Transportation Noise

Subways can be quieter

Photo credit: Tim Adams licensed under CC BY 2.0

In San Francisco, BART is grinding down wheels on its cars, making the ride quieter. New York City, like San Francisco, uses metal wheels on its subways, making for a screechy, ear drum-bashing experience from the platform to the car. So BART’s attempt is a step in the right direction. But….

Here’s how you make for a much better subway soundscape:

We can dream of a subway future with rubber tires. It’s possible.

Quiet aircraft? NASA’s on the job, but when?

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Hope is nice now and then—don’t expect results tomorrow, but maybe next year?

If you like an occasional look ahead—toward a world with quieter aircraft—read the August 14-September 3 issue of Aviation Week.* In an article entitled “Sound Barrier: Noise is emerging as the biggest challenge to high-density urban air-taxi operations,” the magazine’s managing editor for technology, Graham Warwick writes about what NASA (and yes, Uber) are doing to build a future of inter-urban transport. Are you ready to imagine “Air-Uber”?

The key is convincing municipal governments that these air-taxis will be quiet(er) than conventional aircraft. So note the term “eVTOL” (Electric Vertical Take Off and Landing craft, or distributed electric-propulsion vehicles). That’s right, they’re electric. This is the likely future of quieter, low-emission air transport—and as the video above proves, it’s no joke.

Do we really need eVTOL air-taxis? That depends on what “we” means. At any rate, it turns out the kink in this scenario is the noise problem: so switching to quiet eVTOLs is a prerequisite to getting this air-taxi fleet off the ground in urban areas. Hence, NASA has taken on the noise issue—at last! (NOT the FAA—which is a good thing overall since FAA has steadfastly resisted doing anything at all about noise for decades).

Meanwhile back in the real world, why can’t American airports and airlines simply encourage adoption of the new Pratt & Whitney quiet jet engine that is already in use in the UK and EU (the PW1100G geared turbofan). It’s supposed to be 75% quieter and 15% to 20% more fuel-efficient than conventional jet engines. Furthermore, Airbus has already installed the Pratt & Whitney engine on it’s new A320neo aircraft and 90 of them have already been delivered to 11 airlines (only two of which are American: Spirit and Frontier). Another issue of Aviation Week* reported favorably on the launch of this new, quieter aircraft and cited one source as saying “[t]he A320neo is now the quietest aircraft.”

There are plenty of Airbus planes in the fleets of US-based airlines, so let’s urge airlines to order a few more and retire their noisy fleets of aging aircraft! Airbus is set to deliver 200 more of them this year.

Sadly, the FAA is not going to get out in front of the noise issue anytime soon. They continue to insist that while noise may be “annoying” to some people, they won’t let that get in the way of the roll-out of their NextGen program—despite the fact that NextGen is precisely the program that has so enraged the three dozen members of Congress who formed the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the 36 communities across the USA that have formed the National Quiet Skies Coalition.

Take a look at this recent presentation given by the FAA to the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus: FAA Powerpoint PDF.

Doesn’t sound like they’re in any rush to quiet down America’s airports, does it? So I’m betting on NASA’s approach, i.e., electrically powered aircraft and “alternative solutions”—such as convincing airlines to stock their fleets with Airbus planes. Maybe the competition will finally wake up Boeing and GE and they’ll realize that some of us understand that noise is much more than “annoyance,” it’s a public health issue.

*Sorry, you’ll either have to subscribe to Aviation Week online or read it in the library.

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.

Proof quiet motorcycles are possible

They exist, and the police department in Warrensburg, Missouri is looking to purchase them.

If the motorcycles are powerful enough for the police to consider using them, then surely they are powerful enough for someone who just wants a reliable means of transportation. Among other things, “the bikes can go up to 140 miles in the city before being recharged,” though a full recharge takes nine hours.

Naturally, the motorcycle isn’t absolutely quiet, but removing engine noise is significant. Said Police Chief Rich Lockhart, “It’s a really, really cool bike. I rode it around quite a bit today and got a lot of looks from people. It’s completely silent. All you hear are the tires.”

For the sake of our ears, let’s hope Zero motorcycles and other all-electric competitors become the new normal.

 

It’s about time

New Hampshire police plan to crack down on noisy motorcycles. WCVB reports that Portsmouth, New Hampshire police are getting serious about super loud motorcyles, and they will be “investing in equipment and training needed to recognize if a motorcycle is illegally loud.”  What’s the standard for illegally loud?  Apparently in New Hampshire it’s 92 decibels. We would suggest, however, that the standard should be 83 decibels, which was the noise level limit established by the EPA back when the agency was properly funded and not being attacked from all sides.

