Photo credit: Kira Gallagher licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

John Stewart, lead author of our book “Why Noise Matters,” has long been an advocate for a quieter society. He has been most supportive of London’s transport system but lately while riding the Underground, he told me, he found he was being overwhelmed by loud sounds, e.g. platform announcements. He also noted that the announcements were made much too frequently and believed these were in excess of the requirements of the disability legislation.

In New York City, legislation has been introduced by several state legislators to monitor the sound levels of our subway system, but this legislation is focusing on elevated and underground noises such as squeaky wheels and screeches as the trains round curves. It is these noises that have yielded complaints from residents who live near elevated trains, as well as those who travel the system. These are also the noises that I have studied and written about.

After being exposed to the loud and frequent announcements on London Transport, John Stewart decided to conduct a study in which he would get more information on the sounds he was hearing. Among his findings were the following:

  • Platform announcements reached 98 decibels, louder than a plane landing at Heathrow;
  • On average there was an announcement on trains every 42 seconds; and
  • On an 18 minute journey on the Victoria Line there was a total of 22 announcements.

John Stewart will be forwarding his report to Transport for London and will offer to work with them to seek ways to lessen the loudness and frequency of the announcements on the system. In my conversation with John, I learned that he hopes to visit other European cities to study the manner in which they handle their transit information. I told him that for now I was working with legislators and citizen groups to lessen the traditional noises of the New York City subway system but in the future, I might examine the sounds he explored.