Transportation Noise

Consumer Electronics Show hosted electric motorcycles and scooters

Photo credit: Yamaha Tritown by Yamaha

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

For some of us, the annual Consumer Electronics Show is a huge, eagerly awaited cultural moment. This year’s installment took place in Las Vegas, Nevada and ended on January 10.

Why get excited about an electronics show? Well, at CES, you can see, touch and even demo the results of what America’s research and development crews have been feverishly working on. The products at CES are all gussied up and ready to rock and roll. And what a scene it is! It can only happen in Las Vegas: 185,000 people, 4,000 companies showing off their wares, and thousands of people up on stage to speak. This is not your average trade show.

This year, CES show-cased something that really excited us: quiet, urban, electric transport of the one-wheel and two-wheel variety. I mean motorcycles, unicycles, scooters, you name it. Take a look at some of the examples shown in the link above.

The very idea that urban transport can be quiet and unobtrusive—while whisking users to their various destinations—is truly exciting. No fumes, no noise, just people whizzing around (and yes, occasionally banging into one another).

In the meantime, you can actually buy now, an electric unicycle or motorcycle or Segway and be on your way. What are you waiting for?

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. 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.

Canada leads the way

This photo by Bernard Spragg. NZ has been dedicated to the public domain.

First Edmonton, now Calgary: Calgary to pilot a project that implements a “network of real-time noise monitors” to nab noise polluters.

According to Shawn Logan, Calgary Herald, the city has struggled to control noise, “[b]ut thanks to a technology called LoRaWAN — a long-range, low power digital wireless network which now reaches every corner of Calgary — city IT planners are hoping to harness its potential in a number of areas.”  The network will be armed with “a special type acoustic sensor that could precisely determine noise levels in the city.”

For now, the sensors will be used to gather data to allow the team leading the project to “build in the ability to categorize the types of sounds captured, building a catalog of sounds including traffic, construction, drag racing and even gunshots, while being able to accurately determine its time and location.”

Depending on the quality of the data, and whether the technology will hold up in court, could the network be used to target noise polluters? One would hope, but it’s unclear whether the technology will be used to identify and fine them. We will follow Calgary’s and Edmonton’s efforts to deploy technology in the fight against noise pollution.

 

 

 

Toronto to tackle transportation noise

Photo credit: GTD Aquitaine, who has released this photo into the public domain.

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

That the noise from the commuter trains, passing the homes of David Bosworth and his neighbors living in Upper Toronto, Canada, intrudes on their household conversations as well as their sleep is readily understood by the millions of residents whose household activities and sleep are disrupted daily by the noise from overhead planes, nearby trains, and passing road traffic. Mr. Bosworth, like the millions of others similarly impacted by transportation noise, feels that the noise issue has not been addressed as a serious pollutant. This, despite the abundant literature linking noise impacts to cardiovascular and sleep disorders, learning disruptions, and diminished quality of life. Furthermore, Mr. Bosworth fears that the expansion of the train route near his home will bring even more noise disruptions.

In the Globe and Mail article linked above, Sasha Zeidler writes that the Toronto regional transportation agency Metrolinx is looking to lessen the noise to which residents will be exposed in the future even as it plans to expand the transit line. Toronto, says Zeidler, is a city aware of the effects of noise on its residents and it “is aiming to reduce noise pollution from traffic, transit and other infrastructure projects.”

I, for one, will look to see whether Toronto successfully carries out its mission to reduce noise pollution.

It is interesting to note that in this article, there are references to the World Health Organization guidelines, a study published in a German academic article linking heart attacks to traffic and rail noise, mapping of noise in Florence, Italy and other Canadian noise studies but no references to research in the country south of Canada—the U.S. While the U.S. has not taken the lead in addressing noise pollution, I do not want readers to think that Americans have been lax with respect to noise research and activism. I suggest readers search back on this site for American noise studies and the Americans who are actively working to reduce noise in our society.

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.

What should we do about intentional noise?

Photo credit: Daniel from Pexels

Two recent op-eds have focused on intentional noise, specifically noise made by people who profess to love the stuff. Marcus Gee, The Globe and Mail, in his piece titled Let’s crack down on unnecessary noise pollution, focuses on enforcement–and shaming–as a means of reducing noise pollution.

Bill Reader, The Athens News, cuts to the chase when he says that “those who enjoy noisy recreation also, often quite boastfully, enjoy ruining everybody else’s peace.”

