New York City imposes fines for noisy vehicles thanks to noise meters

After the relative calm of the pandemic, New York City has returned. Just listen: jackhammers. Honking cars and trucks. Rumbling subways. sirens. Scream.

There have been numerous efforts over the years to calm the cacophony. One of the latest: traffic cameras equipped with sound meters that can identify souped-up cars and motorcycles that emit an illegal amount of road noise.

At least 71 drivers have so far received tickets for violating noise regulations during a year-long pilot program of the system. The city’s environmental agency is now planning to expand the use of roadside noise meters.

“Vehicles with illegally modified mufflers and tailpipes that emit extremely loud noises have become a growing problem in recent years,” said City Council Member Erik Bottcher, who announced the arrival of radars in his borough to help reduce “obnoxious” noise.

New York City already has one of the most comprehensive noise ordinances in the country, setting acceptable levels for a variety of noise generators, such as jackhammers and vehicles.

A state law known as the Stop Loud and Excessive Exhaust Pollution Act, or SLEEP Act, that went into effect last spring increased fines for illegal modifications to mufflers and exhaust systems.

Because police officers often have other priorities, the perpetrators go their funny, loud ways. The new devices record criminals’ license plates, much like speedsters are caught by roadside cameras. Vehicle owners face an $800 fine for a first noise offense and a $2,625 penalty for ignoring a third hearing.

City officials declined to reveal where the radars are currently located.

Health consequences of noise pollution

A year ago, Paris, one of the noisiest cities in Europe, installed similar systems along some streets.

There is clear evidence that noise not only affects hearing, but also mood and mental health, not to mention possible links to increased risk of heart disease and elevated blood pressure.

“You hear the noise out there, it’s constant — the horns, the trucks, the sirens,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams lamented during a recent press conference blaming a freeway for the noise and illness. “Noise pollution makes it difficult to sleep and increases the risk of chronic diseases.”

Almost a decade ago, one of Adams’ predecessors, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, launched a war on noise by publishing 45 pages of rules dealing with ice cream trucks ringing and how long a dog can bark continuously (five minutes in the morning morning hours). , 10 during most of the day) before its owner gets into the kennel.

In 1905, the New York Times had described the metropolis as “a sonic fire that spreads rapidly beyond the control of an ordinary fire extinguisher.” The article asked, “Is there any relief?”

A global pandemic more than a century later answered that question. In the spring of 2020, the rumble of vehicles on city streets stopped for a few months as people stayed indoors.

The silence allowed people to hear birdsong again – although it was often interrupted by howling ambulance sirens and illegal firecrackers at night.

“As quiet as it has been during lockdown, it has been a very uncomfortable silence. It was a frightening silence because it had many implications,” said Juan Pablo Bello, the lead investigator for Sounds of New York City, or SONYC, a New York University company that studies urban noise.

Bello and his team initially hoped to collect data on the dissonances of everyday urban life, but the coronavirus intervened. Instead, they monitored the sonic rhythms of a lockdown city.

The number of noise complaints did increase during the pandemic, but some experts say it was a symptom of people who are housebound becoming overly sensitive to their noisy surroundings.

Complaints about noisy neighbors have nearly doubled in the first year of the pandemic. Many other complaints have been attributed to cars and motorcycles with modified mufflers.

“Noise is part of our everyday life”

Still, some people say efforts to make noisy vehicles quieter are going too far. Phillip Franklin, a 30-year-old Bronx car enthusiast, started an online petition to protest the state’s noise law.

“The majority of us live here in New York City, where noise is part of our daily lives,” reads his petition, which alleges that quiet vehicles pose a hazard to inattentive pedestrians.

“Fixing potholes is far more important than chasing noisy cars,” Franklin said in an interview.

Loud noises as loud as 120 decibels can damage ears instantly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eventually, even sustained noise above 70 decibels can damage hearing. A roaring motorcycle is about 95 decibels.

Companies specializing in building acoustics have multiplied. Designing new buildings or retrofitting old ones with anti-noise technology is booming today.

At the Manhattan offices of environmental technology company AKRF, the company has dubbed the “PinDrop” room — suggesting a space so quiet you could hear a pin drop — with an audio system that captures the unpredictable symphony of sounds of the City simulated Residents have to endure.

While architectural drawings reflect the use of space, acoustic renderings show how sound and noise can fill a space.

“Well, if it’s for sleeping, we want you to be able to sleep. When it comes to listening, we want you to be able to hear,” said AKRF Acoustics Consultant Nathaniel Fletcher.

Even with noise protection walls, tightly closing windows and sound-absorbing insulation, you can only do something against the noise to a limited extent. Most New Yorkers find peace with it.

“I think people have come to understand that it’s a messy, noisy city,” said Bello, a researcher at NYU. “We like it active and we like it lively. And we like it when it’s full of jobs and activities and not this kind of scary, pretty annoying place.”