Noise Pollution

A Pocket Guide to Soundwalking

By Antonella Radicchi, PhD, Steering Committee Member, The Quiet Coalition

I’m pleased to share “A Pocket Guide to Soundwalking,” my essay on soundwalking written especially for newcomers to soundwalking, such as architects, city planners, and policy makers who are interested embracing a holistic and human-centered approach to “city sense and city design.” But my guide is also dedicated to anyone interested in learning about soundwalks, their purposes, how they are designed, and how they are performed.

In the words of Hildegard Westerkamp, a composer and musician who, since the Sixties, has contributed to the definition and spread of soundwalking, a soundwalk is “any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment.” Soundwalks have a long history with a consistent body of literature and established practices, especially in the field of sound studies and acoustic ecology where they have been used as educational tools for enhancing sonic awareness and listening skills. But in the past decade especially, they have also been used as a method of inquiry in urban planning and soundscape research projects, and they have employed both solo and group soundwalks.

Against this background, I’ve traced historical notes and drafted a preliminary list of criteria for designing a soundwalk that will be useful for diverse fields of research. My pocket guide to soundwalking proposes specific and diverse methods of soundwalking, drawn from literature review and my practice, and according to the civic, education, and research goals.

A Pocket Guide to Soundwalking” has been recently published in a fantastic book on urban economics, “Perspectives on Urban Economics” (eds Besecke et al.), which “offers a broad palette of perspectives on the multi-layered field of urban and regional economics.” The book pays tribute to Prof. Dr. Dietrich Henckel, who held the Chair of Urban and Regional Economics at TU Berlin’s Institute of Urban and Regional Planning from 2004 to 2017, “and contributed passionately to a wide range of discourses.”

Antonella Radicchi is a registered architect and has a Ph.D. in Urban Design, with doctoral studies conducted at MIT (Cambridge, USA) and at the University of Firenze (IT). She was awarded ihe IPODI-Marie Curie Fellowship, and is currently working on her “Beyond the Noise: Open Source Soundscapes” project at the Technical University Berlin. She collaborates with the European Commission Executive Research Agency as an external expert evaluator in the frame of HORIZON 2020. Her project, Toscana Sound Map, was commissioned for and exhibited at EXPO 2015 in Milan, and since 2009  she has been the curator of Firenze Sound Map, which was included in the Open Data System of the Municipality of Firenze in 2013. Dr. Radicchi has lectured extensively at the university level for ten years and has participated in international conferences and symposiums. In 2017 she has launched Hush City app, a citizen science project, to push the boundaries of knowledge and to promote the environmentally just city.

 

Landscapers fail to blow away leaf blower bans

Photo credit: Dean Hochman licensed under CC BY 2.0

Recently, the city of Newton, Massachusetts, and town of Maplewood, New Jersey, passed restrictions on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers because of public health, safety and environmental concerns. Gas-powered leaf blowers are a source of substantial pollution as well as deafening noise levels. In both cases, the courts refused to grant emergency relief to the landscapers thereby allowing the ordinances to take effect. Here are the stories of what happened and what they mean. Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, Executive Director, Quiet Communities

By Jeanne Kempthorne, J.D., Co-Chair, Quiet Communities Legal Advisory Council

Landscapers came out swinging to prevent municipalities in New Jersey and Massachusetts from enforcing gas-powered leaf blower ordinances limiting their use. So far, they’ve struck out.

Quiet Communities’ legal advisors have been following the litigation with interest, and have provided legal and technical assistance to municipalities forced to respond to last-minute efforts to stymie enforcement of local ordinances.

Newton, MA

In January 2017, the City of Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb west of Boston, amended its noise ordinance to, among other things, limit the use of leaf blowers between Memorial and Labor Days to the use of a single electric- or battery-powered machine emitting no more than 65 decibels per property. (The previous ordinance had already limited the permissible decibel level to 65, but was rarely enforced). The amendment followed two years of study and hearings by the City Council.

