Tag Archive: New York City

New York City quieted

Photo credit: Aurelien Guichard licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

When Dr. Juan Bello and his associates at New York University initiated a project three years ago to measure the loud sounds of New York City, they had hoped that these sound measurements could assist the city’s Department of Environmental Protection in its efforts to reduce noise pollution. They did not envision that a coronavirus pandemic and lockdown would result in sound measurements establishing that 29 of the city’s quietest days in the last three years occurred during the pandemic.

In their article “The Coronavirus Quieted City Noise. Listen to What’s Left,” Quoctrung Bui and Emily Badger report that the NYU findings reflect what is happening to the urban soundscape worldwide. London researchers have found “consistently lower decibel levels at every London location.” Similarly, researchers in other parts of the world are also finding lower readings. In Nova Scotia, “the noise of cars and airplanes no longer drowns out the rustle of leaves and wind.” Yet, they report, neighbor to neighbor complaints are not down, as intrusive sounds from neighbors may even be more disturbing during this stressful time of quarantine.

The changed soundcape can also alter people’s perception of the sounds around them, they add. For example, the article notes that neighborhood sidewalk chatter which was not disturbing before the pandemic may be bothersome now because people are viewing this chatter as coming from people who are not practicing the required social distancing. Birds are being reported as louder but are probably not singing louder; before the pandemic their sounds were barely heard amongst the surrounding din. I was quoted as noting that people reported that they missed the honking horns and the sounds of the traditional New York City. But I quickly added that what they really miss is their former lives. Dr. Bello summed it up nicely when he said the current sounds of New York City are associated with an aching city and “[i]t’s not a healthy sound in my mind.”

Mark Cartwright of NYU suggests that being able to capture the sounds of city without the jackhammers, honking, commerce, etc. might provide city government with a baseline so that it can then regulate what sounds could be added to the baseline to provide a city with less noise pollution. I concur with him in that the opportunity to think about our aural environment at this time might encourage us to come up with ways to reduce the disturbing din while not changing the pleasant sounds of our urban environment.

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 complaints continue, but source changes

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

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

In an earlier post on noise complaints, I referred to an article that said nonresidential noise complaints about noises from outside of homes, especially from construction, have gone down in New York City due to the lockdown. By contrast that article noted that residential neighbor-to-neighbor complaints held steady.

Now, several weeks later, Sankalp Gulati in his article “Tracking post-pandemic normalcy: noise complaints in NYC” reports that commercial noise complaints–especially from bars and pubs–“have slumped” during the lockdown, whereas residential noise complaints, e.g. loud television, loud music, loud talking and banging, have increased. This can be readily understood in that people are staying home, both during the day and in the evening. And, as the article notes, many people are playing loud music.

Gulati based his article on the noise complaints registered with 311. I don’t know if he is presently monitoring noise complaints to 311 but if he is, I would like him to know that New Yorkers were told two weeks ago not to call 311 with “traditional” complaints because the operators were focusing on the coronavirus pandemic. He goes on to say that examining the data “during the recovery phase of the pandemic” might be an indicator that New Yorkers were returning to their usual “social behavior and routines.”

I would hope that Gulati would continue his interest in noise and collect the data on noise complaints during the recovery phase of the pandemic and provide us with his findings.

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.

Coronavirus is changing NYC’s soundscape

This photo is in the public domain

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

I have been writing about sound and noise for the past forty years but I never envisioned that a virus pandemic in New York City would elicit a flurry of newspaper and magazine articles focused on sounds and noise. One example is Lindsay Zoladz’s piece, “Learning to Listen to, and Beyond, the Siren Call.” She notes that although she has lived near a hospital for the past five years, she “moved through life with breezy ignorance of the nearest hospital’s location.” But now she is overwhelmed by the “howl, yelp and bleat at all hours” of ambulance sirens. “I feel their presence in my body as an ever-increasing tightness in my shoulders and neck.”

Zoladz tells us about the group of Morningside Heights community residents who, subjected to the constant barrage of ambulance sirens, have been advocating for years to alter the present siren level to a less offensive sound used in Europe. Yet, New York City continued to use the more intrusive siren. With the coronavirus bringing more New Yorkers to hospitals in ambulances, and more people hearing these sirens, possibly after the pandemic these “new listeners,” including Ms. Zoladz, will join the Morningside Heights residents in their quest for the European “hi-lo siren.”

Though Zoladz admits that she has now tuned in to the sounds of the city that she had formerly not been as attentive to, she says that she misses “the comfort of the noise.”

