Everyday noise

London commuters dread Tube noise

Photo credit: Leon Warnking from Pexels

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

After my studies on the adverse impact of elevated train noise children’s classroom learning in a school in Upper Manhattan were published, the New York City Transit Authority became more involved in seeking out ways to reduce rail noise. I was asked to be a consultant to the Transit Authority in this undertaking. As I studied the rail noise in greater depth, I learned that rail noise could indeed be reduced, e.g. welded rail, rubber rail seats between rail and tracks, wheel truing, and track lubrication. What I also learned is the relationship between noise and proper maintenance of the system. To run a system with fewer breakdowns and disruptions, it is wise to keep the system properly maintained and noise should be viewed as a clue to potential breakdowns. Thus, keep the wheels trued and the tracks lubricated.

Now forty-five years after the publication of my first study on transit noise and learning, I read that Transport for London is being confronted by riders who say that the one aspect of their journeys on the Tubes that they dread is the noise. In April Curtin’s article for MyLondon, we learn that a research project recorded sound levels exceeding 105 decibels–that’s extremely high–on some of the journeys. As discussed in my earlier writings, this article notes that the rail squeak that passengers are complaining about causes damage to the tracks and trains. Not surprisingly, we are told, this adds to the maintenance bill.

In response to the noise complaints, Transport for London says it is carrying out regular maintenance work and “investing in new technologies to reduce noise on the Underground.” As the co-author of the book “Why Noise Matters,” written with four British co-authors, and as an individual who has examined transit noise for so many years, I offer my assistance to Transport for London as they explore ways to reduce rail noise.

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.

The importance of quiet in times of stress

Photo credit: Reynaldo #brigworkz Brigantty from Pexels

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

In previous posts, I have cited studies on how human-made sounds and noises in our oceans adversely impacted the health and welfare of whales and other ocean species and how a quieter ocean put less stress on its inhabitants. Sabrina Imbler, writing for the New York Times, describes the natural sounds of the ocean’s inhabitants so that we can have a better “understanding of healthy remote ecosystems.” The instruments now used by acousticians allow them to register the sounds that “lurk thousands of feet below the surface.” The acousticians, as Dr. Tzu-Hao Lin discusses in this article, are not only interested in the sounds of sea creatures but also the “ambient hum of the deep sea.”

The recordings of the soundscapes obtained by the researchers will provide information about smaller “deep sea noisemakers” that up to now we have known little about. Dr. Lin wants to make these recordings available online so that more researchers can involve themselves in the research which has drawn so much of his attention. However, Dr. Lin expresses concern that deep-sea mining interests might disrupt larval settlement of certain sea creatures and disrupt the lives of these creatures for many years to come.

Besides the knowledge provided by Dr. Lin and his associates about the ecosystems of these interesting sea creatures, this research also makes us more aware of the fact that humans share the land and the sea with many other species and that all of the species are entitled to healthy ecosystems.

Like the sea creatures in Dr. Lin’s studies, humans are very much affected by their surroundings as well and this is underscored in a second article in the New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope. The 2020 election, as well as the COVID pandemic, have brought much stress into the lives of millions of Americans and Parker-Pope writes about the advice given by neurologists, psychologists, and mediation experts to lessen our anxiety. It came as no surprise to me that she recommended the importance of quiet in soothing our anxiety and enhancing our mental health.

Parker-Pope suggests walking on “quiet, tree-lined paths” and connecting with nature. Silencity readers know how much attention has been paid to soundwalks and their impact on our well-being. I, a Manhattan resident, am fortunate enough to live near a river and a park and can attest that my morning walks along the river and the green park have most certainly provided the comfort I yearn for during this difficult time. Yet, I still long for a smooth electoral process as we move forward and a successful development of a coronavirus vaccine to lessen my stress.

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.

The benefits of quiet during the pandemic

Photo credit: cottonbro from Pexels

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

Hearing that there has been an uptick in COVID-19 cases, I have decided to continue to reflect further on the relationship between sound and this pandemic. With more people being hospitalized with COVID-19, I recalled my papers, written years ago, about the importance of quiet in the hospital setting. I looked at more recent literature and found that studies are still being done in this area. Dr. Julie Darbyshire heads the SILENCE project in the UK which is examining the effect of noise and quiet on hospital patients. They are still warning us of the detrimental effect of slamming doors, hospital alarms and other noises in our hospitals and the importance of quiet when it comes to patient recovery. Dr. Darbyshire has been quoted as stating that massive health gains can come from quiet hospital time. She also notes that noise can be harmful to the staff as well.

