Coping with NYC's Noise

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A construction worker uses a jackhammer in New York City. A construction worker uses a jackhammer in New York City. (Martinus Scriblerus / Flickr Commons)

Arline Bronzaft, environmental psychologist on the board of GrowNYC, talks about the effects of noise and offers practical advice for dealing with it. Alan Fierstein, an acoustic consultant and the owner and founder of Acoustilog, joins her to share tales of noise mitigation from the 5,000+ jobs he's handled.


Arline Bronzaft and Alan Fierstein

Comments [51]

Jennifer from flushing, queens

Paul from Glen Cove, leaf blowers are maddening in North Flushing Queens! They descend on my block and are there for HOURS! They have stinky, noisy gas machines....They are more likely the cause of asthma than cars!

My real noise "complaint" is that the birds wake me up at 4 o'clock every day! It's either the woodpeckers knocking, or what sounds like 1000 sparrows chirping and the mocking bird that has memorized the car alarm rhythms. Every day...

Jul. 12 2014 05:15 PM
Anita Feldman from East Village, NY

(I think I forgot to include my name and email address when I posted my commment about restaurant noise a few minutes ago, so I'm posting it again.)

I've always looked forward to restaurant meals with friends as a way to catch up on our thoughts and lives. But, in the last decade or so, noise levels in many restaurants, especially after about 7 p.m., make anything but the most basic communication impossible. I suppose this began when rock concerts became the gold standard among the young for fun and communal experience, and loud ambient sound in restaurants came to be interpreted as merriment. (I'm 84 now, but I wonder whether there are younger people who feel as I do.) As things are now, I'd have to take up lip reading or writing notes or texting to have anything like a real conversation over dinner, and I suffer through experiences that used to brighten my life.

Jul. 11 2014 11:34 AM
Paul from Glen Cove

This is a issue in the suburbs: landscaping crews using leaf blowers and trimmers & lawnmowers. The noise can be very irritating. Why can't these small gas engines be redesigned with quieter mufflers? Larchmont bans the use of leaf blowers, I believe, from April to September.

Jul. 11 2014 11:21 AM
Lars from Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn

Churches. A mega church down the street has a festival once a year (only once, thankfully)--where they blast dance music until 4am--seriously--at rock concert sound levels. This is not religious expression, and yet I have become aware that churches are exempt from noise regulations. I understand that a religious ceremony must be protected, but this is not the practice of religion, it's just abuse of the law. I know this is a problem across the city, and I wish ANY politician would have the cojones to deal with this issue (no one wants to go up against a church).

Jul. 11 2014 11:19 AM
Anita Feldman from East Village, NY

Restaurant dining used to allow me and my friends to catch up on our lives and thoughts. That has become much more difficult in the past decade or so, as the sound of talk and music in restaurants has risen to ear-splitting levels. What would have been unacceptable in my youth and middle age (I'm now 84) has become standard, especially after about 7 p.m. It's still unacceptable to me. To make myself barely understood, I must screech at the top of my voice, like everyone else. To communicate anything but the most basic information, I and my friends would have to take up lip-reading or, maybe, text or write notes to each other instead of speaking. This has happened, I suppose, because the sound level of rock concerts, for decades now, has been the gold standard for fun and communal experience, and noise, in restaurants, was equated with merriment. This has been a great loss. I now avoid restaurants unless I'm reasonably sure that I can actually have an adult conversation in them, or I suffer through an experience that used to brighten my life.

Jul. 11 2014 11:15 AM
Lem from East Village

There seems to be an arms race with transport ambulances. I live on the 1st ave north of Houston. It's the landing strip for transport ambulances from Williamsburg, Borough Park and other areas on their way to NYU and Beth Isreal. They blare multiple sires with air horns and rumbler sirens continually regardless of traffic.
I can understand emergencies, but most seem to be transport from other boroughs. The FDNY is nearly as loud or as common. Complaining feels like a poor attitude, but are there regulations or guidelines for these transport operators?

Jul. 11 2014 11:06 AM
bernie from bklyn

it's interesting that yesterday's show, with manoush zomorodi as the host, was the only listenable BL show in long while....i know she hosts "new tech city" but i'd be delighted if she took over brian's spot w/ a magazine type show at 10am everyday. between the new production team and brian's editorializing, the BL show has been terrible for the past 6 months or so. sorry to be negative but this is coming from a longtime listener who's sad that this is the case.

