Transportation Noise

Is a better sounding subway possible?

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Stephen Nessen, WNYC, writes about the Second Avenue subway in New York City and the efforts that were made to improve the sound in its stations. He introduces us to Joe Solway of the international engineering firm ARUP, which designed the new Second Avenue stations.  Solway spent 15 years working on the subway, “figuring out how to eliminate squealing wheels and loud distorted announcements.” He lists the measures taken to make the experience as good as it could be given that “[t]he new system had to work with the existing system.” Among other things, Solway said that they redesigned the way the rails are fastened to the ground, encasing them in rubber that mitigates vibration, used better booths and cables and high quality speakers, and installed sound absorbing panels on the walls and ceiling.

So, did it work? Commuter Rafael Colon thought so. “It’s very quiet, like unusually quiet, not like when you take the number 6 train,” he said.

Click below to hear Nessen’s interview of Solway:

 

Finding it hard to escape noise? This could be why:

In “A Map of Noisy America,” CityLab writes about the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) new National Transportation Noise Map, which shows that “more than 97 percent of the U.S. population has the potential to be exposed to noise from aviation and Interstate highways at levels below 50 decibels or roughly comparable to the noise level of a humming refrigerator.”  The map also reveals that “[l]ess than one-tenth of a percent of the population could potentially experience noise levels of 80 decibels or more.” So that’s not bad, right? Well, yes and no.

CityLab notes that “noise doesn’t have to be particularly penetrating to be a public health menace,” adding that the World Health Organization “set a benchmark of recommended exposure to night sounds for Europeans” at 40 decibels.  Why so low?  Because studies have shown that sleep schedules are interrupted by noise over 42 decibels, “[e]xposure to road noise above 50 decibels (comparable to a quiet office) has been associated with higher risks of heart attack,” and noise has been linked to obesity and other maladies.

So check out the map and see how your community fares, but keep in mind that this map only looks at aviation and highway noise.  Next up?  The BTS states that “future versions of the National Transportation Noise Map are envisioned to include additional transportation noise sources, such as rail and maritime.”  We’ll keep you posted.

Can Subway Noise Damage Your Hearing?

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Sadly, the short answer is yes. And the longer answer is that some subway stations are more dangerous to your hearing than others.  Anil Lalwani, MD, an otolaryngologist at Columbia University Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and his colleagues prepared a study that examined whether subway station design influenced noise levels. Dr. Lalwani and his team went to twenty stations in Manhattan and discovered “that the noisiest platforms shared one thing in common: curved tracks.”  Click the link above to view Dr. Lalwani’s video about this study, its conclusion, and to hear Dr. Lalwani’s recommendations about “what we can do to reduce the risk of long-term hearing damage from subway noise exposure.”

In a followup to his post on looking for a quiet car,

Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, has written a post about disturbing noises automobile manufacturers purposefully add to their cars: There’s More To Car Noise Than Interior Sound. Dr. Fink’s second post was prompted by a reader who noted that while “[d]esign of the quietest interior possible has become highly competitive,” little thought is given to “the effect that automotive lock, locating, and security technology have on the residential soundscape.”  Simply put, automobile manufacturers have adopted sound as a default to confirm a car door is locked or to locate a car in a parking lot without thinking about the effect of adding all of these audible honks and beeps and warnings to an already noisy soundscape.

Fortunately, there are some steps car owners can take to disable or modify the audible alerts, but not without difficultly.  Click the link above to get Dr. Fink’s list of questions to ask about audible alerts before buying a car.

Looking For A Quieter Car?

By Daniel Fink, MD

As automobile makers have focused on fuel efficiency to meet federally mandated fuel efficiency standards, interior quiet has suffered.  But it is still possible to find quieter, more comfortable cars.

GM’s Buick Division might be a good place to start.  And these four links offer some other possibilities:

Dr. Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area.  He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Traffic noise is not a “mere annoyance”:

Harmful road traffic noise affects a quarter of Europeans.  Reuters reports on an the European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment of the impact of noise pollution which concluded that, “[h]armful levels of road traffic noise affect one in four people in Europe and raise health risks ranging from sleepless nights to heart disease.”  The EEA’s report noted that noise pollution is “a major environmental health problem in Europe,” putting “what it called the “European soundscape” under threat. 

Traffic noise was the main source of this damaging noise, according to the assessment, with railways, airports and industrial sites adding to the overall noise burden.  The EEA estimated that “environmental noise caused up to 10,000 premature deaths in Europe every year,” adding that “[m]ore than 900,000 cases of hypertension could be traced to noise.”  In response to these health threats, the EEA report calls for “better planning ranging from preserving quiet areas in cities to less noisy tyres on cars.”

