Hell is other people

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.

NJ town using hefty fines, threat of jail to stop dog barking

Photo credit: Mircea Iancu from Pexels

Allison Pries, NJ.com, reports that Saddle River, New Jersey is changing its ordinance against dog barking to provide for heavy fines and time limits. Pries writes that under the amended ordinance, residents cannot let their dog “bark, howl or yelp for more than 20 minutes between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. or for more than 15 minutes between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.”  Violators will be subject to fines of up to $1,000, up to 90 days in jail, or up to 90 days community service.

Pries writes that one incident, which no one would comment on, led to the ordinance change. In the end, the town couldn’t enforce its previous ordinance because there were no time limits.

Well, now there are time limits and hefty punishments, too. The borough administrator, Jerry Giaimis, however, asserts that the penalties are similar to over 200 other New Jersey communities, and adds that although a judge will have to make the call as to how to punish violators, he can’t see anyone going to jail over their noisy pooch.

Yes. The answer is yes.

The battleground.

And the question is: Are noise-filled carriages bad for your health? Hannah Jane Parkinson, The Guardian, is righteously appalled about a bone-headed idea floated by UK railway company South Western Railways which is considering getting rid of quiet carriages.  For some of us–raises hand as high as one can–quiet cars on Amtrak and state-run transit are the one of the few saving graces of an increasingly overused, underfunded public transit system here in the U.S. So reading that South Western Railways may kill quiet carriages not due to lack of interest but because “[t]he rise of mobile phones, loud music players and a general lack of etiquette mean that quiet zones are now virtually unenforceable,” is an absolute outrage.

Parkinson writes that some people think that quietness is overrated [Ed: monsters!] and says that “[p]sychotherapist and writer Philippa Perry suggests that we are becoming frightened of quietness, possibly as a result of technology.” But Parkinson sides with those of us who just want a moment that isn’t filled with layers of unavoidable sound, even suggesting prison sentences for the sound-loving louts who would rob the rest of us of just a few seconds of peace:

Seven years. That’s the minimum prison sentence that should apply to people on public transport who listen to music through their phone speakers (also known as “sodcasting”) – with two years for banal phone conversations that never end.

We agree, and would suggest similar sentencing guidelines for people wearing headphones who sing along, badly, to whatever they are listening to and those who set their phone volume to 11 and engage the tapping sound on their phone keyboards.

In the end, though, we can’t and shouldn’t avoid all sound, but the artificial sounds imposed on us by marketing miscreants and social louts can be controlled. Instead of getting rid of quiet cars on trains, why not make them all quiet except for one loud car for the uncaring and boorish? Tired of trying to eat a meal in peace only to have some miscreant spend his or her entire meal shouting into their smart phone? Interpose yourself into the conversation by offering unsolicited advice or agreeing with the unseen person on the other end. And refuse to give a dime of encouragement to the amateur “entertainers” who leap onto your subway car just as the doors close, armed with a boom box or bongos–yes, really–with the intent of destroying your sanity for the next three minutes.

People have begun to accept that noise is normal and that wanting quiet is some quirky affectation. But noise isn’t normal and should not be the default. We need to push back against the bad behavior of the noise makers and reclaim our public spaces.  So demand more quiet cars. Ask someone to stop shouting into their phone.  And know you are not alone.

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?

Canada leads the way

This photo by Bernard Spragg. NZ has been dedicated to the public domain.

First Edmonton, now Calgary: Calgary to pilot a project that implements a “network of real-time noise monitors” to nab noise polluters.

According to Shawn Logan, Calgary Herald, the city has struggled to control noise, “[b]ut thanks to a technology called LoRaWAN — a long-range, low power digital wireless network which now reaches every corner of Calgary — city IT planners are hoping to harness its potential in a number of areas.”  The network will be armed with “a special type acoustic sensor that could precisely determine noise levels in the city.”

For now, the sensors will be used to gather data to allow the team leading the project to “build in the ability to categorize the types of sounds captured, building a catalog of sounds including traffic, construction, drag racing and even gunshots, while being able to accurately determine its time and location.”

