New York City Tries Again to Turn Down the Volume ; Mayor Bloomberg Pushes an Initiative to Quiet Blaring Stereos, Noisy Construction Sites, and Honking Cars

By Alexandra Marks writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 11, 2004 | Go to article overview

New York City Tries Again to Turn Down the Volume ; Mayor Bloomberg Pushes an Initiative to Quiet Blaring Stereos, Noisy Construction Sites, and Honking Cars


Alexandra Marks writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


New York, the city that never sleeps.... Or is it the city that just can't get to sleep?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire bachelor well known for his own love of the night life, wants to be sure that if his constituents want a restful 40 winks, they'll get it.

This week, he proposed a sweeping overhaul of the city's noise code, the first in more than 30 years. Contending there is nothing "frivolous" about complaints about loud noises, his new plan targets everything from jackhammers to barking dogs. Even Mister Softee ice cream trucks, which for almost 50 years have announced their presence on the city's narrow streets with their cheerful, childlike jingles, would be silenced except for the delicate tinkling of a bell starting in 2006. (As a result of that particular proposal, a New York Post headline deemed the mayor Mister Meanie.)

While he may lose some popularity with the local ice cream set, antinoise activists around the country are hailing Mr. Bloomberg and his new assault on noise. Indeed, from Los Angeles to Chicago fed- up residents have prompted lawmakers to consider bans on everything from leaf blowers to car alarms. But in New York, Bloomberg's consistent championing of the need for a little calming quiet has put him in a league of his own.

"The most important thing about the ordinance and Bloomberg's efforts are not the details, but that he's setting community standards and expectations," says Les Blomberg, founder of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse in considerably quieter Montpelier, Vt. "People assume that New York City is going to be noisy, but it really doesn't have to be the case."

That comes as a great relief to many sleep-deprived natives. To them, the Bloomberg noise offensive is both a much-needed crackdown and long-overdue application of common sense to one of the city's biggest quality-of-life complaints.

Police officers and others charged with enforcing the new noise ordinance would be able to use their ears as opposed to cumbersome meters to determine just how loud is too loud. And construction sites - the source of some of the worst, incessant pounding sounds - would be required to produce "noise mitigation plans" with real "noise abatement measures." We're talking blankets around jackhammers to muffle the sound.

But what they're going to do about pile drivers is another question. And that's what Suzanne Barbetta wants to know. She's standing on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, with one such pile driver hammering away across the street, buses and trucks groaning down the avenue, and the occasional horn and siren blaring. The actress says rush hour is sometimes so loud she can't hear her own cellphone ring, let alone carry on a conversation with friends.

"If they can do something about it they should, but I don't know how effective they're going to be," she says. …

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