Let me point out, as I listen to the frequent ambulance sirens passing my home in Upper Manhattan, that our city’s hospitals should also pay attention to the detrimental impact of these loud ambulance sounds on the city’s residents who are hearing them more frequently lately. I understand that ambulances must get their patients to the hospitals as quickly as possible but I also am familiar with the “less offensive” European emergency sirens being used—so should the hospitals.

With many of us confined to our homes during this pandemic I am assuming that you, like I, may be listening to music for greater comfort. A study found that listening to classical music lowers a raised heart rate and blood pressure, but especially interesting in this study was the finding that a pause in the music of two minutes brought about a period of relaxation and decreases in blood pressure and heart rate. Apparently, the silence also was beneficial to one’s heart.

One of the downsides of staying in more is that we are closer to our kitchens for longer periods of time. To those people who are concerned about the effect of extra pounds on their health, I believe you will pay heed to the studies that have shown that quiet leads to less eating. Those who listen to the sounds that accompany their eating rather than loud music on their earphones or a loud television program will eat less food. So while above, I suggested that you will be comforted by your music, do turn it off while eating. Of course, resist going into your kitchen more frequently.

Yes, the pandemic has interestingly brought greater attention to our ears and the sounds around us—both the harmful ones as well as those that bring us comfort and pleasure. Will we continue to reflect on how sounds and noise affect us when this pandemic passes?

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.

Sound and the healthy city

Image © Marcus Grant 2018

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wonderful and thought-provoking editorial from Antonella Radicchi and colleagues appears in the special issue of Cities & Health about sound and the healthy city. Dr. Radicchi was the lead guest editor for this issue and the Quiet Coalition acts as special issue partner.

One of the many things I was reminded of reading the editorial is that although urban noise has serious and well-recognized health consequences, a broader perspective on the urban soundscape is needed.

Perhaps my single-minded focus on decibel levels is misplaced? After all, I like the sounds of birdsong or fountains or many street entertainers just as much as anyone else.

As Dr. Radicchi and her colleagues write:

We hope that through a soundscape approach we can encourage fresh thinking about urban sound, including how people perceive and relate to their sonic environments, and show how sound can contribute to health. We believe that this approach can provide a collaborative platform for sound artists, sound technologists, urbanists and local people to work together with public health and create healthier urban environments.

They certainly encouraged some fresh thinking and self reflection for me!

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.

Community to vote on noise control cost

Photo credit: Andy Nystrom licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

What happens when citizens want highway noise control but the financial cost is high? The Canadian community of Beaconsfield, Quebec is facing skyrocketing noise control estimates for a long awaited concrete sound barrier. Since the need was identified in 2010, cost estimates have risen from $25.5 million to $46 million putting the entire project at risk.

Beaconsfield’s sound energy is above World Health Organization noise limits recommended to prevent health damage in pregnant women, newborns to teens, elders, and other groups-at-risk. This doesn’t mean the noise control budget should be unlimited. But a $46 million sound barrier may not be the only solution. Modern options include different sound barrier designs, lower speed limits, quiet asphalt, and greenscaping between residences and the highway. There are new technology sound barriers designed to cut noise and chemical air pollution that are as effective as other barrier styles, and might be less expensive.

While there is no doubt this highway noise is a public health risk, authorities have decided to let community members vote on whether to pay for noise control or not. This will pit resident against resident, leaving the outcome in the control of many people who don’t live near the highway.

If this was a contaminated water supply, there would be no vote on whether to pay what is needed to protect public health. Unfortunately, noise isn’t treated with the same seriousness even though exposure is linked to communication breakdowns, reading delays, and increased risk of impaired health like anxiety, depression, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, hearing loss, and dementia.

One of the root causes of this Canadian noise control problem is lack of community planning. Highways and infrastructure were built and expanded too close to homes, schools, playgrounds, and parks. Now there is a $46 million price tag to fix the problem.

In the U.S., the Quiet Community Act of 2019 would include limiting vehicle source noise emissions and better infrastructure planning to prevent community noise. This Act needs senate funding at a cost of $21 million a year. Experts estimate for every $1 spent on noise control, there will be an estimated $1.29 in future savings by eliminating preventable diseases and other adverse social effects of noise.

When it comes time to vote, one hopes the community in Quebec will vote so everyone has equal health protection from harmful noise no matter where they live. When it comes time to vote in the U.S., one hopes citizens will vote for senators who support funding the Quiet Community Act. Prevention will improve public health equality and cost less than noise control after the fact.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.