Thanks to Antonella Radicchi for the link.

Let’s find out, shall we?

sports-car

Can electric sports cars be sporty without any engine noise?  The author of this piece, Jordan Golson, The Verge, suggests the answer is no, because he thinks noise = fun:

Not only does a noisy engine give a visceral thrill, knowing that there are thousands of tiny explosions happening to keep you going, but it just sounds awesome. It would be a shame to lose it, and carmakers know it. Bloomberg says Porsche has been looking at artificially inserting noise into the cabin, perhaps via the stereo like some other manufacturers have done, or amplifying the high-pitched hum of the electric motor.

I don’t know what the answer is, but a world without the roar of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat is a world that’s just a little less fun.

And so the rare opportunity to reduce the overall noise level in our soundscape will likely be ignored, as carmakers will rush to spend big bucks adding unnecessary noise to electric cars because engine noise “just sounds awesome.”  Sigh.

 

Citizens fight back against report that minimizes complaints about jet noise

planeJet Noise Is No Joke For Residents Burned By Report About Airport Complaints.  WAMU, American University Radio, reports that “[h]omeowners along the Potomac River in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland are angrily responding to a report claiming that a ‘small, frustrated minority of citizens is affecting aviation policy’ by swamping the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority with thousands of complaints about flights leaving Reagan National Airport in Arlington.”  The report stated that one resident was responsible for the lion’s share of the complaints, implying that jet noise was not a significant issue to other residents in affected areas.  WAMU found another story when they went out to those neighborhoods to speak to residents who deal with a constant barrage of jet engine noise:

To folks whose days and nights are filled with the sound of jet engines overhead, the Mercatus Center report failed to capture the extent of the problem. They say the proof that noise pollution impacts more than a “small, frustrated minority of citizens” is that MWAA formed a working group consisting of people from neighborhoods across the region, and the FAA currently is working with civic associations and neighborhood representatives to potentially alter flight paths to mitigate noise.

Long and short, the reason for the complaints is the FAA’s new NextGen program, “which uses satellite-based navigation to assign planes to direct routes to save fuel and time.”  The program was implemented throughout 2015 in the Washington metropolitan area, giving rise to a spike in complaints.  And it’s not just an issue in D.C.  NextGen has created problems throughout the country, spurring residents to ban together to fight back against plane noise exacerbated by NextGen.

 

Sirens driving you mad? It’s not just you:

Brussels collective demands less siren noise.  It’s difficult to complain about a source of noise when it has social utility, like siren noise.  Sirens are obviously necessary to clear the road of obstructions when an ambulance is racing someone in distress to the hospital or a fire truck is speeding to a fire.  But there are times when sirens are employed unnecessarily.  This writer has experienced the sleep-ending scream of a siren after midnight on a weekday and before 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, times when the major road nearby is not jammed with traffic.

So we were happy to hear that Stop Sirènes, a Brussels collective that “is urging police and other emergency services in the Brussels-Capital Region to be more “sparing” in their use of sirens,” made some headway.  Asserting that “sirens are too often used unnecessarily,” the collective took its plea to the region’s environment minister who has ordered a study into siren use.

While New York City has been more receptive to addressing noise complaints, unnecessary siren use remains a problem. For those of you who live in New York City, please consider signing this sensible Change.org petition directed to Mayor Diblasio: Lower the volume of Ambulance sirens in New York City.  Thank you.

 

Noise that can’t be escaped:

Data Proves That Effort To Quiet O’Hare Night Skies Working Only About Half The Time.  DNAinfo.com reports that “[p]lanes landed and took off as promised 57 percent of the time during the first eight weeks of a test to rotate the O’Hare Airport runways used at night to give Northwest Side residents some relief from jet noise.”  Apparently summer storms required air traffic controllers to divert from the plan, not allowing them to use runways that were supposed to keep certain areas quieter.

The reason for the test is that some residents complained that it was “impossible to get an uninterrupted night of sleep since an east-west runway opened in 2013.”  In response, the airport has implemented “voluntary restrictions on nighttime operations at O’Hare, known as Fly Quiet, [which] encourage pilots and air traffic controllers to fly over expressways, industrial areas and forest preserves to reduce the noise over residential areas from 10 p.m.-7 a.m.”  How nice.  And yet:

Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans has touted the rotation as a “big breakthrough” in city efforts to reduce the jet noise that prompted more than 4 million complaints in 2015. (emphasis added)

4 million jet noise complaints in one year.

Each element of noise in today’s world apparently stands on its own.  Eventually people will have to recognize that all noise is noise and must be regulated in a fair manner so that people can sleep, think, and function.  Keep an eye on this site, because help is coming.