What can you do to protect yourself? You don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud (although we encourage everyone to install one on a smart phone–very accurate ones are available). The auditory injury threshold is only 75-78 A-weighted decibels (dBA). If you have to strain to speak or to hear while trying to have a normal conversation at 3-to-4 feet distance–the usual social distance for speaking or dining in the U.S.–the ambient noise is above 75 dBA, and your hearing is being damaged.

And once it’s gone, the only remedy is hearing aids.

So who is to blame for noisy restaurants? This report from Australia doesn’t blame anyone in particular, but suggests the culprit is minimalist design trends. We would add that crowded dining areas, low ceilings, and, of course, background music turned up to rock concert levels do not help.

Before the mass adoption of the industrial look in restaurant design, restaurants used to be carpeted, with drapery covering the windows, upholstered banquettes lining the walls, and white tablecloths covering every table. One went to a restaurant to dine and to converse. It is obvious that design trends have changed dramatically over the last two decades or so. Newer restaurant designs with open kitchens that allow the clanging of pots and pans to be heard in the dining area and hard floor and wall surfaces (e.g., glass, metal, polished cement, and tile) that reflect rather than absorb sound are certainly part of the problem.

As a result, restaurant noise is now the leading complaint of diners in many cities, according to the 2016 Zagat annual survey, and just barely in second place nationally, slightly behind bad service. As the twelve-step programs might say: First, you have to accept that you have a problem.

The important thing is that the problem of restaurant noise is finally being recognized, and now that we know that restaurant noise is a problem, we can start doing something about it. Some have suggested avoiding noisy restaurants or walking out if the restaurant is too noisy. But that isn’t a realistic choice in most cities. If one did that, one would never go to a restaurant. Instead, ask the manager to turn down the volume of amplified music, and if he or she refuses, tell them that you are leaving and will never return, and that you will tell everyone you know to avoid the place. Tell your city council and mayor that you want quieter restaurants. And post accurate and detailed reviews on Yelp, Open Table, and social media. Let the restaurant owner or manager, and those who read restaurant reviews on social media, know that “the food was excellent, but the place was so loud that we are never going back.”

If enough of us complain and demand quieter spaces, then restaurateurs will have to respond. Or they can ignore us at their peril.

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.

Whales talking on new frequency due to ocean noise

Photo credit: NOAA Photo Library (public domain)

Avery Thompson, Popular Mechanics, reports that “[n]ew research suggests that blue whales are changing their communication band due to noise from human ships.” Thompson writes that noise from ocean liners and large container ships can travel for miles below the waves, disturbing animals like whales and dolphins. Researchers from from Oregon State University are finding that blue whales are learning to adapt to the noise by changing the frequency with which they communicate, and they “believe that the whales are doing this deliberately to avoid interference from human sounds.” Of course, the scientists aren’t completely sure, but as shipping companies move to using quieter electric ships, they will be able to see if the whales go back to their former frequencies.

And it’s not just whales and dolphins that are reacting to ocean noise. Researchers at Newcastle University have discovered that “European sea bass experienced higher stress levels when exposed to the types of piling and drilling sounds made during the construction of offshore structures.”

It’s long past time that humans start considering the harmful effects our noisy existences are having on each other and every other living thing on this planet.

 

Noisy restaurants in the news again

Photo credit: Matt Biddulph licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Two reports this week, one from the United Kingdom and one from Baton Rouge, again highlight the problem of noisy restaurants.

Restaurateurs say that a quiet restaurant is a dead or dying one. They want their places to be lively. But there’s a difference between a lively restaurant with spirited conversations going on among the diners, and one that is deafeningly loud, making it impossible to converse with one’s dining companions.

Yesterday, while looking for another piece of information in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) classic 1974 “Noise Levels Report” Information on Levels of Environmental Noise Requisite to Protect Public Health and Welfare with an Adequate Margin of Safety (EPA, 1974). I came across Table D-10, which I had missed on an earlier reading.