Jul. 11 2014 10:38 AM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Shhhhhh!- Remember when we considered libraries places of quiet respite for contemplative thought? That's not the case anymore! Our library administration officials with their new "non-shush" policies are now crowing about how how libraries of the "21st Century" are going to be anything but quiet.

What's the real reason they are changing the rules so libraries won't be quiet any longer?: They are cramming everything, all sorts of activities into smaller undifferentiated spaces so they can sell-off library real estate.

More on this at Citizens Defending Libraries.

Jul. 11 2014 10:33 AM
mary from UWS

My husband and I are moving out of NYC next week after 10 and 12 years respectively in NYC. I will be honest, noise is one of the biggest reason I want out of here. I am at the point that I absolutely can't stand it anymore. It's bad all over, but I work in Chelsea, and do conference calls a lot. There are many times, I need to put my phone on mute because the outside noise is so overwhelming it's disturbing to everyone else on the call. Trucks, construction, sirens, etc. It's maddening. I am really looking forward to the peace and quiet of our new home down south.

Jul. 11 2014 10:10 AM
Michael Bigwood from NYC

To whom it may concern,
I live in a rental apt. I have upstairs neighbors that have 4 children and a dog they are home schooled and no rugs. Is it mandatory to have 80% of a rental apt. covered with rug's?
Please help

Mar. 07 2014 09:38 AM
Brian from Queens

Northeast Queens has already become unlivable over the past 2 years because of a new NextGen flight procedure out of LGA. I've lived there 40 years (i.e. there were always noise issues "in my backyard") but these low flying planes are only 30 seconds apart and go on for 20 hours aday. Its torture. Like they are just sacrificing Queens. I live 8 miles from LGA. Why are the altitudes only 1500 feet? To save fuel for the airlines. Disgusting. Its a plutocracy in action. The airport expansions will destroy Queens. So much for the working class hub of the city.

Feb. 05 2014 04:22 AM
Jean from Madison St. NYC

No mention of emergency sirens. I wonder about the necessity of loud sirens from emergency vehicles slowly moving down the streets of a neighborhood where traffic is relatively light. Common sense doesn't seem to be a factor in the use of sirens. I've also learned the term "exercise maneuvering" when several fire trucks follow the same route for apparently no valid reason other than a routine exercise. Sirens necessary?

Feb. 04 2014 07:45 PM
kate from Franklin Lakes

We live next to a giant pharmaceutical campus in Bergan county. Because of tonights snow we will be woken up at about 1:00 am to the sound of back up beeps from the snow removal equipment. And to get back to sleep I will have to take a xanex....I almost have to take one now just thinking about it. Any advice? Thanks Kate

Feb. 04 2014 01:00 PM
exhausted Downstairs from Upper West Side

Thank you for this segment! It is such a service to the community!

Feb. 04 2014 11:43 AM

[[fuva from harlemworld

Actually, Yeesh!, Arline is music to my ears.
Feb. 04 2014 11:34 AM]]

You "harlemworld" people are pathetic. If you have to shout about how important your community is, then your community is not that important.

harlemworld. Feh!

It's just harlem. And that's good enough.

Feb. 04 2014 11:39 AM

Matt, the DOT is removing those "no honking" signs. They have given up on what has been deemed impractical by virtually everyone.

Feb. 04 2014 11:35 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Actually, Yeesh!, Arline is music to my ears.

Feb. 04 2014 11:34 AM

If you don't like living in a high density area, then move somewhere else.

Feb. 04 2014 11:24 AM
Gloria from The Bronx

Hi there - I cannot begin to express how grateful and thankful I am for the information Arline and Alan have given. I live in a co-op building and my downstairs neighbor constantly harasses me by pounding on her ceiling with a heavy object and slamming her front door constantly. I've gone downstairs to try and reason with her but was met with hostility and threats and biased epitithets. My board says there is nothing they can do - as does my property manager. At this point, I'm gathering information (harrassing notes she's slipped under my door, police reports, previous emails between myself and the board) and presenting it to my new property manager and my new board in the hopes action will be taken. Can anyone provide any advice???? A million thanks in advance! p.s. - i am a mid-30 year old woman living in her first co-op apartment and this is not what i had expected! i am a very quiet reasonable girl...again, any help is greatly appreciated!

Feb. 04 2014 11:23 AM
Connie from Forest Hills

I love the Brian Lehrer show but find that the noise (music?) between segments jangles the nerves because it is almost all percussion. Please consider using more melodic breaks throughout the program.

Feb. 04 2014 11:22 AM

I hope there's a tenant lawyer listening to this caller. Please help her!

