Peace and Quiet

COVID-19 and the city soundscape

Photo credit: Craig Adderley from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, and David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, wrote a very nice essay about COVID-19 and the city soundscape, which was published in New York City’s Our Town, the local paper for the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is known and published worldwide for her expertise and teaching on community noise. But noise is personal too, a cause. So she’s never lost sight of its impact on her own home town, New York City, where she has been an adviser to five mayors. Nor the effect it has on her own neighbors on the upper east side of Manhattan, even during the recent COVID lockdown that brought life to a standstill an an eery quiet punctuated only by the frightening sounds of ambulance and police sirens at any hour of the day or night.

In her essay, Dr. Bronzaft notes that sound and noise received a great deal of attention during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. In the absence of the usual hustle and bustle of noisy New York City, she writes:

There was talk about hearing and seeing more birds; not being awakened by overhead jets in the early morning hours; not being subjected to loud construction noises; and no music from nearby bars. However, an increase in loud ambulance sirens disturbed our ears and upset our minds because this meant more people were likely suffering from COVID-19.

She goes on to discuss possible future outcomes as urban activities return to normal, and expresses the hope that everyone–including city officials–will remember, when normality returns, what this period of calm and quiet was like.

Dr. Bronzaft’s piece dovetails very nicely with an editorial by Dr. Antonella Radicchi in a special issue of Cities & Health about sound and the healthy 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.

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.

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.

San Francisco Airport adopts “Quiet Airport” plan

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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

For many years I have written about the harmful effects of noise, including aircraft noise, on health and well-being. The data linking overhead aircraft noise on residents to an increased risk for cardiovascular disorders, loss of needed sleep, and a diminished quality of life are indeed strong. Yet, individuals still have to cope with those planes flying over their heads, although the pandemic has brought many residents some relief. Thus, it was with great pleasure that I read this article by Lilit Marcus about the San Francisco International Airport turrning off its loudspeaker.

San Francisco International Airport has decided to lessen noise within its airport in a plan it calls “quiet airport.” The airport plans to lessen the decibel level by eliminating unnecessary announcements and by changes to its escalators and moving walkways. The plan to reduce noise is in line with the airport’s efforts to ban single-use plastic water bottles. Thus, it appears that the airport is acknowledging the need for a less polluting, healthier environment.

I would like to know if this airport will go beyond its quiet airport plans to also promote quieter aircraft and less noise-intrusive flight paths. Will San Francisco International Airport urge other U.S. airports to promote its quiet airport plans as well as discuss how airports can work together toward reducing the impact of aircraft noise on neighborhoods? Will the San Francisco International Airport join the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus in urging the Federal Aviation Administration to introduce policies to lessen aircraft noise?

The quieter airport concept should be applauded but it should be seen as only the first step toward a less noisy aviation system.

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.

Noisy and dangerous helicopters assault NYC skies

This photo is in the public domain

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

Transportation noise has been recognized as a hazard to health and well-being. This includes noise from aircraft, including helicopters, as well as from nearby roads and rail. We, indeed, have the research that underscores the adverse impact of helicopter noise, as discussed in Julia Vitullo-Martin’s article in the Gotham Gazette, on residents who have to deal with “[t]he incessant low-flying air traffic tormenting parks and neighborhoods.”

While tourists view helicopter flights over New York City as fun and providing the opportunity to take some wonderful photographs, the people who live in areas over which the helicopters fly judge one of the frequent sightseeing companies, FlyNYON, as not only loud but dangerous. Vitullo-Martine writes that the company is known for “evading federal safety regulations by classifying its doors-off tours as photographic in purpose rather than for tourists.” With modern technology now allowing individuals to track helicopter flights, whether commuter or sightseeing, Vitullo-Martin reports that citizens have the data to establish that rules of flying are not always observed.

New Jersey residents, Vitullo-Martin notes, also complain about the intrusive helicopters, but the two states have not yet worked toward coming up with a solution to the noise problem.

One answer to resolve the issue of dangerous, noisy helicopters is through appropriate legislation at the city, state, and federal levels. Several New York City congresspeople have co-sponsored the Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019, which would “prohibit non-essential helicopters from flying in covered airspace of any city” with a very large population and a huge population density. This would definitely include New York City. But nothing is happening in Congress regarding this bill.

In New York City, legislation was introduced in July “to amend New York City’s administrative code to reduce noise by chartered helicopters.” I checked with one of the sponsors of the proposed bill and was told it was put on hold, largely due to all the attention being paid to the COVID-19 pandemic at this time.

Until any level of government is willing to act, New Yorkers will have to continue to live with the noisy and dangerous helicopters flying above their heads.

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.

2017 study prompts action on noise in parks

Photo credit: Louis from Pexels

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

Quiet is possible and scientific study is catalyzing action. This study reported in Science three years ago prompted meaningful recent action by Quiet Parks International, which in turn prompted media coverage on WNYC by Tanzina Vega on her program “The Takeway.

Listen to Vega interview Matt Mikkelsen, the executive director of QPI’s Wilderness Quiet Program–a bold and ambitious re-framing of Gordon Hempton’s initiative “One Square Inch of Silence” initiative. Congratulations to everyone involved!

What this shows is that the confusing mosaic of scientists, activists and media people can occasionally converge to make change happen. All it takes is cooperation.

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.

Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast reaches big audiences with well-told stories about noise

Photo credit: Magda Ehlers from Pexels

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

Sound designer, Dallas Taylor produces a wonderful podcast called Twenty Thousand Hertz that is a joy to listen to. So far he has produced 45 episodes that cover a broad range of “stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds.”

Recently he teamed up with TED and Apple Podcasts so now he’s reaching big audiences, which is terrific for those of us who are concerned about the effects of noise on health and environment.

