Tag Archive: John Stewart

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.

A layperson’s guide to the WHO’s noise and health report

Photo credit: United States Mission Geneva licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by John Stewart  

The new noise and health guidelines (pdf) published last week by the World Health Organisation could prove a turning point in the fight to persuade governments and industry to put in place more effective measures to tackle noise. The guidelines are not legally binding but, given the extent of the health problems associated with noise the report identified, it will be difficult for the authorities to dismiss them out of hand. Although the guidelines were published by the European office of the WHO and strictly apply only to Europe, WHO hopes and expects they will influence noise policy across the world. My summary of the guidelines can be found here (pdf).

The guidelines are tougher than those recommended by the WHO previously. The recommended limits are:

  • Road                    53Lden              45Lnight
  • Rail                      54Lden              44Lnight
  • Aircraft                 45Lden              40Lnight
  • Wind Turbines     45Lden       no recommendation*
  • Leisure                70 LAeq

* WHO felt that there was insufficient evidence to make a recommendation

The guidelines are stricter for air and wind turbine noise because WHO found that people get highly annoyed from these sources at lower levels than for road or rail noise. The benchmark used when recommending the safe thresholds was the level at which 10% of the population became annoyed by a particular noise source. For night noise a lower threshold was used on the basis that sleep disturbance created more serious health problems than annoyance. The night threshold was the level at which 3% of people were “highly sleep-disturbed.”

WHO stressed that, because, in its view, there is not yet enough research to make a recommendation about night noise from wind turbines, it does not mean that they are not causing problems. One of the report’s recommendations is that more wind turbine research is undertaken.

Wind farm and leisure were not covered in previous WHO reports. Leisure noise is harder to define than the other noise sources. WHO broadly defines it as recreational noise, including noise from personal audio devices. In light of existing evidence the WHO recommended that over the course of the year the noise from leisure sources should average out at no more than 70 decibels. It added one important caveat, though: a warning that very high levels of noise at a particular time–for example music at a rock concert–has the potential to damage hearing.

The WHO has made it very clear it does not want its report to sit on shelves gathering dust. It wants it to lead to action and has pointed the way in the report to solutions to reduce the number of people–currently running into hundreds of millions across the world–exposed to unhealthy levels of noise.

The World Health Organisation has done it job. It is over to us now–governments, industries, communities, campaign groups–to make sure we use it to create a quieter and healthier future for everybody.

John Stewart is the lead author of “Why Noise Matters,” published by Earthscan in 2011, and has worked and campaigned in the fields of noise and transport for over 35 years.

Could post-Brexit UK see a reduction in noise pollution?

Photo credit: (Mick Baker)rooster

Arline Bronzaft, PhD, a founding member of The Quiet Coalition, has reviewed a recently released ebook (pdf), “The Noise Climate–Post Brexit,” by John Stewart, Nigel Rodgers, Henry Thoresby, Val Weedon, and Francis McManus, for The Quiet Coalition blog. Dr. Bronzaft co-authored “Why Noise Matters” (Earthscan, 2011) with Stewart, Rodgers, Weedon, and McManus. That book examined the adverse impacts of noise on mental and physical health and questioned why governments failed to implement policies to abate noise in light of strong evidence supporting the noise/health link and the availability of noise abatement measures.

In “The Noise Climate–Post Brexit,” writes Dr. Bronzaft, the authors address noise abatement with some specificity and posit that after Brexit the UK could respond to noise in a way that leads to a real reduction in noise pollution. They assert that “even though the European Union (EU) took some steps to identify sources of noise (mainly by asking its members to periodically assess the noise levels in their respective countries), it did not take the next essential step–outlining ways to alleviate the noise.” Dr. Bronzaft says that the book has an optimistic outlook, which was mirrored in a private conversation that she had with John Stewart. His optimism rests on the belief that once the UK’s ability to regulate noise is no longer tied to EU oversight, the possibility exists that the government will focus on noise abatement and employ methodologies to evaluate the abatement measures.

At the end of her conversation with John Stewart, Dr. Bronzaft wished him well and told him that she would be reflecting on how the newly appointed head of the U.S. EPA, Scott Pruitt, would be addressing the noise issue in the U.S. “At this point,” said Dr. Bronzaft, “John wished me ‘good luck.’”

Good luck to us all.