I very well understand this comment because the sounds to which she was tuned in to before the virus struck reflected a much more “normal New York” for Zoladz and her fellow New Yorkers. Yet, I have to point out that some of these sounds adversely impacted on our health and well-being: rail, road and aircraft noises and nearby loud bar music in the early morning hours. On the other hand, we enjoyed the roars at our New York sports arenas and the laughter of children playing in our city’s parks.

And every evening at 7:00 p.m., I join in with my fellow New Yorkers to cheer and thank our City’s health care workers who are risking their lives to tend to the needs of their fellow New Yorkers but, unlike Zoladz, I do not consider these sounds “noise.” Noise is traditionally described as unwanted, intrusive, disruptive sounds but the sounds I hear from my terrace at 7:00 p.m. are welcoming and pleasant. They are sounds of thankfulness and appreciation.

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.

Paris is quiet

Photo credit: Margerretta from Pexels

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

With about 150 sound monitoring stations around Paris and its suburbs, Bruitparif, the agency that oversees the sound levels recorded by these stations, released two charts this week: one depicting the levels of sound before the coronavirus and one after this pandemic took hold. Bruitparif reported a considerable drop in noise emissions, especially near airports, along highways, and in neighborhoods with night clubs that are now shut down.

Yes indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has kept people indoors. Fewer are flying, traveling the roads, or using the rails. While at home, residents are not hearing construction sounds because of construction has been suspended. Paris and its nearby suburbs are much quieter as the graph in the article indicates. I prefer the word quiet to silent.

In 2016, New York University researchers launched a Sounds of New York City (SONYC) program that involves placing sensors in New York City that would provide data on the sound levels at the sites where these sensors would be placed. The data collected by SONYC were to be shared with the City’s Department of Environmental Protection to assist them in more effectively lessening the noise levels in the city.

One could now ask the New York University professors to compare the data collected before the virus took hold in the city with sound level data collected several weeks later. Although such an initiative was not envisioned by the NYU program when it was developed, its data collection could offer a “before” and “after” pandemic view of New York City sound levels.

Other cities, e.g. Berlin, have also gathered data on urban sound levels and have created noise maps from these data. It would be worthwhile to ask other cities whether they, like Paris, have created before and after the coronavirus pandemic noise maps. With noise pollution a major problem, primarily in urban areas, and a health hazard, such data might be useful in designing ways to lessen the adverse impacts from 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.

NYC must better regulate noise

Photo credit: Vlad Alexandru Popa from Pexels

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

Sarah Sax’s recent article in City & State New York, “New York City Needs to Better Regulate Noise,” joins the growing number of articles that have recently appeared stressing the adverse impacts of noise on mental and physical health. These articles have acknowledged, unfortunately, that the federal government has essentially abandoned its role to regulate noise in the U.S. as called for in the 1972 Noise Control Act. That Act, still on the books, established a national policy to protect citizens from noise that jeopardizes health and well-being. As a result, Sax writes that curbing noise is essentially a local matter.

While recognizing that New York City has passed and updated legislation for many years to restrict noise impacts, Sax notes that noise complaints rank high on the city’s 311 complaint line. Sax cites State Comptroller DiNapoli’s 2018 report highlighting noise complaints to 311, which surveyed a sample of New York City residents on noise and found the majority of the people completing the survey were not satisfied with how their noise complaints were handled. And the noises complained about continued. In response to this report, the City’s Department of Environmental Protection added more agents to deal with noise complaints.

The New York City Noise Code was updated, in large part, in 2007, but there have been some recent updates regarding construction noise. Still, there is increased talk among the members of the New York City Council that the city needs to go further to improve its code, especially as it relates to regulating noise related to construction.

As Sax reports, New York University’s Sounds of New York City program, which is placing sensors around the city to more accurately measure sound levels, may be a tool that would enable the DEP, with whom SONYC is sharing sensor data, to better act on noise violations. This remains to be seen, as Sax states.

Sax also writes about how loud traffic noise is, and I am confident she will agree with me that the “Don’t Honk” signs reminding drivers to restrict use of their horns–which  were removed years ago–should be put in place again. There are fines associated with honking and signs reminding people to limit honking are good prompts for appropriate driving behavior.

That said, large numbers of noise complaints also come from residents complaining about their neighbors and from people living near New York City’s three airports. These sources were not discussed in Sax’s article but also require greater attention. State legislators should study how strongly the “warranty of habitability” section of leases, which covers noises in apartments, is being enforced. Aircraft noise complaints have grown with recent changes in flight patterns, and despite efforts by some New York Congress members, to address this problem, there is still little being done to curtail airport-related noise.

In the end, I agree with Sax’s conclusion that public officials must acknowledge that noise is a significant health hazard and act to limit it.

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.

 

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.