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This archived article was published 10 June 2004
New York Mayor in fight
against noise pollution
By Josh Fecht, US Editor
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has put forward legislation, which will provide the first comprehensive overhaul of the New York City Noise Code in over 30 years. Noise is the number one complaint to the City’s 311 citizen service hotline, currently averaging nearly 1,000 calls a day. The proposal provides a flexible environment to keep New York’s businesses thriving while addressing the number one quality of life complaint in New York.
Mayor Bloomberg said that his new proposal, which was announced in June 2004, was the first overhaul of the Noise Code in over 30 years and would maintain the City’s vibrancy by balancing the need for construction, development and an exciting nightlife with New Yorker's well deserved right to peace and quiet. “Building on the success of our enforcement initiative, Operation Silent Night, we are proposing a comprehensive revision to the noise code that will make New York quieter and more liveable without stifling growth,” the Mayor added.
The new Noise Code will remove outdated code sections and replace them with ones that use the latest acoustic technology and will provide for flexible and reasonable enforcement.
The legislation focuses on five areas:
Reducing sound resulting from construction: The new code provides updated and sensible means of limiting noise from construction sites located near residential neighbourhoods. By establishing uniform best management practices for all work sites, using greater discretion in granting permits for night and weekend work and mandating ‘noise management plans’ that include portable sound barriers, noise jackets for jackhammers at all construction sites the code will decrease noise pollution.
More practical regulation of sound from commercial music sources: The existing noise code prohibits sound from commercial music establishments such as bars, clubs and cabarets, louder than 45 decibels as measured in a residence. That standard fails to capture intrusive bass-level music and vibrations, which cannot be captured by a conventional decibel scale. The new code establishes a more flexible standard and enforcement schedule for music sources that includes no penalties for first offences if compliance is achieved as well as a new standard to measure bass-level and vibrational sound.
Closing a loophole in current code provisions governing air conditioning and air circulating devices: Air conditioning units on buildings, particularly clusters of them, are a growing source of noise complaints. Although the current code has a standard for air conditioning units of 45 decibels, it has been interpreted to apply only to a single unit. Because of this loophole, a cluster of air conditioning units could be generating 60 decibels of sound, but there would be no violation unless a single unit was creating more then 45 decibels. The updated code will create a uniform standard of 45 decibels for all installation of air conditioning units and mandate that existing units that exceed 50 decibels in the aggregate reduce their output by five decibels.
Simplify enforcement by using a ‘plainly audible’ standard instead of conventional decibel limits, which require use of a noise meter: The existing code requires use of handheld decibel meters to issues many summonses. Although decibel meters are useful at obtaining acoustic measurements, they require frequent calibration, have a three decibels plus-or-minus margin of error, and the police officers, who are often responsible for enforcing the noise code, do not always have them available or have received the training necessary to operate them. The code adopts a standard of ‘plainly audible’ at specified distances. Police officers and noise inspectors will be allowed to issue summonses for a multitude of violations including car stereo, loud music, barking animals and loud mufflers using a common-sense standard and without a noise meter. This standard has been used and upheld by courts in many other states.
Increase enforcement effectiveness by limiting the Code’s use of a standard of 'Unreasonable to a person of normal sensitivities': The existing code prohibits ‘noise that is unreasonable to a person of normal sensitivities.’ This standard is too vague to be consistently defensible. The new code replaces it with more specific and defensible standards. For areas not specifically covered in the code, sound is prohibited from any source that increases the ambient noise in a residence by ten decibels during the day and seven decibels at night.
The new code will augment the successful anti-noise initiative, Operation Silent Night. Silent Night targeted 24 high-noise neighbourhoods throughout the City with intensive enforcement measures. Since its inception in late 2002, using sound meters, towing of vehicles, seizure of audio equipment, summonses, fines, and arrests, the initiative resulted in the issuing of 3,706 noise summonses, 80,056 parking violations, 40,779 moving violations, 33,996 criminal court summonses, and 252 DEP noise violations. The New York City Police Department is currently identifying new neighbourhoods to be targeted for noise control under Operation Silent Night.
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