Tag Archive: Department of Transportation

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.

Grant given to airport to lessen aircraft noise on nearby homes

Photo credit: Cliff licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

I was especially pleased to learn that the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority received a $1.9 million grant from the Department of Transportation to continue its program to lessen the impact of aircraft noise on the homes near the airport. The program to reduce noise impacts at residences was initiated eleven years ago when the FedEx cargo hub joined the airport.

In 2001, I was asked by the law firm representing residents concerned about the negative impacts from the development of the FedEx cargo hub to comment on the Federal Aviation Administration’s Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed runway associated with this hub. My comments explained that the EIS was seriously deficient in that it had minimal analyses of noise impacts on adults and children. Essentially, noise was defined as “an annoyance and a nuisance,” but there already was a growing body of literature that concluded that noise was a hazardous pollutant. The report also merely stated that noise “can disrupt classroom activities in schools,” even though studies had been published showing that noise can impede children’s learning. Finally, sleep was noted as being disrupted by noise when it was already known that loss of sleep may have serious consequences on the individual’s health and well-being.

I had concluded in my analysis of the environmental impact statement that the growing body of literature on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health was largely ignored and the authors of the statement relied on outdated studies and research in preparing the report.

I submitted my report and the hub opened years later in 2009. I now learned that noise mitigation accompanied the opening of the hub and the airport continued to work towards limiting impacts of aircraft noise on individuals living near the airport. I hope my statement in 2001 played a role in the Airport Authority’s recognition that airport-related noise does indeed have deleterious effects on mental and physical health.

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.

Finding it hard to escape noise? This could be why:

In “A Map of Noisy America,” CityLab writes about the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) new National Transportation Noise Map, which shows that “more than 97 percent of the U.S. population has the potential to be exposed to noise from aviation and Interstate highways at levels below 50 decibels or roughly comparable to the noise level of a humming refrigerator.”  The map also reveals that “[l]ess than one-tenth of a percent of the population could potentially experience noise levels of 80 decibels or more.” So that’s not bad, right? Well, yes and no.

CityLab notes that “noise doesn’t have to be particularly penetrating to be a public health menace,” adding that the World Health Organization “set a benchmark of recommended exposure to night sounds for Europeans” at 40 decibels.  Why so low?  Because studies have shown that sleep schedules are interrupted by noise over 42 decibels, “[e]xposure to road noise above 50 decibels (comparable to a quiet office) has been associated with higher risks of heart attack,” and noise has been linked to obesity and other maladies.

So check out the map and see how your community fares, but keep in mind that this map only looks at aviation and highway noise.  Next up?  The BTS states that “future versions of the National Transportation Noise Map are envisioned to include additional transportation noise sources, such as rail and maritime.”  We’ll keep you posted.

Well, it can’t hurt:

New Bill Seeks to Make it Easier to Catch Developers Breaking Noise Rules.  DNAinfo reports that “[a] new City Council bill is putting pressure on developers behind noisy construction sites by making information about their mitigation plans more accessible to neighbors.”  Long and short, the new bill “would require the Department of Environmental Protection to post noise mitigation plans for construction sites on its website, and would require developers to post the plans on construction fences in clear view.”  Ok, that could help, but we couldn’t help noticing that the bill text doesn’t include penalties for violation (although that must surely be provided elsewhere).

Construction in the city is endless.  Every handful of dirt seems to have a construction crew attempting to put highrise on it. Anyone living near one of these sites knows that their quality of life takes a hit.  Recently Community Board 1 in Manhattan held a construction forum to address common complaints.  Click this link to read the responses to these complaints from representatives of the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Buildings.