Transportation Noise

London searching for ways to quiet the Underground

Photo credit: Skitterphoto from Pexels

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

That the London Underground has been recently cited as producing very loud noises that are disturbing to riders, employees, and nearby neighbors is nothing new to New Yorkers who have complained about New York City’s loud subways and elevated trains for many years.

Over forty years ago, I published a paper that found that nearby elevated train noise impacted adversely on the classroom learning of students in a school next to the elevated tracks.  The findings of this study resulted in the placement of resilient rubber pads on the nearby tracks to lessen the noise and the installation of acoustical ceilings in classes near the tracks.  A second study, after noise abatement, found that children in classrooms near the tracks were now reading at the same level as those on the quiet side of the building. The New York City Transit Authority then instituted a program to install these resilient rubber pads along the entire elevated track system.

After working with the Transit Authority on two occasions on its noise issues, I learned that transit noise is not only disturbing to all those subjected to these sounds but transit noise is often the result of poor maintenance and as a result can lead to potential breakdowns in the system. I wrote a paper linking transit noise to breakdowns in the system and explained that correcting transit noise is not a matter of knowing what to do but rather of not being willing to do it.  This is true for cities other than New York.

In reading that London is searching for technology to quiet its system, I noted that the same procedures that have existed for years to lessen the noise are being considered.

One would think that such procedures should have been examined at the first sign that the system was getting louder.  Actually, that they weren’t should not be surprising because my work on noise issues has taught me that for actions to be taken, those in charge have to be “hit on the head” before something is done to reduce noise.

A group of London campaigners concerned about transit noise has asked Transport for London to put up signs warning people about the noise. One would assume that hearing protection could then be used by transit riders. Transport for London’s response was that the transit system’s noise was ‘highly unlikely to cause long-term hearing damage.”

Really? What about the impacts on the hearing of employees who are exposed to these high sounds for many hours daily? What about the health of people living near the tracks who have been complaining? What about the discomfort to riders who use the system regularly? I would suggest that Transport for London learn more about the impacts of noise pollution which affects more than our ears—noise adversely impacts on our health and well-being. I would also urge that the noise issue be addressed with haste.

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.

 

Noise inside rail cars is a problem, too

Photo credit: abdallahh licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My noise colleague David Sykes recently wrote about noise levels in the London subway system, but noise levels are a problem inside rail cars on Vancouver’s SkyTrain, too. Researchers there found noise levels as high as 106 decibels. Newer quieter rail cars are on order, with air conditioning, closed rather than open windows, and better door seals.

Until the old cars are replaced, Vancouverites taking the rail system should use ear plugs. That’s what I do when riding the subway in New York, London, or Paris.

Because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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.

Research finds dangerous noise levels on London’s Tube

Photo credit: Leon Warnking from Pexels

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

The British government has paid much more attention to noise pollution than we here in the U.S., but the well-researched data in this article in the Economist clearly demonstrates that free market economics have not been kind to London’s Tube riders.

While the data show that a subway ride in London is somewhat less noisy than a similar ride in New York City, the noise exposure levels in London are still sufficient to cause permanent hearing damage.

What this article demonstrates is that, just like the decades-old problems with smog and second-hand smoke around the world, eradication can take a long, long time—even after powerful public health officials have recognized the seriousness of the problem.

All the more reason why people everywhere need to purchase and carry good hearing protection at all times—whether earplugs or earmuffs or noise-cancelling headphones.

Preventing hearing loss is the only solution, because there are no effective treatments, remedies, or cures–once your hearing is gone, nothing can be done.

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.

Noise cameras to the rescue!

Photo credit: Albert Bridge licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

But, sadly, not in the U.S.  Motorbike Writer writes that Australia is monitoring the British development and deployment of a new noise camera that is intended to be used to “crack down on illegal vehicles.”  According to a UK.gov newstory, the new camera “will aim to detect illegal, excessively noisy vehicles, helping create quieter streets.”

Mercifully, this technology isn’t anticipated yesars from now. Rather, trials of the noise cameras will take place in “the coming months.”

The goal, of course, is to measure the sound level of passing cars, determine which are violating noise limitations, and, perhaps, deploy “automated number plate recognition to help enforce the law.”

No doubt there are those who will complain about the technology, but if it works it could help to address a common problem that police, to date, simply cannot or will not address. Importantly, the technology isn’t being deployed to harass motorcyclists and others who seemingly love loud vehicle noise.  The UK government makes it quite clear that it is testing this equipment to clamp down on noise pollution, which, notes Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, “makes the lives of people in communities across Britain an absolute misery and has very serious health impacts.”

We will be following this program and will keep you informed as to its progress.

London subway noise is excessive

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the London Post reports that loud noise on 37 London Underground routes exceeds 85 dB. The World Health Organization recommends only one hour of 85 A-weighted decibel noise exposure to prevent hearing loss. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive recommends posting of warning signs if the noise exceeds 85 decibels. Despite this, Transport for London, the agency that operates London’s subway lines, states that it believes “Health and Safety Executive guidance suggests Tube noise is highly unlikely to cause long-term hearing damage.”

