We live in an increasingly noisy world. As population densities increase, buffer space between residences, office parks and recreational public space diminishes. Homes and offices are increasingly built closer to highways and industrial land uses. Often, noisy activities such as construction, roadway traffic and airline traffic are forced into close proximity with these noise-sensitive areas; not even hospitals and schools are spared.
Noise can degrade our quality of life, affect our health, interfere with sleep and adversely affect property values.
Luckily, more architects, construction managers and homeowners are taking proactive steps toward silencing existing noise problems and preventing new problems before lives are disrupted. Once noise levels are known (either by measurement or forecast) today’s planners and architects can minimize the effects of noise on surrounding areas using noise barriers and state-of-the-art sound proofing technology that didn’t exist just 10 years ago.
Noisy neighbors and activities can create unpleasant noise levels in some of the quietest areas. Motorcycles, loud music, late night parties and even home equipment such as heat pumps and air conditioning units can disturb the neighborhood peace and quiet that most of us long for when we’re at home.
Traffic noise is determined by the daily and peak-hour volume of traffic, travel speed, number of lanes, terrain, type of vehicles and the location of the highway in proximity to residential properties, hotels, churches, schools, hospitals, and all locations that require a quiet setting. Noise mitigation on a busy highway or a roadway is often accomplished with a noise barrier designed specifically for this type of setting. Sound abatement window treatments and walls can also be used to reduce noise levels indoors. The FHWA Traffic Noise Model (TNM) is used to analyze and predict traffic noise based specific parameters, and is often used to design adequate noise barriers.
Airliners are loudest on take-off, especially for locations behind and under the departure flight path. Landing aircraft are typically much quieter. The FAA has published the Integrated Noise Model (INM) and Helicopter Noise Model (HNM). These computer models are used to generate noise contours or "footprints" of average noise levels based on the number of operations and aircraft types. Areas exposed to levels above Ldn (Day Night Level) 65 are considered to be "noise impacted,” and nearby homes and buildings would benefit tremendously from noise barriers and other noise abatement solutions.
Light rail train and railroad operations can also raise noise to significant levels. DOT regulations require that a horn or signal at certain sound levels be used at road crossings. Diesel locomotives produce a great deal of low frequency noise. Once the locomotive is past, squealing wheels, air brakes and other track noises remain. Standard FTA methodology is used to predict railway noise, based on number of trains, track conditions, speed, grade, and similar factors.
The noise levels can make living near train or railroad operations unbearable unless the proper sound abatement solutions are put in place. With light rail train construction on the rise across the U.S., planners have begun incorporating noise barrier systems into existing and new train projects wherever noise is a problem.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal agencies specify acceptable noise levels for residential projects.
For sites exposed to noise above Ldn 60, there is the potential for impact. Sites exposed to outdoor noise up to Ldn 65 are considered “normally acceptable” for residential development. HUD requires a noise study whenever the site is within certain distances of major roads, rail lines or airports. The study must examine both present and future conditions, projected at least ten years out (although twenty years is the standard of practice.)
Noise is fast becoming one of the most pressing public health issues in society today. Noise pollution affects everyone, and long term health projections for people subjected to high noise levels over continuous periods of time are bleak; stress, heart disease, hearing loss and other noise-related maladies are becoming serious problems worldwide. Luckily, there are proven methods of reducing noise and creating healthier living spaces.
As the detrimental health effects of noise become better understood in small and large communities nationwide, efforts to curb repeat offenders at every level are increasing. That includes everyone, from club owners and concert venues to the inconsiderate noisy neighbors who keep the party, and the music going into the wee hours when everyone else is trying to sleep.
Possession of earthshaking bass comes with a responsibility not to deafen the neighbors.
So say Richmond, California police, who traditionally field about as many complaints about this form of music sharing each year as they do about gunfire.
But, unlike gunfire, up until now officers only ask offenders to turn it down. Otherwise, they need verbal warnings, written warnings and possibly decibel readings to take action against an awful 2 a.m. backyard party.
The consequences for disrupting the neighbors with excessive noise in Richmond, Virginia will change, however, if a proposed ordinance about community noise passes City Council, adding teeth to a tooth-challenged municipal code about ticketing and fining noisemakers.
"Traditionally we've been using a decibel reading," Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus said. "While that's helpful for determining exactly how loud the noise is, this ordinance would make the standard more reasonable."
The proposal passed the council's Public Safety subcommittee in December, and the full council will take it up at a meeting in March, Magnus said.
The amended code would strip much bureaucracy from the process of delivering consequences to noise polluters, and also lower the bar for collecting evidence of noise pollution.
Police must now follow a lengthy process of verbal and written warnings, and take noise measurements, before ticketing anyone who declines a request to reduce the volume. It's mainly geared toward curbing repeat offenders.
The new ordinance incorporates the same standard most community members use, labeling it problematic if it sounds too loud to a reasonable person, from a certain distance away. That makes it more useful for officers trying to stop an immediate problem.
If police deem it so, they may issue a ticket if the noisemaker cannot quiet down within a few minutes of a warning.
Still, the proposal remains a work in progress according to an organization that represents industrial business in Richmond.
Representatives from the Council of Industries and a group that represents owners of large apartment buildings in the city recently met with Magnus and City Manager Bill Lindsay to discuss their concerns, and plan to do so again, before the item reaches City Council next month.
"We told them that we understand where the police are coming from. They want to put teeth into the (noise) ordinance, and we are supportive of that," Council of Industries Director Katrinka Ruk said.
But business owners remain leery of adding another layer of noise regulation atop existing zoning law and the city planning department. They also worry about police regulation hampering new construction.
Given that police receive few complaints about industrial noise, and given that plenty of regulation already exists for it, Ruk and the council's constituents believe industry should not fall under the purview of police.
A final version of the proposal is currently being drafted.
Excerpted from an article by Karl Fischer, West County Times blog.