Shortly before Memorial Day when the summer limitations would take effect, a group of landscapers filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the enforcement of the amended ordinance. They argued that the ordinance was preempted by state environmental laws concerning air quality and claimed they would suffer irreparable economic injury if the ordinance were enforced. The plaintiffs also raised constitutional due process and equal protection claims, the latter on the basis of the ordinance’s distinction between gas- and non-gas-powered equipment operated at the same decibel level .

The Middlesex Superior Court denied the landscapers’ motion for a preliminary injunction, emphasizing, first, that the landscapers had not proved that they would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction. The plaintiffs had sworn in affidavits that they would suffer the loss of some business as a result of raising prices in order to comply with the ordinance, which, even if true, falls far short of the necessary proof of irreparable injury.

Turning to the merits, the court concluded that the plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail on their legal claims at trial. Addressing preemption, which the court characterized as the “principal challenge to the Ordinance,” the court stated that the landscapers’ argument lacks merit because “[t]he [state] Air Act . . .  nowhere mentions noise pollution let alone suggests field preemption with respect to noise control.” The court emphasized that state law expressly authorizes municipal noise ordinances–-a fact the landscapers had ignored. Finally, the court summarily rejected the due process and equal protection challenges as unlikely to succeed. The City need merely show that the ordinance is a rational exercise of its police power, and that the distinction drawn between types of equipment is rationally related to a legitimate purpose.

Maplewood, NJ

In early April, the town of Maplewood, New Jersey, adopted an ordinance that prohibits the commercial use of gas-powered leaf blowers from May 15 through September 30. This replaced a previous ordinance that banned the use of equipment louder than 65 dB, an ordinance the Town found nearly impossible to enforce. On May 10, five days before the ordinance was scheduled to take effect, the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association, “a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to advancing the integrity, proficiency, profitability and personal growth of the landscape professional,” sued the town, its mayor, and the township committee in federal district court in New Jersey seeking to invalidate the ordinance and to enjoin its enforcement.

The NJLCA complained that the ordinance was arbitrary and irrational in distinguishing between commercial and non-commercial users, and therefore ran afoul of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the state constitution. It also argued that the ordinance was preempted by the federal Clean Air and Occupational Safety and Health Acts. According to the complaint, the Clean Air Act empowered the State of California, and only the State of California, to regulate emissions from two-stroke, “in-use, non-road” engines. California having not done so, no other state or political subdivision of a state may do so. Nor may the town impose other or different requirements to protect workers, NJLCA complains, because OSHA already regulates worker safety.

In opposing the landscaper association’s motion for an injunction, the Town argued that it rationally distinguished between commercial and non-commercial users in terms of intensity and frequency of use. Moreover, the Town rationally concluded that commercial users were unlikely to engage in problem-solving discussions with the neighbors concerning noise and pollution. The Town disputed the premise of the Clean Air Act preemption argument, noting that the ordinance does not purport to regulate emissions. Finally, the Town noted that the landscapers did not merit equitable relief since it was apparent that they had ignored the previous ordinance which banned equipment operating at more than 65 decibels, which most commercial gas-powered leaf blowers do.

After a hearing on the association’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the district court dismissed the landscape association’s complaint without deciding whether the constitutional and preemption arguments had merit. Instead, it ruled that the association lacked legal “standing” to bring the complaint. If an individual landscaper is willing to be named as plaintiff, the complaint may be refiled. So far, that has not happened. Stay tuned . . .

Our take

What these cases illustrate is a burgeoning threat to local initiatives to protect the health and safety of community residents: the misuse of the little-understood preemption doctrine, which is being deployed more and more by business interests to quash democratic action at the municipal level. Instead of acknowledging and addressing the legitimate concerns of the public and industry workers, some in the landscaping industry have chosen to fight local efforts to protect public health and safety in court, forcing municipalities to spend scarce resources defending their right to enact and enforce local ordinances. Happily, the courts are calling them out.

We do not mean to sweep in a pile all players in the landscaping industry. Many responsible landscapers are conscious of the social, health, and environmental impacts of their work and are more than willing to pick up a rake or to use quieter, cleaner, and safer equipment. Ask them! Let’s reward those who are willing to work towards a more healthy, clean, and serene environment with our business.

