Peace and Quiet

In their defense, they just wanted some sleep

Photo credit: M J Richardson licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Angry Edinburgh residents, enraged by unending road work noise, pelted workmen with baked beans, haggis.

While the reaction may seem unwarranted, Stian Alexander, reporting for the Daily Record, writes that the drilling only ends at 11:00 p.m. and the noise continues as work doesn’t end until 3:00 a.m. The bosses at the City of Edinburgh Council are undeterred by the residents protest, however, as the work–and noise–will continue for at least another week.

New York City tries to deal (again) with nighttime contruction noise

Photo credit: Tomwsulcer has dedicated this photo to the public domain

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

The New York Times reports that the building boom in New York City has been accompanied by a “noise boom,” especially with the increase in overnight work.

A construction boom, given the difficulty of doing construction work in Manhattan, has led to an increase in the number of variances being requested to allow nighttime construction work. Although the New York City Noise Code includes a section pertaining to construction noise rules and regulations, it is the Department of Buildings that oversees the issuance of variances to the Noise Code rules and regulations.

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera understands the adverse health impacts of noise. As reported in the New York Times, she has introduced a bill to the City Council that would limit construction work to no earlier than 6 a.m. and no later than 10 p.m. on weekdays, with weekend construction limited to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with some variances allowed for utility and government projects. As to whether this legislation will pass, is a difficult question to answer in a city where developers and the real estate industry have strong political influence.

Ms. Rivera asserted that the Department of Buildings does not have enough employees to review all the permit applications for variances it receives. As a result, it may have issued variances without much consideration about how construction noise would affect those living nearby. There was, sadly, no indication in this story that the Department of Buildings asked for additional staff to more effectively review the applications. The one response from a department spokesman, was that “no one likes construction” but that the after-hours permits were “necessary to a growing city.”  Such a statement appears to be dismissive of the accepted knowledge that noise is hazardous to both mental and physical health.

What is clear in the literature with respect to health and well-being is how dependent our health is on a “good night’s sleep,” something that is certainly being denied to those exposed to the growing New York City nighttime construction noise. Furthermore, a city like New York, proud of its diverse and talented workforce, should also be aware of the fact a loss of sleep can decrease work productivity the next day.

We wish Ms. Rivera success, and a quieter night to all in New York City.

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.

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.

 

This is your brain on noise pollution

Photo credit: Paul Mison licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Joel Pavelski, GQ, writes about his experience doing a month-long sound fast.  Pavelski recognized that he was “suffocating [himself] with sound,” by constantly wearing headphones to listen to music, podcasts, or YouTube videos.  He realized that his sound over-saturation was making him “forgetful, distracted, and overwhelmed.” And then, Pavelski, writes, he hit his saturation point:

In March, I finally reached true sensory overload. I met a friend at Midtown bar, where we planned to work on our respective book proposals. The place was packed, and I couldn’t hear myself think over the clamor: people around us were laughing, waitresses were slinging dishes and drinks, a playlist of loud top 40 hits competed with a televised basketball game for the patrons’ attention. I put in my headphones and queued up a podcast and tried to focus, thinking I could retreat to my (even louder) safe place. But after a few minutes, I felt so overstimulated that my body started to tremble. My heart started to race and my breath came in short gulps. My fingers felt tingly. I thought I was about to pass out.

What follows is Pavelski’s experiment with no podcasts, no listening to music, no extraneous noise other than the “natural” noise of New York City.  And what he found was that when he took time to just sit and take the world in without distraction his brain “felt blissful and busy, lighting up with challenges to solve, reframing and reorganizing possibilities.”

Click the link to read the whole thing.  It’s well worth your time.

Chinese city to ban loud noise on subway

Photo credit: mentatdgt from Pexels

The South China Morning Post reports that the city of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, is considering becoming the third Chinese city to ban loud noise on public transportation. Apparently passengers have complained about people talking loudly or playing videos or music at high volume.  Under a proposed provision, violators would receive an “administrative punishment” (no, we don’t know what that means, either) for a breach of the rule. The public was invited to comment on the proposal.