Writes Reader:

There is a reason why the word “peace” is often followed by the phrase “and quiet,” while “loud” leads almost automatically to “and obnoxious.” Whether it’s a screeching herd of ATVs hurtling down a woodland trail or a single juiced-up river boat carving its way up an otherwise placid lake, the result is the same: those who go to those public spaces for “and quiet” will instead have their day ruined by “and obnoxious.” And more often than not, “Obnoxious” could care less.

Dutch “singing road” drives locals nuts

Imagine the aural counterpart to this. Photo credit: Steven Lek licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Here is an amusing article about a singing road that bothered people living nearby and eventually was made to sound like a normal road.

Road traffic noise is a major contributor to noise pollution, obviously affecting those living closest to the road or highway.

Let’s hope that other cities and towns learn from the Dutch experience: people want quiet highways, not noisy ones.

Dr. Daniel 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 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.

NY representatives win funding to combat aircraft noise

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

In my recent paper, “Impact of Noise on Health: The Divide Between Policy and Science,” I stressed that research on the adverse impacts of noise on health is plentiful but not enough was being done, especially in the U.S., to lessen noise. Many years earlier, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed the data linking noise to health were strong. In a booklet it published in August 1978, “Noise: A Health Problem,” it said “[i]t is finally clear that noise is a significant hazard to health.”

With respect to lessening noise, Russell Train, the then EPA Administrator, stated at a 1976 Inter-Noise Conference that with respect to lessening aircraft noise, which adversely affects millions of residents, “We really know what needs to be done. We have simply lacked the will to do it. Let’s get on with the job.”

Now fast forward to 2018 and you can readily understand the frustration and pain of the many U.S. groups fighting aircraft noise knowing the data supporting the harmful effects of aircraft noise are strong but the “will” to remedy the situation is still lacking. One of the reasons that the Federal Aviation Administration has lagged behind in remedying the noise problem is that the agency insists on using outdated methods to measure noise. The agency claims that the Day-Night Average Sound level of 65 dBA is the level at which sound becomes intrusive, but this metric has long been viewed as too high. Additionally, averages do not speak to the singular disturbing overhead jet sounds that come in at 6 a.m. or late at night, and the agency relies on modeling and simulations to determine impacts rather than actual measurements.

Community groups have informed themselves about the dangers of aircraft noise and have learned about the changes the FAA must make to more accurately measure noise levels, which in turn can lead to better methods to abate noise. These groups have shared this information to legislators with whom they have formed partnerships to design legislation that can better address aircraft noise pollution. A number of New York legislators, including representatives Joe Crowley, Grace Meng, Greg Meeks, Hakeem Jeffries, and Kathleen Rice, formed a coalition known as the New York Quiet Skies Caucus. One of the members, Congressman Joe Crowley, wanting data to strengthen his request for improved methods to measure noise levels, secured a federal grant to conduct a study yielding such data. I was one of the authors of that study, which is discussed in “Airport-Related Air Pollution and Noise.”

Thus, it is with some satisfaction that I can now share the following press release from Rep. Grace Meng announcing that the New York Quiet Skies Caucus has “secured a provision in the newly enacted omnibus appropriations bill which directs the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to examine new methods of measuring aircraft noise in order to reduce the impact of excessive airplane noise over their districts.”

I wish to thank our members of congress for their hard work in getting this legislation passed and join them in their hope that this first step will lead to quieter skies.

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.

Edmonton, Canada cracks down on loud street noise

Because, as this editorial in the Edmonton Journal opines, “there are limits to the noise that Edmontonians will put up with — and should have to put up with.” So how will the city deal with loud vehicles on their streets?  With this exciting project:

Edmonton has started testing automated enforcement for loud vehicles. City officials will continue that project this summer, hoping to be ready to start issuing tickets after.

The city council voted to test “photo-radar style noise guns that can detect, photograph or video excessively loud vehicles,” and eventually the city will develop a program to fine offenders. The program won’t just be sprung on residents and people passing through, as the city council want a education component that will use digital noise displays and “a public-awareness campaign to encourage noisy motorists to tone it down.”

 

London Underground noise could damage hearing

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Anyone who has ever taken the Underground (the subway, also known colloquially as the Tube) in London, as I have, knows that the trains there are noisy. Some lines date back to Victorian times, and on many lines the cars are decades old.

This report from the BBC documents how loud–greater than 105 decibels on many lines.

