Transportation Noise

Lockdown quiet offers post-pandemic possibilities

Photo credit: Hans-Peter Bock hpbock@avaapgh.de licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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

As I have written previously, talk among advocates for less noise, like John Stewart of the UK’s Noise Association, has noted that the pandemic may have provided us  the opportunity to reflect on changes we could make that will lead to less noise, air pollution, and climate emissions. The changes focus on reduced dependence on cars, increased space for walking and cycling, and improved public transit.

An article by Bidroha Basu et al., discusses the results of a study that investigated sound levels in Dublin, Ireland before and after lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and provides data supporting the call for more walking and cycling space and improved public transit. The data indicated that sound levels at 12 monitoring stations were reduced after the lockdown. With road traffic noise the dominant noise source for all but two of these sites, the authors believe that it was the road traffic noise reduction during the pandemic that, for the most part, led to lower sound level readings. With one of the sites located near an airport, the authors do comment that air traffic slowdown during the pandemic probably led to the lower sound level at this site.

The article adds that with “noise pollution associated with ill health…city-wide reductions in sound and noise could provide important public health benefits.” The authors also suggest that cities around the world install similar sound monitoring systems to monitor and assess their noise mitigation strategies.

While the horrors brought about by the pandemic have caused much harm to people worldwide, one could take some solace in recognizing that COVID-19 allowed us to rethink our traditional modes of behavior in a way that could lead to behaviors that would enhance everyone’s health and well being.

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.

Buttigieg replaces Chao at DOT–time to make a move

Photo credit: AgnosticPreachersKid licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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

The U.S. Department of Transportation—the major nexus of the noise problem in the U.S.—has been led by Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Lan Chao, during the Trump administration. Unsurprisingly, she has not addressed the hubris, intransigence, and industry influence that have prevented that agency from addressing noise as a well established and harmful environmental pollutant.

Now comes President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Transportation, former McKinsey consultant and mayor of South Bend Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. As he steps into Chao’s shoes in Biden’s cabinet, he’ll be the person on whom attention will need to focus. Does he understand noise as a public health and planetary problem? Is he willing to support policies for a quieter America? David Welprin, a New York assemblyman, sure thinks so. What will he need to act? And how can Quiet Communities and other like-minded organizations help him?

Pete Buttigieg is clear-headed about environmental issues and what needs to be done. One thing we can hope is that he’ll listen to the 50+ members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the 50+ regional groups that comprise the Quiet Skies Coalition. While those groups focus strictly on airport and aircraft noise, Secretary Buttigieg will have the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Railway Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and others, reporting directly to him.

Organized efforts are needed to get the message to the new Secretary that noise is a public health problem and an environmental health problem. It’s a “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to air and water pollution, and another powerful reason to address those problems. When COVID-19 hit, a window opened on the possibility of a cleaner, quieter world. Look at how the skies gleamed bright blue when travel shut down. Look at how marine mammals’ health improved when ocean drilling and shipping halted–all that air and water pollution came from the industries that the DOT oversees. Secretary Buttigieg must be convinced to make those improvements permanent!

How can we help to influence him? We can start by identifying noise as a bellwether–a canary in the coal mine. Listening for noise in the environment works, because we can’t see most air and water pollution. As a result we often ignore it. But most of us hear the noise. So we all have a role to play.

Just by listening and reporting, we can all contribute to reducing the pollution that’s choking us and harming our children.

Now is our chance—the first time in four decades to reverse president Ronald Reagan’s 1981 actions that de-prioritized noise as a public health issue. After 40 years, we’ve reached a tipping point–it’s time to act!

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.

COVID-19, The Great Traffic Disruptor

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

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

John Stewart, the current Chair of the UK Noise Association and of the Campaign for Better Transport, has long advocated for improved public transit and reduced noise pollution. He is also the lead author of the book “Why Noise Matters,” of which I am one of the co-authors. Thus, I would say that he has the credentials to reflect on how we can move forward to a more equitable transit system with less noise pollution after the pandemic, which he calls “The Great Traffic Disruptor,” passes.

