Peace and Quiet

Sound and the city

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This excellent essay by on Curbed discusses urban noise levels. It’s a very comprehensive piece, discussing multiple aspects of urban noise and how it affects people.

Some urban noise is an unavoidable accompaniment to modern life, but much can be done to make cities quieter. These include enacting laws against excessive vehicle exhaust noise, horn use, aircraft noise including helicopter flights, and indoor quiet laws.

Of course, enacting laws isn’t enough. They must be actually be enforced. Crowdsourced reporting using smartphone apps can help with enforcement.

My only quibble with the Curbed article is that the author cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as recommending only 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours to prevent hearing loss, but the link is to the National Instititue for Occupational Safety and Health. While part of the CDC, NOISH is charged with making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illnes, not recommendations for the general public. So NOISH’s 85 dB exposure standard, actually 85 dBA*, is an occupational noise exposure level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace–it’s not intended to be a safe exposure threshold for the public.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, specifically addressed this concern. And my research revealed that the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is an average of 70 decibels a day.

Given the general misunderstanding of what is a safe noise exposure level for the average person, Furseth’s article raises important issues that I hope are starting to be taking seriously.  Cities have gotten louder and the effect of increased noise on residents and visitors is something that should be given serious attention.

*A-weighted sound measurements are adjusted to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech

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.

Zillow tracks noisy cities and neighborhoods

Photo credit: Daniel X. O’Neil licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in Atlanta Agent magazine, directed at the real estate industry, looks at a report by Zillow, a real estate site, that identifies Atlanta’s noisiest neighborhoods.

I wondered if Zillow tracked noise for other cities, too. The answer is yes, Zillow has a report that looks at the noise level of over 900 cities nationwide.

The only problem is that Zillow’s method is to estimate the noise level based on the National Park Service noise maps. That is, Zillow doesn’t measure actual noise levels.

I would suggest that Zillow might want to use the Department of Commerce’s transportation noise maps instead, since transportation noise is a major problem in many parts of the country. Transportation noise includes road traffic noise, aircraft noise, and railroad noise. Zillow adds that a lot of urban noise also comes from ambulances for those living near hospitals, and from sports stadiums.

Real estate professionals advise prospective home buyers to check out their properties at various times of the day. A quiet residential street may become a busy commuter cut-through during the morning rush hour, for example, or the preferred way home for parents picking up children at the end of the school day.

Renting isn’t the same long-term commitment as buying, but renters may also want to check out noise levels before signing a lease.

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.

Let’s hope this atrocity comes to an end soon

Photo credit: Sam Saunders licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The New York Post reports that relatively low cost helicopter service offered by the monsters behind Uber Copter and Blade are drowning Brooklyn residents in noise.  How bad can it be?  Residents in Park Slope say that Thanksgiving traffic was so hellish that the noise “drowned their peaceful neighborhood in a roar so loud it made windows rattle, dogs growl and outdoor conversations inaudible.” Another resident said nine helicopters flew over his home in the span of 90 minutes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, adding that the copters come in “very low,” which makes them even louder.

According to the Post, the reason why Park Slope has been especially hard hit is that the companies are avoiding an all-water route and are purposefully flying over residential areas to save time and fuel.

While residents fume, some local pols are attempting to address the increase in unnecessary helicopter rides. The Post writes that Representatives Nadler, Maloney, and Velazquez have proposed a bill that would ban sightseeing and commuter helicopters, adding that the mayor said he supports the ban.

What a shame the mayor didn’t do something about this when he had the chance.

Here’s hoping that something is done soon to stop Uber Copter and Blade in their infancy.

Where to find some peace and quiet in New York City

Photo credit: Giorgio Galeotti licensed under CC BY 4.0

Matt Koff, a stand-up comedian and The Daily Show writer, offers his “Top 5 Places In NYC To Get Some F$%king Peace And Quiet.” It’s a short list, but thoughtful except for one suggestion.  Koff suggests a ride on one of New York City’s many ferries.  While we agree there is something calming about a ferry ride, the engine noise is shockingly loud.

So bring a pair of ear plugs with you as you take the ferry to Red Hook, another of Koff’s suggestions with which we wholeheartedly agree.

World Economic Forum honors TQC scientific advisor, Dr. A. Radicchi!

Hush City app’s icon (c) Antonella Radicchi 2017

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

The Quiet Coalition just received news that the Hush City app, developed by Dr. Antonella Radicchi, our scientific advisor and Senior Research Associate and HEAD-Genuit Foundation Fellow at the Technical University of Berlin, has been recognised and honored by the World Economic Forum among the “4 clever projects fighting noise pollution around the globe.”

Hush City app is a free citizen science mobile app that helps crowdsourcing quiet areas worldwide.

Watch the WEF’s video by clicking here and scrolling to the end of the story.

In the spring 2019, Dr. Radicchi was on a research stay at New York University in New York City, working with other anti-noise advocates there. We were pleased to co-host her stay in America.

Congratulations, Antonella! We firmly believe in crowdsourcing data about quiet areas as a “democratic” as well as scientifically valid method that will start to make the world a quieter place for all.

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.

UK supermarkets leading the way on noisy fireworks

Photo credit: Teknorat licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Three UK supermarket chains are vowing to only sell low-noise fireworks after Sainsbury, one of the UK’s biggest chains, has banned sales of fireworks outright. This follows a petition to Parliament seeking to ban fireworks entirely as “a nuisance to the public.” According to The Mirror, over 300,000 signed the petition, which states that the noise from fireworks scares children, animals, and “people with a phobia.”

The Brits do love their dogs, so no surprise many cite their pup’s aversion to firework noise as a reason for the ban. In fact, The Mirror notes that “the Scottish Government earlier this year found that 94% of 16,000 respondents wanted to see tighter controls on the sale of fireworks.”

Hear, hear. But why stop at tighter controls, when they should be replaced entirely. As we’ve posted before, fireworks are a complete environmental hazard. Enough!

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.”