Tag Archive: New York City

Where to find some peace and quiet in New York City

Photo credit: Giorgio Galeotti licensed under CC BY 4.0

Matt Koff, a stand-up comedian and The Daily Show writer, offers his “Top 5 Places In NYC To Get Some F$%king Peace And Quiet.” It’s a short list, but thoughtful except for one suggestion.  Koff suggests a ride on one of New York City’s many ferries.  While we agree there is something calming about a ferry ride, the engine noise is shockingly loud.

So bring a pair of ear plugs with you as you take the ferry to Red Hook, another of Koff’s suggestions with which we wholeheartedly agree.

New York City tries to deal (again) with nighttime contruction noise

Photo credit: Tomwsulcer has dedicated this photo to the public domain

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

The New York Times reports that the building boom in New York City has been accompanied by a “noise boom,” especially with the increase in overnight work.

A construction boom, given the difficulty of doing construction work in Manhattan, has led to an increase in the number of variances being requested to allow nighttime construction work. Although the New York City Noise Code includes a section pertaining to construction noise rules and regulations, it is the Department of Buildings that oversees the issuance of variances to the Noise Code rules and regulations.

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera understands the adverse health impacts of noise. As reported in the New York Times, she has introduced a bill to the City Council that would limit construction work to no earlier than 6 a.m. and no later than 10 p.m. on weekdays, with weekend construction limited to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with some variances allowed for utility and government projects. As to whether this legislation will pass, is a difficult question to answer in a city where developers and the real estate industry have strong political influence.

Ms. Rivera asserted that the Department of Buildings does not have enough employees to review all the permit applications for variances it receives. As a result, it may have issued variances without much consideration about how construction noise would affect those living nearby. There was, sadly, no indication in this story that the Department of Buildings asked for additional staff to more effectively review the applications. The one response from a department spokesman, was that “no one likes construction” but that the after-hours permits were “necessary to a growing city.”  Such a statement appears to be dismissive of the accepted knowledge that noise is hazardous to both mental and physical health.

What is clear in the literature with respect to health and well-being is how dependent our health is on a “good night’s sleep,” something that is certainly being denied to those exposed to the growing New York City nighttime construction noise. Furthermore, a city like New York, proud of its diverse and talented workforce, should also be aware of the fact a loss of sleep can decrease work productivity the next day.

We wish Ms. Rivera success, and a quieter night to all in New York City.

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.

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.

 

Will this finally get the cops to do something about motorcycle noise?

Photo credit: Elvert Barnes licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A motorcycle backfiring caused panic, sending thousands of people running for safety in Times Square. Coming so shortly off of this country’s latest mass shootings, one can understand why throngs of people ran for their lives when they heard what they thought was gun fire:

The backfiring could have been accidental, but as anyone who lives in a big city knows, bikers love to make noise and that noise is deliberate.  Here’s hoping the police, recognizing the danger of stampede, will finally start ticketing these miscreants for violating noise ordinances that are already on the books.

 

NYC council considers helicopter ban

Photo credit: Matthis Volquardsen from Pexels

In a move that is sure to delight those of us who want sensible limits on unnecessary noise, three New York City council members have proposed a ban on helicopter flights over the city. Specifically, Council members Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret S. Chin have introduced legislation that would ban all nonessential helicopter travel over the city. The proposal followed a frightening helicopter crash that occurred in June 2019, in which the pilot, who was not authorized to fly in limited visibility, was killed while attempting to land his helicopter during foul weather.

While the linked story suggests the council members’ focus is on safety concerns, group such as Stop the Chop have advocated for the end of unnecessary helicopter flights for security and health concerns, asserting that the flights are bad for the environment, bad for public health, and bad for New Jersey and New York residents who live in and around the flight paths. Making matters worse is that the vast majority of the flights are absolutely nonessential–Stop the Chop states that 97% of the 58,000 flights per year originating out of the city-owned Downtown Manhattan Heliport are tourist flights.

We hope that the full council votes in favor of banning nonessential helicopter flights, saving the lives of unsuspecting tourists and the health and sanity of every person who is exposed to the fumes and noise this unnecessary activity creates.

New NYC bill targets siren noise

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

A new bill introduced in New York City Council would require sirens to adopt the European two-toned model. City Council member Helen Rosenthal, who introduced the bill with fellow council member Carlina Rivera, said that she was “inspired to take action” after hearing feedback from Mt. Sinai Hospital’s trial of the European siren. According to Joseph Davis, the senior director of Mount Sinai’s emergency medical services, Mt. Sinai trialed the European siren after receiving complaints about the siren they had been using. The fix was always available, Davis said, as the ambulances had switches that allowed the hospital to use a variety of tones.