 

Birds changed their tune during the Covid lockdown

Photo credit: Paul Knittel from Pexels

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

In several blogs I have written recently, I commented that the pandemic’s effect on the soundscape did not just impact humans but other species as well, e.g. birds, whales. A recent article on a study of birds in San Francisco found that birds started singing differently during the silence of the COVID-19 Lockdown, noting that male white-crowned sparrows in San Francisco have begun to sing more softly and with an improved vocal range. The article says this change in singing may make them “sexier to females.”

The article cites a paper that has studied how animals, including whales and birds, have changed their behaviors during the pandemic shutdown. Before the pandemic, cities characterized by loud noises, especially from traffic, forced birds to sing louder to be heard by other birds. The authors reached this finding by comparing birdsong data collected previous years at the same sites they collected data during April and May 2020. Their data allowed them to conclude that birds “can adapt to changing environments.”

Erik Stokstad, writing for Science, states that birdsong “recaptured its former glory,” referring to the white-crowned sparrows of San Francisco. He adds that when birds sing louder in noisy environments the stress created “can speed aging and disrupt their metabolisms.” With the noise also preventing birds from hearing their own chicks, there is the possibility that bird diversity is less in many cities. Furthermore, by demonstrating that some birds can adjust their songs to their environment, it might be that birds who could not adjust, and as a result left noisier cities, might return to places that are now quieter. But the quieter time of the pandemic has passed as cities have been returning to noisier times. Thus, the birds that have quieted down will very likely have to increase the volume of their songs. Also, may I add, that it is unlikely the birds who left will return.

Stokstad interviewed Elizabeth Danberry and her behavioral ecologists who have studied white-crowned sparrows in and around San Francisco for more than twenty years. Their research has clearly demonstrated the impact of noise pollution on the health and well-being of these sparrows. Similarly, long standing research has also clearly found that noise is hazardous to human hearing, health, and well-being. So I ask, how much more research do we need linking noise to adverse effects on humans and other species before we begin to lower decibel level in our environment?

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.

Bobcat unveils quiet, electrically powered excavator

Photo credit: Michel Curi licensed uncer CC BY 2.0

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

One of the noisiest of America’s largest industries is construction and maintenance. It turns out that industry has the lowest “reinvestment rate,” i.e., spending on innovation, research, and development, of any major industry in the country. So resistance to innovation and change is deeply entrenched. But sometimes, change happens despite industry resistance. That’s what happening at Bobcat, which has teamed up with another company to unveil an electrically-powered
excavator.

We want to congratulate our sister program, Quiet Communities, which pioneered a change-management approach specifically to accelerate the rate of change in one deeply change-resistant industry, outdoor power equipment. For six years Quiet Communities has been fighting to get outdoor power equipment manufacturers and users–the companies that build and use gas-powered equipment, including those leaf blowers we all love to hate–to adopt new, cleaner and quieter electrically-powered equipment. Now its happening.

We call this approach “technology pull,” which is how America has always gone about achieving large-scale, systemic change. Essentially, new technologies come along, sometimes whole clusters of them.  Examples include railroads, electricity, telegraph, telephone, gasoline engines, aircraft, radio, television, and the like. All of those were all part of one gigantic, historic wave called the industrial revolution.

And now we’re living through the post-industrial revolution driven led by information technology and the emergence of alternative energy sources like electric motors. Arguably, America’s “secret sauce,” the way this country built the world’s most powerful economy, has always been by encouraging engineers and technologists to invent the next big thing faster than anybody else.

And now, finally, America’s change-resistant, stubbornly resistant outdoor power equipment manufacturers are getting the message. Congratulations to them! I have no stake in this innovation partnership between Bobcat and Green Machine, other than our own goal of making America a cleaner, quieter place to live. But frankly, I’m thrilled to see this happen.

Now if only we could convince the federal government to let the aircraft industry move faster toward electrically-powered airplanes (about which we’ve written already), then maybe we can all look forward to seeing a quieter, less polluted future ahead of us.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Pandemic delivers relief from aircraft noise to Minneapolis-St. Paul

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

As a researcher, I am well aware of how important it is to conduct studies in natural settings, not just in laboratories. A recent article by Janet Moore, Star Tribune, addresses how the COVID-19 pandemic created a natural setting observation where human reactions to aircraft noise before the onset of the pandemic could be compared with their reactions during the outbreak and then after things got back to “somewhat normal.”

Complaints related to noisy aircraft landings and departures at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport have been a constant reminder of how disturbing aircraft noise has been to the adjacent communities. This Airport has had “an uneasy, and sometimes, litigious relationship with its neighbors” for many years. In response, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (which owns and operates the Airport) has spent “nearly a half-billion dollars for building improvements for about 15,000 houses, apartments and schools to mitigate the noise.” Yet, noise complaints continued to be filed against the airport.