Originally posted at Quiet Communities.

There goes his playwriting career

 

Lincoln Tunnel exit into NYC | Photo credit: Jim.henderson

Man sues landlord because apartment is too loud. Ross Toback, The N.Y. Post (sigh), writes that a “retired New Mexico state senator who came to the Big Apple to pursue a career as a playwright is suing his Manhattan building manager, saying his Hell’s Kitchen apartment is just too noisy.” Why so noisy? Because former New Mexico state senator Joseph Carraro’s “high-rise rental faces West 42nd Street at 11th Avenue and also happens to overlook the noisy Lincoln Tunnel entrance.” Carraro was supposed to have an apartment in a marginally better location within the building, but claims building management used the ol’ bait-n-switch to get him to agree to take the apartment from hell. “Being from New Mexico their selling point was for me to look at the river,” he said.

Between the fire trucks and police sirens and then the construction noise during the day, Carraro claims the “noise sent him to the ER where he was diagnosed with a ‘breakdown of body function because of extreme exhaustion.'”

Lies, deception, dashed dreams, and a retired state senator from New Mexico….we smell a Broadway hit!

 

Quiet motorcycles? Tell your neighbor to buy one of these…

Photo credit: Jan Ainali licensed under CC BY 3.0

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, and Jamie Banks, Program Director, The Quiet Coalition

You may be thinking, “quiet motorcycles…how is that possible?” In fact, they already exist—but you might have trouble getting a Harley-riding neighbor to embrace them. For many bikers, noise equals power. But in the case of electric motorcycles there is reason to believe that quiet is powerful too!

Lithium ion battery-powered motorcycles are gaining favor–Consumer Reports is impressed with them. Furthermore, the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on camo-painted, “stealth” hybrid gas/electric off-road motorbikes.

Motorcycle noise is a serious problem—especially for people who suffer from auditory disorders like partial hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and misophonia–for whom the racket from motorcycles can be excruciatingly painful. This may be bikers themselves or people who live in neighborhoods that are regularly exposed to this type of noise. Several years ago, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) convened a meeting about the problem of motorcycle noise and issued a report in 2014, though it seems to have fallen on deaf ears outside the NAE.

The noise has become such a problem in so many communities that even Harley-Davidson’s CEO has spoken out about Hog riders who remove their factory mufflers and install ‘straight pipes.’ Officially, the company doesn’t approve of owners tampering with the factory-installed mufflers, but after-market manufacturers are all-too-willing to meet consumer demand for more noise. The best news is that Harley-Davidson is developing an electric-powered motorcycle too.

Motorcycle noise may be a problem that regulation simply cannot fix. Given the current situation, it is unlikely the Environmental Protection Agency will be able to do anything about it. Instead, The Quiet Coalition (TQC) recommends framing motorcycle noise as a public health issue and encouraging a positive, technology-centered approach by businesses:

  • Become familiar with the large body of scientific literature indicating that loud noise is a public health problem. Authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, publicize this information on their websites. Like tobacco smoke a generation ago, it will be necessary to engage public health officials before the motorcycle noise be addressed.
  • Urge individuals and groups that oppose motorcycle noise to encourage businesses to develop quieter, electric-powered alternatives. They are cheaper to operate (solar power is getting cheaper by the minute!) and much easier to maintain or repair (fewer moving parts!).

We believe these two steps are the best, most practical way to get action on this contentious issue and can actually lead to results. For example, The Quiet Coalition’s host, non-profit Quiet Communities, has been helping communities make the quiet transition away from fossil-fuel powered devices (namely landscape maintenance equipment) and towards advanced electric equipment and manual tools and emphasizing the compelling business model for users: the new lithium-ion-powered alternatives are cheaper to operate and maintain, they reduce air pollution, and they operate quietly. For some bikers, adopting technologically advanced, non-polluting, quiet alternatives may be appealing, especially if they have had health and hearing problems related to noisy bikes. It would be the start of a movement.