Feb. 04 2014 11:21 AM
oscar from ny

..only old ppl with no life and stay all day at home make excuse about noise so they can talk to neighbors and bother..these are bad but the worst is when they all live in a community and live in darkness and no noise..these ppl are simply terrorist..

Feb. 04 2014 11:20 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Arline don't take no mess. Love it.

Feb. 04 2014 11:20 AM

It's easy to say go to the landlord or property manager, but they have no magic wand. What can they do if the tenant still won't stop the noise?

Feb. 04 2014 11:17 AM

I lived just North of Kennedy for over 20 years and after a while I barely noticed the sound of the planes. While I agree that people should be reasonable, it's difficult to control noise for an area with a large population density.

Feb. 04 2014 11:16 AM
jano from brooklyn

industrial air conditioners on the roof of the supermarket across the street and half a block away drives me crazy!

Feb. 04 2014 11:16 AM

When a film trailer's generator is blasting at 3am and I need to get up in the morning for work, do I have any recourse other than 311? The last time I called to complain, the 311 operator explained that all film/tv noise complaints have to be patched through to the Mayor's Office of Film, and they're only open during business hours.

TV productions are usually good about wrapping up at a decent hour, but indie films are terrible.

Feb. 04 2014 11:13 AM

Maybe the city or the state should increase building standards to account from reasonable noise from neighbors ... especially footsteps! I lived in a place where a big time housing developer used such thinly insulated walls that I could hear every conversation from my neighbor while in my bedroom.

Feb. 04 2014 11:13 AM

Seems like this show is AMPLIFYING the voices of all callers. Turn it down!

Feb. 04 2014 11:12 AM

I propose we reduce noise pollution by getting Marilyn and Arline to shut their yaps. Jeez! Nails on chalkboard.

Feb. 04 2014 11:12 AM
The Truth from Becky

It is, what it is, the city = a noisy it or leave NY!

Feb. 04 2014 11:11 AM

Feb. 04 2014 11:11 AM

I imagine this lady moved into a home when JFK was already there! So what's the issue here? Stop the planes?

Feb. 04 2014 11:10 AM
Capper from Queens

I agree with Arlene, planes have been a 'real' problem with noise out in Queens. Port Authority was supposed to do a study.

Feb. 04 2014 11:10 AM
kate from Franklin Lakes

We live next to a giant pharmaceutical campus in Bergan county. Because of tonights snow we will be woken up at about 1:00 am to the sound of back up beeps from the snow removal equipment. And to get back to sleep I will have to take a xanex....I almost have to take one now just thinking about it. Any advice? Thanks Kate

Feb. 04 2014 11:09 AM
Migraine28 from BK

What can one do about a neighbor who has a baby who cries at all hours of the night? Sometimes for 30-45 minutes straight? Is it unreasonable to want some peace and quiet?

Feb. 04 2014 11:08 AM
Amelia from Chelsea

Is there a polite way to ask someone to hang up their cell phone when you're in an enclosed space (elevator, bus, now subways and stations)?

Feb. 04 2014 11:06 AM
andy from manhattan

Describing any sound that annoys you as noise seems a bit of a stretch to me. Ms. Bronzaft seems a bit tone-deaf to that distinction, somehow.

Feb. 04 2014 11:06 AM
Dee from Montclair

Dogs barking in apartments while their owners are at work. I had one neighbor with four dogs and they barked constantly and he claimed they didn't, because they didn't when he was at home.

Feb. 04 2014 11:05 AM
Jen from Greenpoint bk

How about some call ins from people that make noise, and are aware of it, like musicians?

Feb. 04 2014 11:03 AM
Pauline Mary Curley from Clifton, NJ

Listening to your show today reminds me of a poem I wrote in the middle of the night some years ago, while lying awake unable to sleep because of the usual night-time sounds of suburban NJ:

Sounds of Night
by Pauline Mary Curley

Sounds of night swirl in my head;
I wonder why I’m in bed.
War on sleep it seems to be;
Toss or turn, sleep eludes me.
Mind is racing, wide awake;
Noise attack – give me a break!

Trains roar by so frequently;
Oh why, such cacophony?
Sirens, loud and bellowing,
do taunt me and insult me,
in the wee hours, torment me;
Clanging, hooting, choo-chooing.

So near to Newark, I weep;
Planes I count instead of sheep.
Hov’r like vultures overhead;
Angry, waiting to be fed.
Whirr and drone, crescendo rise;
like a battle in the skies.

