Howling police sirens, horns honking, subway din on above-ground routes, potholes everywhere, construction noise and screaming: New Yorkers are back in their hustle and bustle, which had eased somewhat during the corona pandemic. The authorities now want to relieve the citizens’ nerves and set up traffic cameras that also measure the noise and identify tuned cars and motorcycles that exceed the permissible noise level. In Paris, the authorities had installed similar devices on some streets a year ago, in Berlin “noise cameras” are being considered.
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However, since the police often have other priorities, violations have often gone unpunished. However, the new devices now register the license plate number directly, similar to speed cameras. The first noise violation carries a $800 fine, rising to $2,625 for the third time (and ignoring a hearing).
Show-off with manipulated exhaust
During the one-year pilot phase of the system, at least 71 drivers received fines as a result. The city’s environmental protection agency now wants to expand the use of roadside noise measuring devices. “Vehicles with illegally modified exhausts, which are extremely loud, have become a growing problem in recent years,” said City Councilor Erik Bottcher. He welcomes the installation of the new radars in his district.
New York City already has one of the most comprehensive noise ordinances in the entire United States. Many noisemakers, such as jackhammers and cars, have legal limits. With a new law in spring 2022, the fines for hairdressing vehicles were increased.
The mayor worries about the health of his New Yorkers
According to studies, noise not only damages hearing, but also affects people’s mood and mental health – not to mention a possible link to heart disease and increased blood pressure. “The noise out there is non-stop — the horns, the trucks, the sirens,” Mayor Eric Adams recently lamented. “Noise exposure makes it difficult to sleep and increases the risk of chronic diseases.”
Almost ten years ago, one of Adams’ predecessors, Michael Bloomberg, declared war on the noise. In a 45-page paper, regulations were issued that regulated, among other things, how long ice cream trucks were allowed to ring and dogs were allowed to bark.
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The New York Times already complained about the noise 118 years ago
Will that help in the city that never sleeps? The New York Times had already criticized the increasing street noise in 1905 and asked whether a remedy could be found. More than a century later, the corona pandemic provided the answer: in the spring of 2020, the roaring of the cars largely stopped because people stayed at home. Residents could hear birdsong again, broken only by howling sirens and illegal fireworks at night.
Still, the quiet has been felt by many to be unsettling because of fears of the virus, says Juan Pablo Bello of New York University’s Sound of New York City project, which monitored the sounds of the city during lockdown. “The silence during lockdown has been a very uncomfortable silence.”
Paradox: More noise complaints in the quieter Corona period
Still, the number of complaints about noise increased during the pandemic. Experts attributed this to the fact that the people who were tied to the house had reacted overly sensitively. The number of complaints about noisy neighbors doubled in the first year of Corona, and many more were directed against tuned cars and motorcycles.
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However, the current measures against noisy vehicles go too far for some. Bronx car enthusiast Phillip Franklin started an online petition against the city’s noise laws. According to the petition, noise is “part of our everyday life”. Quiet vehicles are also a danger for inattentive pedestrians. “Fixing potholes is far more important than dealing with noisy cars,” Franklin said in an interview.
Better noise than eerie Corona silence
According to scientist Juan Pablo Bello, many New Yorkers have come to terms with the volume – and prefer it to the silence of the Corona period. “I think people have acknowledged the fact that it’s a chaotic, noisy city,” he says. “We like to have an active and lively environment. And we like to have an environment with lots of jobs and activities, not this creepy, pretty grueling place.”