Photo credit: Pedro Plassen Lopes licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

In 1985 the Metropolitan Transportation Authority introduced the Music Under New York Program as a pilot project, and with the enthusiastic support of transit riders, it has developed into a program where individual performers have entertained riders as they traverse through the transit system. The program had been halted for a period of fourteen months during the pandemic but it returned in June.

But the “Lion King” music ads that have been roaring this week on subway platforms were not viewed positively by subway riders. Conor Skelding, NY Post,  reports the ad reached a punishing decibel reading of 99.1 at one of the stations, and he notes that the federal government “actually require[s] that employers take protective measures if workplace noise exceeds 85 decibels.” Additionally, Skelding reports that dozens of riders had complained to the MTA about the volume and the number of these loud ads. In response to these complaints, the MTA “tuned the volume down.” It was also acknowledged that the ads were only going to run a short time.

Let us understand that these loud ads were part of a program to announce the opening of Broadway after a much too long shutdown. But the MTA should have from the start recognized that transit riders do not appreciate having loud platform sounds added to the already noisy subway system. Neither do transit employees who are exposed for even longer periods of time.

As a researcher and writer on the adverse impacts of noise on health and well-being, including transit noise, I have for many years urged our transit agency to lessen the noise of their buses and trains. There were instances when indeed my concerns were heeded. I hope the agency is still paying attention to the importance of quieter design of their vehicles and tracks as well as the importance of maintenance which plays a major role in curtailing noise on the system. If this is so, then I, and the public I hope, will forgive the agency for forgetting to factor in loudness in their enthusiasm to highlight the return of our wonderful Broadway.