Tag Archive: New York City

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.

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.