Photo credit: John St John licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

A recent article in the New York Times  looks at how the $1 trillion infrastructure bill will lead to a long-to-do list of public works projects in New York City and its neighboring regions as well as other cities around the country. The bill’s funding will be used to improve roads, rail systems, and airports. The article notes that “federal money could pay to plant tree, and rain gardens” in East Harlem, and it could also cover parts of a highway “that are sunken below street level –and perhaps cover it with a park.

It was good to see this article point out that a bill centered on improving infrastructure could bring about increased green spaces in urban areas. Parks and gardens also bring greater quiet to urban centers but quiet was not mentioned in the article. Nor did the article mention noise which is generally associated with construction and road, rail and airport transportation.

For the past forty years I have conducted research and written about the adverse effects of noise on health, including research in New York City that looked at the adverse impacts of elevated train noise on children’s learning and aircraft noise on health and quality of life. In their article on the environmental impact of noise on health, Thomas Munzel and his associates refer to several studies “that found traffic noise (road, aircraft and railway noise) to be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.” Construction noise and the impacts on health has been addressed by Jun Xiao and his co-authors.

Thanks to our congresspeople and President Biden for recognizing the need to improve our infrastructure. In moving forward in rehabilitating our roads, railways and airports, however, attention must be paid to how such construction can be carried out with minimal noise intrusions. And, of course, the designs of our new public works must include appropriate noise abatement features. Guidance for designing and constructing these welcomed projects with “noise in mind” are plentiful in the literature.