Still, whatever the applicable decibel level, at least the Portsmouth police are taking motorcycle noise seriously. How seriously? They plan to set up checkpoints to test motorcycle noise level. Let’s hope this is the start of a nationwide trend.

 

 

Tracking those noisy airplanes flying over your house

Photo credit: Edith Peeps

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As The Quiet Coalition has reported, people living all over the country have complained about airplane noise in the last few years. This is a result of flight path changes promoted by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) NextGen program, which guides airplanes on more direct flight paths, saving time and fuel and making flying safer. Unfortunately, the FAA forgot to consider what happens to the people living below these newly concentrated flight paths, who are subjected to a barrage of aircraft noise.

The screenshot above shows the concentration of aircraft over the Los Angeles, California area.  Not surprisingly, newspaper and television reports have documented these problems in Washington, DC, Baltimore, Boston, Phoenix, San Francisco, and several cities near Los Angeles, and Orange County, California. I’ll stop there, but there are many more complaints in and around the 86 major airports in the U.S. In fact, the FAA just reported that it has received over 40,000 complaints of airplane noise from residents living near Washington DC airports.

In dealing with government agencies and elected officials, I have found that the best way to get someone to act is to document a problem as completely and as often as possible. For aircraft, that means reporting the date and time of the overflight, and ideally identifying the airline and flight number of the plane. I didn’t know that was possible until I was walking with a friend who pulled out her cell phone as an airplane flew far overhead, pointed it at the plane and said, “that’s the Qantas flight from Sydney.”

Photo credit: Edith Peeps

She showed me the Flightradar24 app that she had downloaded to her phone (a screenshot appears above). It identifies planes flying overhead, including the carrier, flight number, and type of airplane. There are several different levels of technology that can be purchased, obviously with more features costing more, but the basic app is free. There also are other flight tracker apps, but Flightradar24 appears to be best for this purpose.

If airplane noise is a problem in your neighborhood, get the app, start collecting data, and report it to your local council representative, congressional representative, local Quiet Skies organization, the FAA (contact them online here), and your local airport. Include the date and time, airplane identification data, and a decibel reading, if possible, using a sound meter app. At busier airports, flights depart every few minutes from early morning until almost midnight. Enlist a group of neighbors to take designated time slots to document the aircraft noise problem, or make documenting the problem a school science project. It’s hard to argue with the data.

Aircraft noise is a major health hazard, causing hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hospitalization, and death. Fighting aircraft noise will require accurate data, and Flightradar24 may be the way to get it.

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.

Airplane noise isn’t just a problem near airports

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Aircraft noise can travel far if there are no natural boundaries to stop it, and a few thousand feet in elevation can make a big difference in how loud a plane sounds on the ground.

Most people may assume that airplane noise only affects those who live near airports, but that isn’t accurate. In fact, airplane noise can affect those living many miles away. In the western Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks–approximately 40 miles from LAX–changes made by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rerouting planes arriving from the Pacific are creating problems for residents. Like those in other cities across the country affected by FAA flight path changes, the residents have appealed to their elected officials, in this case Rep. Julia Brownley, for help*.

The main impact on residents of Thousand Oaks is sleep disruption. Uninterrupted sleep is important for good health and normal daily function. We evolved from our vertebrate, mammalian, and primate ancestors in nature’s quiet. Sound was used to find food, avoid danger, and communicate. Humans cannot close our ears. Even small sounds were a warning of possible danger, e.g., the snap of a twig indicating an approaching predator or enemy. Because of this, sounds as quiet as 32-35 decibels–quieter than in a library–can cause microarousals as measured by EEG changes. These microarousals are in turn accompanied by increases in blood pressure and stress hormone levels.

I spoke about the adverse health effects of transportation noise on June 12 at the Institute for Noise Control Engineering meeting in Grand Rapids, MI, and then I flew to Zürich to speak at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise. My talks there were about different topics, but I attended several sessions about the adverse health effects of transportation noise. In Europe this body of knowledge is well known. The World Health Organization’s European Office wrote about this many years ago. The European Commission has directed member states to take remedial action. And in London, a draft Environmental Strategy deals with transportation noise.

Perhaps one day that research will be understood and accepted on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

*NOTE: Data-gathering serves a purpose when individual citizens share their data and concerns with organized groups that are already working on this issue. Here is the joint website of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the National Quiet Skies Coalition. This pair of groups are large, national, well-organized and are taking meaningful actions in Congress to address aircraft/airport noise by working directly with the FAA. Among the myriad members from many states, this caucus and coalition includes 12 members of Congress from California and 10 California community groups. Check these two sites to see if your member of Congress is involved and if there is a community group in your area. And click here to file a complaint with the FAA.

