Transportation Noise

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.

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.