People who live in the neighborhoods served by Mt. Sinai’s ambulances could hear the difference. Said Roberta Semer, the chair of the Upper West Side’s community advisory board, the new siren was “better than it was.” Beforehand, she added, people were losing sleep because of the loud, shrill sirens.

Loud sirens can do more damage than just interrupting sleep (which is bad for health on its own). Richard Neitzel, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan, notes that loud sirens can have “serious health effects,” adding that “[a] build up of unpredictable and uncontrollable noises a person can lead to stress, anxiety and even cardiovascular disease.”

So kudos to council members Rosenthal and Rivera.  We hope they succeed in getting this bill passed.

Annoyed by restaurant playlists, a musician makes his own

Photo credit: Terje Sollie from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The New York Times writes about the seasonal playlists that musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto complied for the Kajitsu restaurant in New York City.  Sakamoto approached the chef with this list because he could not bear the music the restaurant played for its customers.

Not every restaurant can have a music pro compile its playlist, but at the least they can turn down the volume and let their customers enjoy their conversation.

And you don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud or not. If you can’t carry on a normal conversation without raising your voice to be heard, or you strain to hear your dining companions, the ambient noise level is above 75 A-weighted decibels.

Not by coincidence, that is also the auditory injury threshold, the sound level at which hearing damage begins.

Remember: 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.

Arline L. Bronzaft, PhD, awarded APA’s 2018 Presidential Citation

Photo credit: Susan Santoro

The Quiet Coalition co-founder Arline L. Bronzaft, PhD, as been awarded the first American Psychological Association Citizen Psychologist Presidential Citation “as an exemplar of passion, coalition building and leadership for her sustained community activities in New York City.” The award is in recognition of Dr. Bronzaft’s service to five New York City mayors as the chairperson of the Noise Committee of GrowNYC.org, her landmark research in the 1970’s on the effects of subway noise on children’s learning, her work helping the NYC Department of Environmental Protection update the city’s Noise Code, and her work implementing a noise education curriculum for the NYC public school system.

The APA has honored Dr. Bronzaft for her lifelong commitment to making the world quieter and healthier.  Kudos, Dr. Bronzaft!

New York City appoints a “Nightlife Mayor”

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

Noise is not simply an annoyance: noise is hazardous to mental and physical health and well-being. The research literature supporting this statement is plentiful. Recognizing that the research linking noise to poor health was growing, New York City decided to update its noise code ten years ago. While many citizens supported this effort, there was a great deal of opposition from the nightlife community who feared more stringent limits on sound levels would impede the business of bars, music venues, dance clubs, cafes, and late-night restaurants. Then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, believing that an updated noise code was essential for the health of New Yorkers, asked that the supporters and opponents of the noise code sit down and work together to bring about a code that would work for all its citizens. They did and the City’s updated noise code was passed.

In January 2018, the Comptroller of the State of New York decided to assess the strength of the noise code in responding to the many noise complaints received by 311, the New York City Complaint Center. The DiNapoli report found that between 2010 and 2015, “New Yorkers made 1.6 million complaints via 311.” Nightlife noise complaints were identified as music, party or people noise coming from a commercial establishment. Between 2010 and 2015, the report noted there were 154,587 such complaints with concentrations in the Lower East Side and Chinatown. The New York City Police Department confirmed about 1/3 of these complaints and most were resolved by actions taken to “fix the condition.”

A separate survey of residents was also conducted, and respondents offered suggestions as to how to lower the number of nightlife complaints, e.g. better management of people socializing in front of the establishment, enforcement of volume levels of music.

It is interesting that shortly after this DiNapoli report was released, we learn that New York has decided to appoint for the first time a Nightlife Mayor to “ …promote the industry and soothe the strained relations between the city’s night spots and the neighborhoods that complain about their merriment.” New Yorker Ariel Palitz, the former owner of Sutra, a club that she managed for ten years until it closed several years ago, was named Nightlife Mayor.

Following the announcement of Ms. Palitz as Nightlife Mayor, the NY Post ran an article that informed readers that Ms. Palitz’ club, Sutra, topped the list of “loudest gin joints for seven years running according to an interview she gave to a Lower East Side blog six years ago.” Ms. Palitz blamed the noise complaints on one relentless caller to 311.