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.

Chicago to install noise monitors along Lake Shore Drive

 

Photo credit: Roman Boed licensed under CC BY 2.0

A new Illinois law is taking on noisy vehicles along Lake Shore Drive. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed HB2361 into law on Tuesday, August 24th, which “allows the city of Chicago to install noise monitors along the scenic expressway to study the impact of vehicular noise.” The bill’s sponsor, Illinois Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, says that the “law creates a first step in remediating the ambient noise problem along Lake Shore Drive.” Feigenholtz proposed the bill because she wanted empirical–not anecdotal–evidence about the noise coming from the drive. The city of Chicago may now enact an ordinance providing for the monitoring, which is “similar in concept to the monitoring system used to measure jet noise around O’Hare International Airport.”

This is an exciting first step for a U.S. city, and something that London is doing this in its draft London Environmental Strategy, which strongly addresses the problems of highway noise. Chicago can take the lead among American cities in monitoring and controlling road traffic noise.

 

 

 

 

Will electric vehicles reduce city traffic noise?

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Some people put great hope in technology to solve problems of modern living. So it is with those who think that electric vehicles, whether trucks or other vehicles, will do the trick. I’m in favor of electric and hybrid vehicles for their beneficial effects in reducing the use of petroleum products and reducing gaseous and particulate emissions. Anything reducing diesel use will have a dramatic benefit in reducing particulate matter. So news that Ryder, “one of the nation’s largest medium-duty truck fleet management companies, will buy trucks from Chanje [an electric truck manufacturer], then lease and service them through its extensive network,” is welcome. But will electric vehicles reduce city traffic noise? I think not.

First, it will take years if not decades for electric vehicles to become more common. Second, and perhaps more importantly, power train noise is a small component of road traffic noise in most situations. I suppose a diesel hybrid vehicle idling on electric will be quieter than the same vehicle powered solely by a diesel engine, but adequate insulation of the engine compartment and an effective muffler system would do the trick just as well.

And of course, electric vehicles won’t do anything about horns, horn-based alerts, or sirens.

The technologies to reduce or control noise have been known for decades. Acoustics pioneer Leo Beranek published his landmark book, “Noise Reduction,” in 1960 and the successor, “Noise and Vibration Control,” in 1971. As noise pioneer Arline Bronzaft, PhD, has written, what is lacking is not the way but the political will.

Road traffic noise is a health and public health hazard, causing non-auditory health impacts like hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and death. The European literature makes this very clear. There is no reason to think that Americans, largely of European descent and those from elsewhere, have different physiological responses to noise exposure.

If enough people loudly demand that their elected officials pass and enforce laws to make vehicles and streets quieter, our cities and their streets will become quieter. Electric vehicles may or may not play a small role in this, but they are largely irrelevant.

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.

Will electric vehicles contribute significantly to a quieter world?

Photo credit: cytech licensed under CC BY 2.0

Jeanine Botta, of Silence the Horns, expresses some doubts in her post, “Marketing quiet while adding to noise pollution.” Botta writes about a recent post on Huffington Post that discusses the health effects of traffic noise.  She notes that the piece, which “tells us that ‘EVs are bringing the quiet’ and concludes that ‘…you could say we’re about to enter a golden age of silence,'” was promoted by Nissan, with “Brought to you by ELECTRIFY THE WORLD – A NISSAN INTELLIGENT MOBILITY INITIATIVE” appearing next to the Huffington Post banner.  “Welcome to the world of advertorial marketing,” she says. 

What follows is Botta’s thoughtful analysis of why electric cars may not be “bringing the quiet” any time soon.  More importantly, if concern about vehicle noise is more than a marketing ploy, manufacturers should look at Botta’s suggestions on how they can “substantially reduce vehicle noise pollution” right now in both electric vehicles and in internal combustion engine cars by simply phasing out audible alarms and signals.

Click the first link above to read Botta’s entire piece.  It is well worth your time.

Quiet race cars? Yes! “Formula E racing” is a hot new world sport

Photo credit: Smokeonthewater licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Race cars are supposed to be LOUD right? I grew up fascinated by Formula 1, Grand Prix racing and the incredibly loud Indy 500—all of which necessitated the use of hearing protection. But no more. In 2014, a new class of all-electric race cars called “Formula E” emerged and began racing in various venues around the world. France, of course, now holds an annual “ePrix,” and Los Angeles was the first city in the U.S. to host a Formula E race. But on July 16th of this year, Brooklyn hosted an exciting one.

If you’re a car nut like me, who’s also concerned about air and noise pollution, this is the sport for you!

Here’s a list of Formula E events in 2017 and the schedule of races in 2018.

Enjoy!

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.