We must admit that the thought of a robust code of behavior for New York City public transportation that would mirror Kunming’s sounds awfully appealing, though the mystery punishment could well exceed the crime. Still, it’s hard not to fantasize about a calm ride home after a typical evening commute marked by loud conversations, sodcasters, and subway “entertainers.”

 

Noise control laws need to be enforced

Photo credit: Brett Sayles from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This editorial from the Toronto Sun makes the point that well-written noise control laws are worthless unless they are enforced.

We agree.

For a variety of reasons, noise control laws are rarely enforced. The noise is often intermittent, and has already stopped by the time enforcement officers arrive. Police officers don’t like to enforce noise control laws.  Depending on how the law is written, enforcement may require sound level meters which they claim they don’t know how to use, or which may not be calibrated to standards that will hold up in court. Low staffing levels for other enforcement officers, e.g., from a Department of Building and Safety, mean that someone may investigate a complaint days or weeks after it is filed, by which time the noise has long since dissipated.

For me the answer is simple: follow the example of Santa Monica, Callifornia, which uses crowd-sourced citizen reporting of leaf blower violations.

We suggest the folks in Toronto implement a system like the one in Santa Monica.  It works.

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.

Is Japan really the world’s noisiest country?

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

If you’ve been to Japan, you’re likely as astonished as I am to learn that the World Health Organization recently reported Japan to be the world’s noisiest country.

Chiara Terzuolo, Japan Today, writes:

[T]he WHO recommends avoiding being exposed to noise over 53 decibels. The legal average limit in Japan is about 70, a number based on data 50 years out of date, according to Prof Matsui of Hokkaido University who spoke about the problem in an NHK feature on noise pollution in Japan.

Personally, I found major cities in Japan, like Tokyo and Hiroshima, much quieter (and more polite) than American cities like New York or Chicago. And their bullet-train stations are eerily quiet—the trains make NO noise at all, the station PA system speaks in polite whispers, and there are white-gloved attendants around urging people to stand back from the tracks because you might not notice an arriving train. So if Japan is noisy, I don’t remember it that way at all.

In fact, Japan and other Asian nations, like Korea, are far ahead of the U.S. in adopting and enforcing ‘quiet’ ordinances. Visiting there, I’ve seen noise barriers around highways that are 65 feet tall and they’re better at blocking noise from radiating into nearby neighborhoods and more attractive than the crude prison-like fences installed along U.S. highways by the Department of Transportation at a cost of millions of dollars per mile.

Nevertheless, if the World Health Organization’s report is right, it’s interesting proof that noise pollution is a very difficult problem to solve, as difficult as smog and second-hand smoke.

If that’s the case, then it will be a long, long time before we see much improvement in America—because we’ve barely begun to think about this problem.

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.

The cost of noise disruptions

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

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

Katherine Martinko, Treehugger, writes about how “blocking out the noise of the world” can make us more productive and creative.

Do you remember the Microsoft study on productivity and the cost of noise disruptions? I certainly do. Microsoft and several other big tech companies convened a meeting several years ago to discuss how to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. All the experts were there, led by some people from MIT.

I remember because they awarded my partner and me a contract to do further research (our original work had been for Apple Computer) on this subject and we presented it at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference later.

Here’s the point in a single quote from the above article:

After being interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the task you were working on, according to a Microsoft study. It can take even longer to get to a ‘flow state,’ alternatively called ‘deep work.’ These terms refer to the concentrated frame of mind you’re in when immersed in a task and time just seems to fly. It’s also when you do your best work.

What more do we need to know? The relentless shift toward open landscape offices has been underway for decades—because it reduces the cost of corporate office space. Basically, take away walls and doors and even cubicles and you can reduce the space-per-person well below 200 sq ft., resulting in huge savings and greater “flexibility.” But in the end, many people now work in essentially raw, unfinished, factory-like spaces with concrete floors, temporary tables, and virtually no privacy—and that, we are told, is supposed to result in what they call “teamwork.”