Joy-riders, bikers, police;
Route 46 ne’er will cease.
Engines rev, out front, behind;
Thund’rous echoes swamp my mind.
Car doors slamming in the street;
What a racket – I am beat!

Inside the house, different sounds;
Electrics hum, plumbing pounds.
Calm of night I must reclaim;
Inner peace, else go insane.
I tell myself – look instead;
Daughters sleeping in their bed.

Feb. 04 2014 11:03 AM
Julia H from Brooklyn

I live on the first floor of an apartment building and I face the street. I can deal with the people talking and singing and even fighting, but the honking at certain times is unbearable. It seems like when one car honks all the other cars waiting for the green light or for the truck to move are all given the go ahead to honk along with them.
I filed for a NO-HONKING sign but then I heard that they got rid of all of the no honking signs because it was visual pollution and added too much clutter. It is so bad I have even contemplated getting a sling shot and some spit balls or something.

Feb. 04 2014 11:03 AM
antonio from baySide

Back in the day buildings used to have these cellar dolly's, which used to ring this super loud firehouse type of bell...Guess they have gone the way of the dodo...

Feb. 04 2014 11:01 AM
andy from manhattan

The sound of parked Mr. Softee trucks who refuse to shut off their recurring theme regularly drive my wife and I crazy. Today, however, I might not mind the sound so much if it was accompanied by the associated weather.

Feb. 04 2014 11:00 AM
brian from bushwick

in the last ten years living in bushwick, the heyday of 421a subsidized real estate overdevelopment, I have seen every small awkward unused lot turned into low budget housing. Many of these former parking lots were on busy streets with elevated trains and now I notice kids playing in the open windows. Breaks my heart every time, because I remember reading a NYT article about how ambient urban noise reduces children's ability to concentrate and significantly affects their grades. Real estate developers walk away with a one time tax break and kids have to live there for the next 50 years. Who wins?

Feb. 04 2014 10:57 AM
suzinne from Bronx ZOO!

Extreme neighbor noise has been haunting me since the 90s. Have moved twice since then and the noise just keeps following me everywhere I go. Have lived in a house where the girl downstairs (with the approval of her parents) played electric guitar PLUGGED INTO AN AMP. The kicker was coming home after working all week exhausted on a Friday night & saw same girl and four friends all plugged into amps! Called NYPD and shut that mess down.

Right now I live downstairs from someone who has parties that turn into rough sex/sexual assaults. Screaming yelling, furniture moving. Hey, maybe it's an exorcism? At same time live next store to Hindus who keep their door wide open in the summer so I can hear their company, cooking, bell ringing and horn blowing. They have extremely loud arguments regularly. It's hell start to finish. If I had the money, I'd get the hell out.

It's the Bronx ZOO, y'all.

Feb. 04 2014 10:42 AM

Airplane noise from planes flying to LaGuardia. This affects a surprisingly large swath of Brooklyn and Queens. I live about 10 miles out from LaGuardia and depending on the wind direction planes fly directly overhead every 90 seconds or so. They fly low and are very loud from early morning to late at night. I have tried contacting elected officials, 311, and even LaGuardia itself, all to no avail.
Other noise: leaf-blowing. Yes, here in Brooklyn! Even on windy days.
Thanks for this great show.

Feb. 04 2014 10:42 AM
Henry from NY

When first learning to practice mindfulness meditation (paying attention on purpose without judgement) the instructor emphasized the distinction between sound and noise: noise is a judgement of sound. Now when I'm trying to sleep and get interrupted with noise on the street like bar noises that go on for hours from 2am on, I'm able to start my mindfulness practice and shortly after I'm much less agitated.

Feb. 04 2014 10:41 AM
Glenn from Manhattan

Low frequencies go through windows and walls - new cop car low frequency sirens, helicopters, esp. during superbowl and for any conceivable issue, and hvac equipment right outside your window, with byzantine, ridiculous NYC DEP rules, were not around in the 1920s and 30s. Solution - Bose noise canceling headphones cancels low frequencies, and you can still hear people talking to you!

Feb. 04 2014 10:33 AM
Matt from Brooklyn

Any idea why the NYPD does not seem to enforce the supposed no-honking law? With a $350 fine, doing so seems like a great marriage between city revenue and quality of life. But the city seems to have given up, having taken down the signs a few months back...

Feb. 04 2014 10:14 AM
Jay F.

There's an app for your i-phone - dB 10 by Square Paw, that measures decibel levels.

Feb. 04 2014 10:14 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.