According to the DiNapoli report, however, there are many New York City residents who are disturbed by the sounds that emanate from nearby clubs, bars, and music venues. In the New York Times article, Ms. Palitz states that she wants to listen to the residents who complain about the noise. She then goes on to say that she believes both sides feel that things are unfair but so far there have been “no practical solutions to address them.”

Accepting Ms. Palitz’ desire to resolve the disputes between the two sides, residents and owners of nightlife establishments, I would hope that the Advisory Committee that has already been named to assist her has members who are knowledgeable about the laws pertaining to noise control, as well as the impacts of noise on health and well-being. There should be someone on this committee that can assess the needs of both the owners and residents with appropriate surveys. I would also suggest that the committee members and Ms. Palitz read the most recent DiNapoli report on noise as well as his earlier report on nightlife noise reports.

For the past thirty years as a member of the Board of GrowNYC where I oversee its anti-noise activities, many New Yorkers have called on me to assist with their noise complaints, including residents who have been impacted by noise from nearby nightlife establishments. In addition, I have worked with community groups in New York City and elsewhere on noise issues and write extensively on the health impacts of noise pollution. I offer my long-term experience to Ms. Palitz as she moves forward to promote the nightlife industry in New York City while maintaining the requisite quiet for their nearby neighbors.

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.

Is there a link between NYC noise and crime?

Photo credit: Tony Fischer licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

This article in The Crime Report examines a recent report about New York City noise by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. It’s fascinating read and carefully documents the chronic problem of noise in New York City along what the City has been doing (and not doing) to address it. More importantly, the article notes that “[n]oise complaints may be a clue to what else is going on in an apartment,” such as child or elder abuse or drug dealing, and, in any event, “not enforcing noise ordinances creates an environment that encourages lawbreaking.”

The author of the article is GrowNYC board member Arline Bronzaft, PhD, who is also a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition. In her article, Dr. Bronzaft discusses the link between crime and noise and why the City should devote more enforcement resources to the issue to improve the health, safety and welfare of New York City’s residents.

Thank you, Dr. Bronzaft for your passionate and long-term commitment to this subject!

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.

Why a Toronto study on commuter noise is relevant to New York City

Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

In their recently published article “Noise exposure while commuting in Toronto – a study of personal and public transportation in Toronto,” Dr. Yao and his associates concluded that the sound levels associated with mass transit were intense enough to potentially cause some hearing loss. The authors found that while average noise levels in subway cars and on the subway stations were high, peak noise levels in the subway system exceeded 100 dBA. They also reported noise levels for buses and street cars with subways and bus average noise levels exceeding the average noise level for street cars. Recognizing that the mass transit system in Toronto is likely to expand, the authors suggested that “…engineering noise-control efforts should continue to focus on materials and equipment that confer a quieter environment.”

As a New Yorker and regular subway rider, I have long been aware of the impacts of New York City subway and elevated train noise on the health and well-being of its employees and riders as well as those who live, work, and attend school near the elevated train tracks. Yet, it was my research, done over forty years ago, on the adverse effects of elevated train noise on the reading ability of children attending classes near the elevated train tracks that led to my greater involvement in advocating for a “quieter” transit system. It was this advocacy that resulted in the Transit Authority installing rubber resilient pads on the tracks adjacent to the classrooms to lessen the train noise in these classes. The Board of Education also installed acoustical ceilings in these same classrooms.

The follow-up study of reading scores in these classrooms after the abatements were in place found that the children in classrooms adjacent to the track were now reading at the same level as those on the quiet side of the building. To me, these studies yielded another important finding–transit noise can be reduced.

It is within the context of my many years of writing about transit noise and its adverse impacts on mental and physical health that I will address the findings of the above Toronto study. For the purposes of this review, I will not be addressing bus noise which I have also examined in the past.

My research on subway noise impeding classroom learning received a great deal of attention and it led to my being given the opportunity to examine Transit Authority records on noise complaints and actions. I learned that back to 1878 when the Third Avenue El was opened, the noise from passing trains disturbed students attending Cooper Union College and the school had to relocate a dozen classrooms to the other side of the school building. The Transit Authority compensated the college for the move by paying them $540.00.