Transport for London, the quasi-governmental agency operating the Underground, downplays the risk. London Underground’s Nigel Holness said it monitored noise levels on the network and was investigating other ideas to “further reduce noise.” He added that, “[w]hile customers travelling on our network can experience noise, higher volumes tend to be for short periods of time and Health & Safety Executive guidance on noise suggests it is highly unlikely to cause any long-term damage to customers’ hearing.”

I would disagree.

The United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive, its equivalent of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, offers a “Noise Exposure Daily Reckoner” that allows workers, or in this case commuters using the Underground, to calculate their daily noise doses. Only 15 minutes at 105 decibels gives the exposed person a total daily noise dose of 90 decibels. That’s enough noise exposure to cause hearing loss over time. Those who spend an hour a day get the equivalent of a total daily noise dose of 96 decibels, which for sure will cause noise-induced hearing loss over time.

Many London commuters probably spend that much time each day in the Underground and in other trains or buses, maybe even more for those with long commutes.

And even strict adherence to recommended occupational noise exposure levels doesn’t protect all exposed workers from hearing loss.

Noise is different from other occupational exposures, e.g., ionizing radiation or toxic solvents, in that exposure continues outside work, all day long, all year long, for an entire life. I haven’t found a similar study for the UK, but Flamme et al. in the U.S. showed that 70% of adults in quiet Kalamazoo County, Michigan–where there is no Underground and the Subway is a fast-food restaurant chain–received total daily noise doses in excess of Environmental Protection Agency safe noise exposure levels. There is no reason to think that London is any quieter. I know from my personal observations in London, and from following reports from Pipedown about too-loud background music in the UK and from Action on Hearing Loss’s campaign for quieter restaurants, that noise exposure is certainly a problem there.

As Transport for London might say, “Mind the gap.” But in this case, the gap is going to be in its riders’ hearing.

Dr. Daniel 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 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.

Why a Toronto study on commuter noise is relevant to New York City

Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

In their recently published article “Noise exposure while commuting in Toronto – a study of personal and public transportation in Toronto,” Dr. Yao and his associates concluded that the sound levels associated with mass transit were intense enough to potentially cause some hearing loss. The authors found that while average noise levels in subway cars and on the subway stations were high, peak noise levels in the subway system exceeded 100 dBA. They also reported noise levels for buses and street cars with subways and bus average noise levels exceeding the average noise level for street cars. Recognizing that the mass transit system in Toronto is likely to expand, the authors suggested that “…engineering noise-control efforts should continue to focus on materials and equipment that confer a quieter environment.”

As a New Yorker and regular subway rider, I have long been aware of the impacts of New York City subway and elevated train noise on the health and well-being of its employees and riders as well as those who live, work, and attend school near the elevated train tracks. Yet, it was my research, done over forty years ago, on the adverse effects of elevated train noise on the reading ability of children attending classes near the elevated train tracks that led to my greater involvement in advocating for a “quieter” transit system. It was this advocacy that resulted in the Transit Authority installing rubber resilient pads on the tracks adjacent to the classrooms to lessen the train noise in these classes. The Board of Education also installed acoustical ceilings in these same classrooms.

The follow-up study of reading scores in these classrooms after the abatements were in place found that the children in classrooms adjacent to the track were now reading at the same level as those on the quiet side of the building. To me, these studies yielded another important finding–transit noise can be reduced.

It is within the context of my many years of writing about transit noise and its adverse impacts on mental and physical health that I will address the findings of the above Toronto study. For the purposes of this review, I will not be addressing bus noise which I have also examined in the past.

My research on subway noise impeding classroom learning received a great deal of attention and it led to my being given the opportunity to examine Transit Authority records on noise complaints and actions. I learned that back to 1878 when the Third Avenue El was opened, the noise from passing trains disturbed students attending Cooper Union College and the school had to relocate a dozen classrooms to the other side of the school building. The Transit Authority compensated the college for the move by paying them $540.00.