Depending on the quality of the data, and whether the technology will hold up in court, could the network be used to target noise polluters? One would hope, but it’s unclear whether the technology will be used to identify and fine them. We will follow Calgary’s and Edmonton’s efforts to deploy technology in the fight against noise pollution.

 

 

 

Never underestimate man’s ability to find more obnoxious ways to make noise

Photo credit: ben dalton licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

And oh the irony that this assault on one’s senses (and sensibility) is termed a “silent disco.”  What is a silent disco?  It’s when a bunch of extroverts don wireless headphones playing pop music and dance their way through formerly delightful parts of European cities, stopping occasionally to shout out lyrics together, as a sort of fresh hell ensemble. Here’s a sample:

Fortunately, residents of Edinburgh, Scotland have a city government that understands their concerns and is responding in the only responsible way: Edinburgh to ban “silent discos.”

 

 

Fast food delivery by drones is going to be so awesome

Photo credit: www.routexl.com licensed under CC BY 2.0

Except when it isn’t. No surprise, food delivery drones in Australia driving people mad. The problem, of course, is the high-pitched buzzing sound the drones make as they scurry around. Feilidh Dwye, WeTalkUAV.com, writes that one woman said “she would take her kids away from the house several hours a week, just to escape the noise. ‘With the windows closed, even with double glazing, you can hear the drones,'” she added.

So imagine fleets of drones large enough to deliver a couple of pizzas and a six-pack of beer and think about how horrific the constant high-pitched buzzing will be. Just because some Silicon Valley sociopath has figured out another way to make a billion providing a “service” no one needs, doesn’t mean we have to accept it. The days of moving fast and breaking things is over.

Meanwhile, in France…

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs (a game of pétanque in Bryant Park, NYC)

The Local France reports that a French mayor has banned ‘noisy’ pétanque playing  during “anti-social hours.” Seems harsh, butan “official document” notes that “the activity of pétanque playing causes repeated noise such as rattling balls, accompanied by the sound of loud voices and screams.” Anyone who has been in a sports bar during an “important” game will surely understand.

In any event, the mayor’s ban is reasonable–it is only from 11:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.–and exceptions will be considered.

That this exists is a disgrace

Photo credit: Darin Marshall licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

There are some people in this country who believe making the loudest sound is some sort of achievement to be celebrated. They are, of course, wrong. Case in point, this ridiculous and dangerous “contest” described in the Star Tribune has to be one of the most ignorant and dangerous of these foolish displays yet: Minnesota’s extreme car stereo fans compete to see how loud they can go.

How loud are the cars? Said one deranged participant, “I’m hoping for 166 [decibels]-plus.” Keep in mind the noise level of a jet plane from 100 feet away is a mere 135 dB, and the permissible noise exposure limit for 130-to-140 dB is “less than 1 second.” Every participant and observer attending this misguided event is surely destroying their hearing.

For those who think we are being a bit hyperbolic, consider that the noise level is loud enough to affect the car frame. The Star Tribune reports that “[t]he sound waves from these stereo systems are so powerful they can literally raise the roof, causing the metal car bodies to visibly flex and vibrate and the windshield wipers to bounce off the glass.”

So congratulations to all the participants who spent their disposable cash chasing the dream. Perhaps the winner can put the prize money towards a pair of hearing aids, because there is no cure for hearing loss.

Montana county looks to limit noisy bitcoin mining

 

The Independent Record reports that Missoula County is considering limiting bitcoin mining operations “amid concerns over noise, the amount of energy used by the cryptocurrency mining operations, and how that energy consumption could affect consumers.” Turns out mining virtual currency causes real life problems, like imposing a permanent hum on the neighbors generated by “the hundreds of fan blades” used to cool the mining factories.

But as much as we are appalled by ridiculous activities that make noise, this is quantifiably more horrible: The Independent Record states that “mining a single bitcoin takes as much electricity as it does to power the average American household for two years.”

Noise is usually a sign that something is wrong in a system.  That seems loud and clear here.