In the years that followed this first complaint, there were other complaints to which the Transit Authority responded by abating the noise on the tracks. In fact, as early as 1924, the then Transit Commission acknowledged the potential harm of noise on its employees and attempted to set up noise abatement programs for its existing lines as well as its future ones. In looking at how the New York Transit Authority responded to noise complaints, I found that complaints led to attempts to reduce noise but within a short time transit noises returned only to have the Authority respond again with noise abatements. My paper “Rail noise: The relationship to subway maintenance and operation,” published in Urban Resources in 1986, presents a historical overview of how subway noise has been addressed by those in charge of the New York City transit system.¹

Of particular note is the year 1982, when the State of New York decided to pass a Rapid Rail Transit Noise Code requiring the Transit Authority to develop a comprehensive plan to address its noise problems and to report annually to the State Legislature about its efforts to abate noise. The impetus for this bill came from community activists who lived near a rail curve in Coney Island that led to loud screeches as trains navigated the curve. The citizen group, The Big Screechers, led by Carmine Santa Maria, lobbied their legislators to pass the Rail Transit Noise Code.

My 1986 paper discussed how the Transit Authority at this time coordinated its noise abatement project with ongoing capital purchases and maintenance demonstrating its awareness that decreased transit noise is a sign of a poorly functioning system. Just as an automobile owner would bring in a noisy car to the repair shop recognizing that attending to the noise would very likely prevent more serious trouble ahead, the Transit Authority acknowledged that noise is very likely a clue to potential breakdowns.

With the primary sources of subway train noise involving the wheel, the rail, and the subway car’s propulsion system, noise abatement measures included wheel truing, rail welding, rubber resilient pads, track lubrication, and acoustic barriers—all of which also contribute to the proper operation of the system. These noise abatement measures lessen noise but also facilitate the integrity of the transit system while providing a smoother and quieter ride for the passengers as well as a quieter system for its employees. The Transit Authority also purchased quieter traction motors for their subway cars, demonstrating an awareness that quiet can be built into the original design.

The 1982 Rail Transit Noise Code was indeed effective in getting the Transit Authority to reduce its noise but, unfortunately, someone interpreted the law as having a “12 year life span” and, by 1995, the Transit Authority no longer had to report annually to the State on its efforts to lessen transit noise. With the Transit Authority no longer having to report annually on efforts to reduce noise, one might expect the subway system to grow louder in the following years. Indeed, a 2009 study examining sound levels of the New York City subway system, like the one carried out in Toronto, similarly concluded that the subway system’s loud sound levels have the potential to cause noise-induced hearing loss among its riders.

A paper I wrote in 2010 entitled “Abating New York City transit noise: A matter of will not way,” again highlighted the fact that subway noise abatement techniques exist and that addressing the noise issue would not only benefit the operation of the system, potentially leading to fewer breakdowns, but a quieter system would be beneficial to the health and welfare of New Yorkers. A few years after this paper was published, I was pleased to learn that the State assembly and State Senate delivered to the Governor an updated Rail Transit Noise bill in December 2014. Sadly, this bill was vetoed by Governor Cuomo on December 17, 2014 [pdf link]. Had this bill been passed, encouraging the Transit Authority to address its subway noise problems, I believe the subway system today would be quieter, better maintained, and running more efficiently. Without having measured the sound levels of the subway system these past three years, my ear seems to indicate that the subways are now noisier and the many media stories speak volumes to the lack of proper subway maintenance and the deteriorating service.

Let me turn back to the Toronto noise study and comment on its relevance to the New York transit noise issue. According to a research memorandum from Toronto in 1983, that the New York City Transit Authority shared with me,¹ Toronto indicated that the city spent a considerable amount of money in the testing and application of noise control procedures. The memorandum stated that rail sections were continuously welded, acoustical material was used throughout the system, floating slabs were installed on tracks near noise-sensitive buildings, and wheel ring-dampers were being tested on their subway cars. The Toronto subway system, considerably younger than New York’s system, having opened in 1954, appeared to be led by people who were well aware of the importance of transit noise abatement.

In light of the media headlines following the release of Dr. Yao’s article noting excessive transit noise in the Toronto subway system is putting commuters’ health at risk, I would expect that the head of the Toronto Transit Commission, Andrew Byford, is now preparing a response to the publication. Why should his response be relevant to New Yorkers? Because Andrew Byford will soon be the President of the New York City Transit Authority and his response to the noise report might clue us in as to whether he will address what my “ear” seems to indicate. Namely, that our system is growing louder. It would also let New York transit riders know if he, like several former Transit Authority leaders, understands the relationship among noise levels, transit maintenance, and subway performance, and would also tell us as to whether he fully understands that a quieter subway would positively impact the mental and physical health of New Yorkers.

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.

¹Bronzaft, A. L. (1986). Rail noise: The relationship to subway maintenance and operation. Urban Resources, 4, 37-42.