In the years that followed this first complaint, there were other complaints to which the Transit Authority responded by abating the noise on the tracks. In fact, as early as 1924, the then Transit Commission acknowledged the potential harm of noise on its employees and attempted to set up noise abatement programs for its existing lines as well as its future ones. In looking at how the New York Transit Authority responded to noise complaints, I found that complaints led to attempts to reduce noise but within a short time transit noises returned only to have the Authority respond again with noise abatements. My paper “Rail noise: The relationship to subway maintenance and operation,” published in Urban Resources in 1986, presents a historical overview of how subway noise has been addressed by those in charge of the New York City transit system.¹

Of particular note is the year 1982, when the State of New York decided to pass a Rapid Rail Transit Noise Code requiring the Transit Authority to develop a comprehensive plan to address its noise problems and to report annually to the State Legislature about its efforts to abate noise. The impetus for this bill came from community activists who lived near a rail curve in Coney Island that led to loud screeches as trains navigated the curve. The citizen group, The Big Screechers, led by Carmine Santa Maria, lobbied their legislators to pass the Rail Transit Noise Code.

My 1986 paper discussed how the Transit Authority at this time coordinated its noise abatement project with ongoing capital purchases and maintenance demonstrating its awareness that decreased transit noise is a sign of a poorly functioning system. Just as an automobile owner would bring in a noisy car to the repair shop recognizing that attending to the noise would very likely prevent more serious trouble ahead, the Transit Authority acknowledged that noise is very likely a clue to potential breakdowns.

With the primary sources of subway train noise involving the wheel, the rail, and the subway car’s propulsion system, noise abatement measures included wheel truing, rail welding, rubber resilient pads, track lubrication, and acoustic barriers—all of which also contribute to the proper operation of the system. These noise abatement measures lessen noise but also facilitate the integrity of the transit system while providing a smoother and quieter ride for the passengers as well as a quieter system for its employees. The Transit Authority also purchased quieter traction motors for their subway cars, demonstrating an awareness that quiet can be built into the original design.

The 1982 Rail Transit Noise Code was indeed effective in getting the Transit Authority to reduce its noise but, unfortunately, someone interpreted the law as having a “12 year life span” and, by 1995, the Transit Authority no longer had to report annually to the State on its efforts to lessen transit noise. With the Transit Authority no longer having to report annually on efforts to reduce noise, one might expect the subway system to grow louder in the following years. Indeed, a 2009 study examining sound levels of the New York City subway system, like the one carried out in Toronto, similarly concluded that the subway system’s loud sound levels have the potential to cause noise-induced hearing loss among its riders.

A paper I wrote in 2010 entitled “Abating New York City transit noise: A matter of will not way,” again highlighted the fact that subway noise abatement techniques exist and that addressing the noise issue would not only benefit the operation of the system, potentially leading to fewer breakdowns, but a quieter system would be beneficial to the health and welfare of New Yorkers. A few years after this paper was published, I was pleased to learn that the State assembly and State Senate delivered to the Governor an updated Rail Transit Noise bill in December 2014. Sadly, this bill was vetoed by Governor Cuomo on December 17, 2014 [pdf link]. Had this bill been passed, encouraging the Transit Authority to address its subway noise problems, I believe the subway system today would be quieter, better maintained, and running more efficiently. Without having measured the sound levels of the subway system these past three years, my ear seems to indicate that the subways are now noisier and the many media stories speak volumes to the lack of proper subway maintenance and the deteriorating service.

Let me turn back to the Toronto noise study and comment on its relevance to the New York transit noise issue. According to a research memorandum from Toronto in 1983, that the New York City Transit Authority shared with me,¹ Toronto indicated that the city spent a considerable amount of money in the testing and application of noise control procedures. The memorandum stated that rail sections were continuously welded, acoustical material was used throughout the system, floating slabs were installed on tracks near noise-sensitive buildings, and wheel ring-dampers were being tested on their subway cars. The Toronto subway system, considerably younger than New York’s system, having opened in 1954, appeared to be led by people who were well aware of the importance of transit noise abatement.

In light of the media headlines following the release of Dr. Yao’s article noting excessive transit noise in the Toronto subway system is putting commuters’ health at risk, I would expect that the head of the Toronto Transit Commission, Andrew Byford, is now preparing a response to the publication. Why should his response be relevant to New Yorkers? Because Andrew Byford will soon be the President of the New York City Transit Authority and his response to the noise report might clue us in as to whether he will address what my “ear” seems to indicate. Namely, that our system is growing louder. It would also let New York transit riders know if he, like several former Transit Authority leaders, understands the relationship among noise levels, transit maintenance, and subway performance, and would also tell us as to whether he fully understands that a quieter subway would positively impact the mental and physical health of New Yorkers.

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.

¹Bronzaft, A. L. (1986). Rail noise: The relationship to subway maintenance and operation. Urban Resources, 4, 37-42.