At TQC, we’re cautiously optimistic.

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.

Jamie Banks, PhD, MSc, is the Executive Director of Quiet Communities, Inc.. She is an environmentalist and health care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscape maintenance, construction, and agricultural practices.

We couldn’t agree more

Will Pulos,Time Out New York, writes about a common scourge of the city in “Loud-ass motorcycles in NYC are driving us completely bonkers.” Pulos talks about how they thunder out of the blue, “disrupting the peace of everyone in their nefarious paths,” all in a shameless attempt to get attention. He describes the assault of the erupting sound “that echoes through the streets with fury and arrogance,” and with a perversely exquisite sense of timing–striking just as you put the baby down in its crib or you pour yourself an end of the workday adult beverage. VROOM.

What adds insult to injury is the motorcyclist loudly screaming down an otherwise quiet residential street, setting off car alarms in his wake. We instinctively know that is not an accident. Which leads one to wonder when U.S. cities will embrace something akin to an ASBO for what is obviously anti-social behavior.

There is no social utility in purposefully loud motorcycles, so we might as well go after the low hanging fruit.

 

An innovative approach to managing nightlife

Photo credit: amsterdamredlight

Gregory Scruggs, Citiscope.org, writes about how Amsterdam deals with being one of Europe’s top nightlife capitals. Scruggs reports that Amsterdam found an innovative solution to managing nightlife by creating the position of night mayor. Specifically, in 2012, Mirik Milan, a nightclub promoter, was appointed the first night mayor. He “parlayed his experience in the club scene into a successful role bridging a burgeoning afterhours industry with both a City Hall eager to promote nightlife and cantankerous residents tired of being woken up by drunken partiers at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

So, how has it worked out? According to Scruggs there have been some impressive wins. For promoters and clubgoers, there are now “24-hour licenses that allow a number of clubs located away from residential areas to operate at any time day or night.” But “[i]n more densely populated neighbourhoods where bars mingle with apartment buildings, trained social workers are paid to help keep the peace.” Finally, Milan “spearheaded nightlife-specific business improvement districts” where bar owners are required to pay into a fund to support various improvements, including those to reduce crime (i.e., lighting for back alleys), with a payoff of reduced violence, noise, and nuisance complaints two years later.

Further proof that the night mayor is a success is that London, Paris and Zürich all have night mayors now. And New York City may soon have a “nightlife ambassador” to serve as a liaison between city government and local nightclubs and music venues. There is no surer sign of success than imitation.

First link via Antonella Radicchi.

Tired of jets flying over your neighborhood? Here’s what FAA is (not) doing to help you

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

You may already know about the movement in Congress to address the problem of aircraft noise. A specific congressional caucus, The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, was formed to encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address the problem of aircraft noise around airports, specifically the problems caused by FAA’s “NextGen” program. “NextGen” is a bungled FAA program that has made the noise problem much worse for many communities across the USA–35 communities are already aligned with The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus.

The noise problem applies to all airports, not just big-city transportation hubs. A recent Sun Sentinel article about NextGen problems in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is a good piece to read about NextGen because it spells out what the FAA is—and isn’t—doing to “help” affected communities. Bottom line: If you squawk loud enough and long enough, they may agree to replace your windows and doors with “sound-insulating” ones—but how much money you might get depends on the assessed value of your house. But replacing doors and windows doesn’t stop the earth-shaking vibration from big jets, and it certainly doesn’t stop the noise outdoors in your backyard. As long as the FAA and its parent, the Department of Transportation, perpetuate the decades-old myth that noise is “merely annoyance” (i.e., has no appreciable effects on you other than to make you irritable), all you can do it take their money and suffer quietly. Only by changing the discourse and carefully spelling out that noise is a public health hazard will communities have the chance to turn this situation around.