Then came the pandemic. The noise complaints fell considerably. With so many fewer planes, there was much less noise. People living near the airport were able to enjoy their backyard barbecues and breezes through open windows during the nighttime. One resident said, “I thought I’d die and had gone to heaven, it was so lovely.” Then the planes started coming back and this same resident noticed that the flights over the past month “are right back where they were” before the pandemic. Yes, noise complaints have gone up as well, according to the data collected.

With the airlines claiming that it is still too soon to say that passenger volume has returned to pre-pandemic levels, the noise levels at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport may still be lower than they were. Yet, there has been an increase in UPS and FedEx flights which could add to noise complaints. And more people are working from home, which could lead to increased noise complaints with people hearing daytime flights over their heads. It has also been conjectured that residents having experienced the quiet without the aircraft noise may be even more upset with the return of the noise and file even more complaints.

As I stated at the beginning of this writing, the pandemic has opened up the opportunity to study people’s reactions to an environment with less and more intrusive noise. More flights—more complaints; fewer flights—less complaints. Noise does intrude on the lives of people!

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.

Harmful transit noise can be reduced

Photo credit: William Davies has dedicated this photo into the public domain

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

I recently learned about another group of people being subjected to the harsh and dangerous noises emitted from a railway. In this case it is the Squamish Nation community in Vancouver whose lives are being disrupted by engine noise, engines idling in the middle of the night and early in the morning, and 100 decibel whistle blows at night at a protected crossing. In response to these complaints, the Canadian National Railway has commented that “there will always be some noise associated with operations.” The Railway goes on to say that it has made efforts to minimize their operations.

First, let me note the research that has demonstrated that noise is harmful to health and well-being and this includes railroad noise. Second, having been a consultant to the New York City Transit Authority on rail noise and knowledgeable about the underlying causes of rail noise, I feel comfortable in wondering whether the Canadian Railway has done everything it could to lessen its system noise. This is underscored by the railway simply saying efforts have been made to lessen noise without citing examples. I would also venture to assume that the railway might believe that reducing noise could be costly. In fact, by reducing noise the New York City Transit Authority actually saved money. The building of less noisy traction motors for its trains resulted in a more efficient motor that would last longer and smoothing the rails didn’t just lessen noise, it placed less stress on the city’s aging structure where stress can lead to increased breakdowns.

It has been over forty years since my first transit noise study which found that children in classrooms exposed to passing elevated train noise had lower reading scores. Yes, we were able to remedy the noise of the passing trains and the children’s learning improved. Now all these years later, I still find that individuals are being exposed to harmful transit noise and the agency in charge appears to accept the idea that the people living near the noise have to learn to live with it.

Thanks to the Noise Curmudgeon for the story link.

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.

Neighbor noise and violence

Photo credit: Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels

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

Recent articles examining the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the soundscape have reported that while complaints about sounds from overhead planes, construction, and bars have been reduced, neighbor to neighbor noise complaints have increased. This is explained, in part, by the fact that more people are staying in their homes over longer periods of time. The Japan Times addresses this issue squarely in its story, “Gripes about noisy neighbor boil over in Tokyo as stay-home drive drags on.” But this article adds another element to these neighbor complaints–violence.

The story highlights two incidents in which people stabbed their neighbors because they could not stand the noises the neighbor was making. Violence following noise is not new. There have been articles written over the years detailing individuals acting violently against neighbors who have imposed their loud music, footsteps, or voices on them. But what has been happening in Tokyo with 2020 noise complaints during the pandemic is that they have exceeded by over 25% the number of phone calls reporting noise during the same period last year. While noise, according to this article, has already been a leading cause of trouble between neighbors in Japan, it appears that the increase in complaints during the pandemic has resulted in a greater interest in trying to resolve such complaints.

The Japan Times cites Professor Emeritus Norihisa Hashimoto, who explains that people who are the subjects of noise complaints believe such claims are unreasonable while those who make the complaints feel frustrated as the noise continues unabated. He calls for “a specialized organization for hearing their stories neutrally.”

This difference in perception between those who are making the complaints and those who are accused of being noisy has always been the case. I know this because as a member of GrowNYC’s Board of Directors I have been asked frequently to resolve neighbor to neighbor noise complaints. While not always successful, the large numbers of times I, as a neutral listener, have succeeded in reducing the noise strongly suggests that it is worthwhile trying to mediate such noise problems. I believe public officials in New York City who have also assisted their constituents with noise complaints will say the same. I would also like to point out that New York City’s leases stipulate that landlords should provide residents with “reasonable” quiet. Thus, landlords and managing agents can limit intrusive neighbor noises as well.

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.