EPA Recommended Acceptable Noise Levels for Restaurants  (Click to enlarge)

It turns out that the EPA recommends that restaurants be very quiet, only about 50-60 decibels. These days, that’s almost “library quiet”. In fact, some months ago I measured the sound level to be approximately 45 dBA in the main circulation room of my local library!

So concern about appropriate restaurant noise levels is not a new concern. It’s decades old.

Some have suggested that diners should walk out of noisy restaurants, or boycott them. But in many cities, if we did that, we would never eat in a restaurant. There just aren’t any quiet ones. And as long as the restaurants are full, there is no incentive for them to become quieter.

I don’t know about the UK, but in the U.S., lawsuits under disability rights laws may be the only way restaurants will become quieter.

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.

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?

 

Want to live in the city? Here’s a calculus you should consider:

, a licensed real estate agent writing for The Washington Post, looks at the “noise-v.-walkability trade-off.” Kaminsky states that while “[w]aking up in a city that never sleeps is an exhilarating and romantic notion,” the reality–screaming sirens and honking horns at night, deafening construction noises all day–leaves something to be desired. But despite all the noise that comes with the urban experience, living in a city has never been more popular. Why? Walkability is the main reason that millennials give for preferring city living, but older Americans who are downsizing are also leaving the suburbs for city centers.

What can you do if you want to live in the big city? Kaminstky offers this word of advice: “[d]on’t think that you are going to move to the city and then win the fight against noise.” So what does she suggest? Her number one suggestion is this: look up. Whether buying or renting, higher floors are quieter. To see all of Kaminsky’s suggestions, click the link above.

Are quiet restaurants only for the rich?

seems to think so, as she writes that “[i]n some places, quiet is becoming a luxury amenity.” Ferst comes to this conclusion after speaking to acoustic engineering firms and a handful of restaurateurs, including Alex Stupak, the owner of Empellon Midtown. When Stupak opened Empellon Midtown he considered the sound quality–and spent real money on sound absorption panels–because of a review of his “scrappier” downtown space that praised the food while noting the loud music and “shouty” guests. So in went the sound absorption panels, but only at his pricier midtown space.

Ferst writes about the conventional wisdom that loud music in restaurants started with the opening of Babbo in 1998, “when Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich decided to play the music the kitchen listened to in the dining room.” She quotes Batali, who said that:

We played music that we liked at full volume. We didn’t do it to piss people off. We did it to set a mood.

But it’s obvious that Batali did piss some people off, however unintended. Unfortunately, the noise levels in New York City restaurants did not get serious attention until 2013, when Adam Platt, NY Magazine’s restaurant critic, wrote, “Why Restaurants Are Louder Than Ever.” And what was the reaction? Ferst writes that “restaurateurs began to dial back the noise — at least at places where comfort is an integral part of the experience and there’s money to spend on a build-out.” The rest of Ferst’s piece focuses on the measures taken in tonier restaurants to ensure that guests don’t get a side of tinnitus with their overpriced meal.

But what about the rest of us? At Alex Stupak’s downtown space, Empellon Al Pastor, Stupak says that “he’s trying to make it ‘as loud as humanly possible on purpose.'” Why? Because it’s meant to be a place for “drinking and a party.” Says Stupak, “We invested in the best speakers and amplifiers. We want them to get drunk.”

Note to self: never ever go to Empellon Al Pastor. And you know what? Might as well skip Empellon Midtown too, because there is no reason to reward someone who worries about whether his pricier restaurant is acoustically pleasing to his wealthier patrons, but thinks it’s okay to make his restaurant for commoners “as loud as humanly possible on purpose.” That is, at Silencity we believe the best way to encourage restaurateurs to lower the noise level–and protect your hearing–is to refuse to eat at restaurants that are too loud or to hand over your money to a restaurateur who is indifferent to noise.

While it may be true that higher end restaurants are more likely to address noise in their restaurants, you can find comfortable places to eat or drink in most cities. It takes some effort, but they exist. If you are lucky, your local restaurant reviewers will note the loudness of restaurants they review.  And if you live or work in New York City and want to know which restaurants are safer for your ears, you’re in luck! Our sister site, Quiet City Maps, posts reviews of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other spaces where you can have a nosh or a drink and a conversation.