The Quiet Coalition Chair, Daniel Fink, MD, asked me to add this note:

“Rest assured that if you are bothered by aircraft noise, you are not alone! ‘Noise as a Public Health Problem’ was the theme of the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN) which recently took place in Zurich. I presented two papers there and am now preparing a summary of what I learned. The European Union is well-aware of the adverse health effects of transportation noise (aircraft, rail, and road traffic noise) and is taking steps to minimize its effects. I also presented a paper on the adverse health effects of transportation noise at the Institute for Noise Control Engineering meeting on June 12 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

There’s another very hopeful perspective on this problem, although admittedly down the road a few years: the development of quiet (electric) aircraft. Lithium-ion battery-powered airplanes and helicopters have already been developed and flown in Germany and in the U.S. So take heart, quiet electric aircraft could very well be flying by 2027, the 100th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight.

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.

‘Uber for helicopters’ driving Hamptons residents mad

Mary Hanbury, Business Insider, writes about how “[t]he introduction of new ride-sharing helicopter companies, most notably BLADE,” has made air travel to the Hamptons more convenient for Wall Streeters, but a hellscape for local residents.

Uber for helicopters? It must be inexpensive, yes? Not for the average joe, because unlike Uber, Silicon Valley apparently isn’t subsidizing every Blade ride which “costs as little as $695 for a one-way seat to the Hamptons and takes just 40 minutes to travel from Midtown Manhattan to the end of Long Island.”  Just $695 for a one-way seat? It’s a veritable bargain, and no better way to loudly announce to the world that you’ve arrived. Literally.

This is not surprising at all:

Photo credit: Waldo Jaquith licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Super-fast hand dryers in public toilets are ‘as loud as pneumatic drills.’ According to the European Cleaning Journal (yes, it exists), “[m]odern jet air hand dryers have the same impact on our ears as a close-range pneumatic drill.” We at Silencity can’t stand them. Why? Because high-speed hand dryers are abruptly and horribly loud, and then they are placed in rooms with tiled and mirrored surfaces and, often, metal stall dividers and doors. That is, super-fast hand dryers are pneumatic drills fitted into a small live box.

But the problem with the sudden loud noise they create is not just a matter of a temporary discomfort. According to Jonathan Ratcliffe from Audiologist.co.uk, powerful hand drying machines can cause lasting damage to the elderly, those with hearing problems, and children. Why children?  Because “the machines are typically positioned at the same height as their head which means they are getting it full blast,” says Ratcliffe.

We have often seen hand dryers accompanied by a sign suggesting that its use is ecologically sound. And while it is noble to save trees from becoming paper towels, these so-called ecological devices may be worse in the balance if we add in the cost of permanent hearing damage. Perhaps we can have the best of both worlds, however, if manufacturers turn to tackling the most obvious side-effect of these high-speed models and put real resources into developing quieter machines.  Now that would be an ecologically sound investment.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

 

 

Enjoying the sounds of nature

 

Photo credit: Bruce Tremper licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Josh Wennergreen, a recent graduate from the University of Utah’s Environmental Humanities Graduate Program, pens an ode to the joys of nature. Wennergreen is an inveterate hiker who spends weekends hiking and camping in nearby canyons and national parks.  He asks us to “[t]hink of all the human-made noise we hear in a single day: car engines, helicopters, computer pings, phone chirps, pounding construction, cash drawers closing,” lamenting that “It’s endless.”

And he examines the effect of all that noise on the human body, finding, unsurprisingly, that it’s not good for human health. Wennergreen cites a German study of one million people who live near airports that found a whole host of horribles that befalls those “plagued by background noise (jet engines, leaf blowers, cars)….[like] an increased risk of kidney failure, cardiovascular diseases, and dementia compared to people who lived in quitter settings.”

His advice is simple. “Never has it been more vital to re-charge in the mountains, to hear the wild soundscape,” he writes, adding that “[t]his is not some new-age plea, this is an urgent public health crisis.”

So find some time to get away to the mountains or the nearest national park. Just make sure to follow Wennergreen’s advice to “not be the loudest thing around” as you enjoy nature, because “[j]ust as a candy wrapper clinging to branches of a trail-side oak is litter on the natural landscape, loud and boisterous behavior is litter on the natural soundscape.”