They’re wrong. If one’s commute is 30 minutes or greater each way, the total daily exposure from subway noise alone exceeds the WHO’s safe noise exposure level to prevent hearing loss. And, of course, the Londoner is undoubtedly exposed to other noise sources, such as loud music in restaurants and shops.

When I visit London, I wear earplugs when taking the Tube. You should, too.

Because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

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.

Acoustic vehicle alerts are a problem

Photo credit: Kaboompics .com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Jeanine Botta presented a paper on acoustic vehicle alerts, also known as horn-based alerts, on May 13, 2019, at the Acoustical Society of America’s 177th meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

Acoustic vehicle alerts are a problem because they are capable of disrupting sleep and interrupting concentration. In most vehicles, the alerts can be turned off or can be configured to use flashing lights instead of a sound. But not all horn-based alerts are easily reconfigured.

In 2011, the Society of Automotive Engineers recommended that automakers install “an externally audible or visual alert” to warn drivers of an engine that has been left running, as a means of preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. In response, some automakers used horn sounds to comply with the standard. This decision did not consider driver behavior or technical errors, such as drivers starting a car and getting out to brush snow off a windshield, or a passenger with a second key remaining in a car. This paper examined posts in online forums that include those authored by car owners seeking technical advice about turning off this horn-based alert. One frequently cited reason was concern over waking nearby neighbors.

In February 2019, Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced legislation requiring automatic engine shutoff in all vehicles in certain situations. The Protecting Americans from the Risks of Keyless Ignition Technology Act, or PARK IT Act, is supported by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Center for Auto Safety, Safety Research and Strategies, and Consumer Reports.

And in California, where I live, where there are 14.5 million registered motor vehicles, it’s actually illegal for a horn to be used other than to avoid an accident or as a burglar alarm.

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 Jose tackled two noise problems in one meeting

Photo credit: Tim Wilson licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

In San Jose, California, the City Council recently considered two separate community noise issues in the same meeting: leaf blowers and train noise. Either the Council members are brave, because they’re willing to take on two typically nasty and intractable battles at once, or they were in for a nightmare meeting they didn’t anticipate!

Read the San Jose Spotlight article above closely and you’ll see that California actually has some tools available to regulate noise that many other regions of the U.S. do not, such as the California Air Resources Board and a statewide cap-and-trade program. Either of those programs could fund a “buy-back/Buy-Quiet” program that would remove polluting gas-powered leaf blowers and other gas-powered outdoor maintenance equipment and substitute electrical alternatives. That could accelerate the state-wide regulation of small gas-powered devices. In fact, California is far ahead of the rest of the country in regulating this equipment, with about 70 cities in the state having already addressed this problem

According to the San Jose Spotlight, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Palo Alto, and Mountain View have already banned gas leaf blowers and roughly “70 cities across California have some restrictions on gas leaf blowers, including Los Angeles, South Pasadena, Santa Barbara, Malibu, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.”

What about train noise? The train-noise issue is entirely separate. But it turns out that the regulatory agency did NOT consult with local neighborhoods before they increased night-time train schedules. So San Jose caught the agency on a technicality.

Either way, this must have been an interesting City Council meeting in San Jose, and we wish the city’s citizens good fortune!

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.

600,000 Finns affected by traffic noise

Photo credit: Mihis Alex from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

As many as 600,000 people in Finland are affected by road traffic noise, according to a report in the journal Ympäristö ja terveys (Environment and Health in English). That is a fairly large number in any case, but Finland is a small country and that’s more than 10% of the population..

The report uses the word “annoys” to describe one of the impacts of road traffic noise on people, but I think the word “disturbs” is more accurate. Unwanted noise, including road traffic noise, doesn’t just bother people, it makes it hard to concentrate, hard to communicate, hard to relax.

And noise is much more than an annoyance.  Exposure to road traffic noise is strongly correlated, probably causally so, with a wide variety of medical conditions, including hypertension  obesity, diabetes and heart attack.

Fortunately, in Finland’s harsh climate, houses are well-insulated and much of the year windows are rarely opened, so road traffic noise is less of a problem than in more temperate climate zones.

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’s BART has been made quieter

Photo credit: Luis Villa del Campo licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Dianne de Guzman, SFgate.com, reports that the San Francisco area’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system trains have been made quieter after repairs to track and wheels. More importantly, BART has ordered 775 new cars to be delivered in 2022, and these cars have specifically been designed to be quieter.

I have hyperacusis.  Sounds that don’t bother others are uncomfortable or even painful to me. I rode BART from the airport to downtown on a recent trip to San Francisco. It was certainly quieter than the subways in New York and London, but I still put on my noise-cancelling headphones (which were in my backpack for the flight up to SFO) because it was loud enough to be uncomfortable for me. I didn’t measure the sound pressure level, but I would estimate it to be 80-85 decibels, and that’s loud enough to cause hearing loss.

Subway noise is a problem in many cities, New York and London among them. But as New York City’s newest subway line and BART show, public rail transit can be made quieter. As The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, wrote: if there’s a will to make subways quieter, there’s certainly a way. This isn’t rocket science, simply bread-and-butter acoustic engineering.

And that’s perhaps the most important point. There seems to be a growing awareness that urban noise is a problem, and that it’s actually relatively easy and not all that expensive to make cities quieter.

Because if the subway sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

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.

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.