In this report for the Noise Association, Stewart simply states that we cannot go back to the “old normal” and urges us to view the pandemic as having provided us with the opportunity to reflect on what changes can be made so there will be “less noise, air pollution, climate emissions and congestion.” Stewart envisions a changed world with more reliable public transit services, reduced car speeds, increased space for walking and cycling, and increased use of e-scooters and e-bikes. He also advocates for low traffic neighborhoods and for cut-backs in traffic levels on main roads.

Stewart wants to share his thoughts and ideas worldwide and hopes to make links with others elsewhere with similar views. This post is an invitation to reach out to him to discuss his views and your own thoughts on the issue.

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.

London commuters dread Tube noise

Photo credit: Leon Warnking from Pexels

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

After my studies on the adverse impact of elevated train noise children’s classroom learning in a school in Upper Manhattan were published, the New York City Transit Authority became more involved in seeking out ways to reduce rail noise. I was asked to be a consultant to the Transit Authority in this undertaking. As I studied the rail noise in greater depth, I learned that rail noise could indeed be reduced, e.g. welded rail, rubber rail seats between rail and tracks, wheel truing, and track lubrication. What I also learned is the relationship between noise and proper maintenance of the system. To run a system with fewer breakdowns and disruptions, it is wise to keep the system properly maintained and noise should be viewed as a clue to potential breakdowns. Thus, keep the wheels trued and the tracks lubricated.

Now forty-five years after the publication of my first study on transit noise and learning, I read that Transport for London is being confronted by riders who say that the one aspect of their journeys on the Tubes that they dread is the noise. In April Curtin’s article for MyLondon, we learn that a research project recorded sound levels exceeding 105 decibels–that’s extremely high–on some of the journeys. As discussed in my earlier writings, this article notes that the rail squeak that passengers are complaining about causes damage to the tracks and trains. Not surprisingly, we are told, this adds to the maintenance bill.

In response to the noise complaints, Transport for London says it is carrying out regular maintenance work and “investing in new technologies to reduce noise on the Underground.” As the co-author of the book “Why Noise Matters,” written with four British co-authors, and as an individual who has examined transit noise for so many years, I offer my assistance to Transport for London as they explore ways to reduce rail noise.

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.

Community to vote on noise control cost

Photo credit: Andy Nystrom licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

What happens when citizens want highway noise control but the financial cost is high? The Canadian community of Beaconsfield, Quebec is facing skyrocketing noise control estimates for a long awaited concrete sound barrier. Since the need was identified in 2010, cost estimates have risen from $25.5 million to $46 million putting the entire project at risk.

Beaconsfield’s sound energy is above World Health Organization noise limits recommended to prevent health damage in pregnant women, newborns to teens, elders, and other groups-at-risk. This doesn’t mean the noise control budget should be unlimited. But a $46 million sound barrier may not be the only solution. Modern options include different sound barrier designs, lower speed limits, quiet asphalt, and greenscaping between residences and the highway. There are new technology sound barriers designed to cut noise and chemical air pollution that are as effective as other barrier styles, and might be less expensive.

While there is no doubt this highway noise is a public health risk, authorities have decided to let community members vote on whether to pay for noise control or not. This will pit resident against resident, leaving the outcome in the control of many people who don’t live near the highway.

If this was a contaminated water supply, there would be no vote on whether to pay what is needed to protect public health. Unfortunately, noise isn’t treated with the same seriousness even though exposure is linked to communication breakdowns, reading delays, and increased risk of impaired health like anxiety, depression, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, hearing loss, and dementia.

One of the root causes of this Canadian noise control problem is lack of community planning. Highways and infrastructure were built and expanded too close to homes, schools, playgrounds, and parks. Now there is a $46 million price tag to fix the problem.

In the U.S., the Quiet Community Act of 2019 would include limiting vehicle source noise emissions and better infrastructure planning to prevent community noise. This Act needs senate funding at a cost of $21 million a year. Experts estimate for every $1 spent on noise control, there will be an estimated $1.29 in future savings by eliminating preventable diseases and other adverse social effects of noise.