A friend urged me to listen to an episode called “City That Never Sleeps,” in which Taylor interviews a New York City-based writer who discovered that her perpetual anxiety was the result of noise exposure, so she took some simple precautions that others may want to consider. The prodcasts includes a couple of compilations of “nature sounds” that you might want to bookmark. Enjoy!

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.

Grant given to airport to lessen aircraft noise on nearby homes

Photo credit: Cliff licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

I was especially pleased to learn that the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority received a $1.9 million grant from the Department of Transportation to continue its program to lessen the impact of aircraft noise on the homes near the airport. The program to reduce noise impacts at residences was initiated eleven years ago when the FedEx cargo hub joined the airport.

In 2001, I was asked by the law firm representing residents concerned about the negative impacts from the development of the FedEx cargo hub to comment on the Federal Aviation Administration’s Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed runway associated with this hub. My comments explained that the EIS was seriously deficient in that it had minimal analyses of noise impacts on adults and children. Essentially, noise was defined as “an annoyance and a nuisance,” but there already was a growing body of literature that concluded that noise was a hazardous pollutant. The report also merely stated that noise “can disrupt classroom activities in schools,” even though studies had been published showing that noise can impede children’s learning. Finally, sleep was noted as being disrupted by noise when it was already known that loss of sleep may have serious consequences on the individual’s health and well-being.

I had concluded in my analysis of the environmental impact statement that the growing body of literature on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health was largely ignored and the authors of the statement relied on outdated studies and research in preparing the report.

I submitted my report and the hub opened years later in 2009. I now learned that noise mitigation accompanied the opening of the hub and the airport continued to work towards limiting impacts of aircraft noise on individuals living near the airport. I hope my statement in 2001 played a role in the Airport Authority’s recognition that airport-related noise does indeed have deleterious effects on mental and physical health.

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.

On balancing outdoor dining and neighborhood peace

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Recognizing the difficulties restaurants have faced during this horrific pandemic, New York City has provided increased outside dining spaces for these restaurants. Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that “[t]he success of our neighborhood establishments is central to our entire city’s success.” Acknowledging that complaints will follow these outdoor dining activities, however, he set up an office to deal with potential complaints. This office entitled Mediating Establishment and Neighbor Disputes (MEND NYC) will be overseen by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Undoubtedly, one of the complaints that will be brought to MEND NYC will center on the intrusions of loud sounds from these outdoor eating establishments on nearby apartments and homes. It is hoped that nearby neighbors and restaurant owners will be able, with the assistance of MEND NYC, to participate in a mediation process that will resolve complaints. While noise has been a major complaint in New York City, we need to understand that at this time with an overall increase in stress in our city’s residents, there may be less tolerance of nearby noises intruding in their lives.

Thus, I have to raise several questions at this time. Will MEND NYC have someone on its staff familiar with the noise issue in New York City? Will that person know that citizens calling 311 in the past have reported that their noise complaints have not led to satisfying resolutions? The 2018 noise report produced by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli supports these concerns raised by callers to 311.

Noise impacts on an individual’s mental and physical health and well-being and its impacts are exacerbated during a time of added stress. Will there be a psychologist on the staff of MEND NYC who has the appropriate background to assist mediators as they work with individuals who are being adversely affected by noise? Restaurant owners are under much stress financially and they too would benefit from the experience of a psychologist.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is an agency that deals with noise complaints. Will someone from the DEP be part of MEND NYC? Will MEND NYC provide data, easily accessible to New Yorkers, that will give them some idea of how successful its mediation program has been? Data reflecting success will give New Yorkers greater confidence in the program.

The goals of MEND NYC should be applauded. My questions about the program are being raised to facilitate the attainment of these goals.

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.

How do we protect quiet?

Photo credit: VisionPic .net from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noise in Europe has been a concern of health authorities there for some years. In 2011, the WHO’s European office issued a report on the global burden of disease from noise and in 2018 issued Environmental Noise Guidelines.

Despite regulatory efforts, the European Environmental Agency reports that there has been no progress in making Europe quieter. This report from Euronews cites statistics from the EEA that 20% of the European population is exposed to levels of noise considered harmful to health.

Traffic noise is a major environmental problem. The COVID-19 shutdowns, however, caused a wave of quiet to spread across the globe. Scientists are calling this “the anthropause.” We have reported on the effects of reductions in human activity on seismic levels and noise levels in cities and the oceans, and Euronews reports that people noticed birdsong more than before.

How do we protect quiet?

One way to protect quiet is to preserve quiet spaces. The Euronews report also mentions two efforts we have mentioned before, Gordon Hampton’s Quiet Parks International and Dr. Antonella Radicchi’s HushCity app, which Euronews reports is being used by city councils in Berlin, Germany and Limerick, Ireland.

The Environmental Protection Agency was tasked with eliminating noise pollution in the U.S. by the Noise Control Act of 1972 and the Quiet Communities Act of 1978, but federal noise enforcement activities ceased during the Reagan era when the EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded.

We hope that a future president will recognize the importance of quiet and restore funding for noise abatement and control in the U.S.

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.

On the pursuit of quiet

Photo credit: Simon Clayton from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Vice Chair, David Sykes, writes about the pursuit of quiet in this essay in the Summer issue of Tinnitus Today, the quarterly publication of the American Tinnitus Association.

David writes about George Prochnik’s, “In Pursuit of Silence,” which Patrick Shen developed into a documentary with the same name.

As David notes, people generally don’t want silence. They want quiet. This was true before the coronavirus pandemic caused the world to quiet down, and it’s still true.

I have read the book and viewed the documentary, and recommend both.

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.