We’ve written about the bane of open offices before, but the fact that Microsoft weighed in on the issue is significant. We agree with the author of the above piece that it’s important, if not essential, to find and hang onto your own “bliss station”—a place where distractions are removed and you’re at your most productive when you need to be.

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.

Looking for a quiet space? Here are some worth visiting

Photo credit: Lukas Hartmann from Pexels

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

If you’ve been looking for a truly quiet space to visit, consider Green Bank, West Virginia, where there’s no WiFi, no cellphone service, no microwave ovens or any other device that generates electromagnetic signals. Known as a National Radio Quiet Zone, it consists of 13,000 square miles of mountainous terrain set aside to protect the Green Bank Observatory, a cluster of radio telescopes.

Have you heard about International Dark Sky Places? The first one in the U.S. is a 1400-square-mile spot in Central Idaho where there’s no artificial light. According to this author, “[t]here are currently 37 official dark sky parks in the United States, 53 in the world. There are only 11 dark sky reserves – which have a larger size requirement than parks – and none of them are in the U.S.”

You might also want to put the Hoh Rain Forest on your travel schedule. It’s known as one of “the quietest places on earth” thanks to Gordon Hempton’s work there.

In fact, “acoustic ecology” is an emerging field, so if you’re interested in “eco-tourism” you’re among a growing group of people who seek out quiet places around the world.

But as the author of the New York Times piece on Green Bank notes, “[t]o experience the deepest solitude, you need to enter the land where the internet ends.”

A few years ago, I worked with others to help turn George Prochnik’s 2011 book “In Pursuit of Silence” into a feature-length documentary film of the same name. What we learned in the process is how scarce truly “quiet zones” have become, despite the National Park Service’s efforts to preserve them.

So hurry up! Plan a few trips before these “Quiet Zones” disappear!

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.

Do-it-yourself noise mitigation at home

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I don’t generally mention commercial products in my blog posts, but I’m willing to make an exception for these sound absorbing panels from IKEA.

The article is from a UK magazine, so I don’t know if the panels are available in the U.S. yet, but it’s worth it to keep an eye out for them.  They can be hung in a room, or as a room divider, to absorb unwanted sound. And since the product if offered through IKEA, the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive.

Alternatively, heavy drapes might be a more aesthetically pleasing solution. And new urban construction often has–and should be required to have–double paned windows and sound absorbing material in the exterior walls.

So urban dwellers trying to get a good night’s sleep have noise mitigation options. But I can’t help but think about how much better our sleep could be if government actively enforced  noise regulations rather than leave the problem for each of us to deal with individually.

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.

Wall Street Journal looks at Google’s drone delivery project

Photo credit: Mollyrose89 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Mike Cherney, The Wall Street Journal, writes about a trial project in Australia by Wing, a Google affiliate, involving delivery drones. While Cherney does not put his thumb heavily on one side of the scale, the gee-whiz aspects of drone delivery are presented before he addresses the community backlash to the trial. The article was prompted by an Australian parliamentary report issued last Thursday that address the concerns raised by community members about privacy and noise and the effect of drones on wildlife. Writes Cherney:

The report determined that noise is the biggest obstacle to community acceptance of drone-delivery services. Wing developed a quieter drone, which the report said was significantly less intrusive and annoying but still likely wouldn’t be accepted by everyone.

Interestingly, the video that accompanies the story notes that Wing said it was developing a quieter drone but “declined to let [WSJ] film the less noisy propellers.” Hmmmm.

More importantly, there is something particularly disturbing about developing drone delivery to deliver nonessentials like hot coffee and meals. One couple included in the video gushes about how helpful it was to order hot coffee by drone because it’s such a chore getting all three of their kids into the car to go pick it up. We would suggest that they leave the kids at home as one of the couple fetches the coffee, or they could save a few bucks and make their coffees at home.

In the end, though, one hopes the selfishness of a handful of users who crave the convenience of having their impulse needs met mmediately will not trump their neighbors’ right to quiet and privacy.

Do click the link and watch the video to listen to the sound associated with just one drone. Then think about what it would be like having a fleet of drones flying above you.