When it comes time to vote, one hopes the community in Quebec will vote so everyone has equal health protection from harmful noise no matter where they live. When it comes time to vote in the U.S., one hopes citizens will vote for senators who support funding the Quiet Community Act. Prevention will improve public health equality and cost less than noise control after the fact.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.

 

New York pols seek stiffer fines for modified mufflers

Photo credit: Markus Spiske from Pexels

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

New Yorkers are very likely appreciative of the lawmakers, State Senator Andrew Gournardes and City Councilman Justin Brannan, for introducing legislation, a bill at the state level and a bill at the City Council, to impose stiffer fines for excessive vehicle noise. These legislators speak for many New Yorkers when they were quoted as being “tired of moronic motorists terrorizing New York streets with deafening loud mufflers and exhaust systems.”

The bills would increase the penalties for modifying mufflers and ensure that police officers have the ability to measure the decibel sound levels emitted. The legislators have noted the blasting noises from these vehicles at night have been especially disruptive to sleep. With so many people already experiencing extra stress, sleep is especially important. But sleep is always important to health, and lack of sleep due to noise has been found to impede overall health and quality of life.

While the legislators believe higher fines and police armed with decibel meters will make people think twice about modifying exhaust systems to make them intentionally louder, the key to stopping this noise is the enforcement of the law. Will this legislation indeed bring about an increase in the issuance of violations? Have the lawmakers thought of introducing provisions in the bills that will allow for an evaluation of how the bills are enforced within a year after their passage?

Passing laws is critical in maintaining order, but without enforcement these laws carry little weight. Too often, when it comes to noise, New Yorkers have found that noise laws do not get enforced as they should, as underscored in this 2018 noise report by New York State comptroller DiNapoli.

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.

Harmful transit noise can be reduced

Photo credit: William Davies has dedicated this photo into the public domain

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

I recently learned about another group of people being subjected to the harsh and dangerous noises emitted from a railway. In this case it is the Squamish Nation community in Vancouver whose lives are being disrupted by engine noise, engines idling in the middle of the night and early in the morning, and 100 decibel whistle blows at night at a protected crossing. In response to these complaints, the Canadian National Railway has commented that “there will always be some noise associated with operations.” The Railway goes on to say that it has made efforts to minimize their operations.

First, let me note the research that has demonstrated that noise is harmful to health and well-being and this includes railroad noise. Second, having been a consultant to the New York City Transit Authority on rail noise and knowledgeable about the underlying causes of rail noise, I feel comfortable in wondering whether the Canadian Railway has done everything it could to lessen its system noise. This is underscored by the railway simply saying efforts have been made to lessen noise without citing examples. I would also venture to assume that the railway might believe that reducing noise could be costly. In fact, by reducing noise the New York City Transit Authority actually saved money. The building of less noisy traction motors for its trains resulted in a more efficient motor that would last longer and smoothing the rails didn’t just lessen noise, it placed less stress on the city’s aging structure where stress can lead to increased breakdowns.

It has been over forty years since my first transit noise study which found that children in classrooms exposed to passing elevated train noise had lower reading scores. Yes, we were able to remedy the noise of the passing trains and the children’s learning improved. Now all these years later, I still find that individuals are being exposed to harmful transit noise and the agency in charge appears to accept the idea that the people living near the noise have to learn to live with it.

Thanks to the Noise Curmudgeon for the story link.

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.

Road traffic noise is linked to diabetes and hypertension

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from US News & World Report discusses a Canadian study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, showing that long-term exposure to road traffic noise is linked to diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure).

The research article on which the US News report is based is available online. As the authors note, this is the largest such study done in North America. Other factors, including universal health care in Canada, minimize the risk of selection bias.

And the findings are consistent with animal research and other similar studies done in Europe and elsewhere in Canada. Road traffic noise and aircraft noise are recognized in Europe as health hazards.

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.

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.