I would like to see more focus on highway sound and noise abatement measures.
I am thinking about this primarily in terms of New York City's extensive reclamation of the city waterfront for parkland. There has been a huge amount of new parkland becoming part of our lives. While pictures don't tell the story in this case, never has there been so much park land added to the city with such a high level of background noise.
The Battery Park City Promenade, in contradistinction to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, is one of the few places one can go for quite- where you might even hear water lapping the shore. The new Brooklyn Bridge Park has given some attention to what can be done about highway noise abatement but it is an example of a premier world class park with heavy public investment where highway noise from the BQE will be a prevalent factor notwithstanding. The portions of the Park that are already open are also quite affected by highway (and elevated train) noise from the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Thankfully, the noise from the Brooklyn Bridge was substantially lowered years ago when a smooth road surface replaced the open metal grid surface on which cars used to travel when crossing the Bridge.
One way to sometimes escape the high noise volume in the new river parks is to go out to the end of park piers when they are available.
Cars are generally the greatest contributor of noise to the urban environment. The level of sound increases substantially when roadway traffic moves at high speed. Highway congestion temporarily abates noise. Rail is usually quieter except when elevated. On the West Side, again in the riverside parks, helicopters contribute very substantial noise in certain spots since they are, not only loud, but right at the water’s edge rather than landing out on piers.
Sound also behaves in ways that sometimes might not be expected. Just outside our building where we live on Montague Street it is really very quite. If you go up to our building’s new roof deck there is substantial highway noise audible from the BQE on the other side of Atlantic Avenue, quite a few blocks away.
Abating highway noise is challenging and a hard result to achieve. People are often uninformed about the science aspects of it which are also not easy to research. Nevertheless, this does not mean that results are not possible. And, there are major upcoming opportunities with, for instance, the rebuilding of the BQE cantilevering under the Brooklyn Heights promenade. More earth berms and other sound baffling measures along other areas of reclaimed waterfront would also be helpful. Speak to an engineer, but I suspect that, in some cases, berming or baffling only as far up as just above car tire levels may have a good effect. One example of how a berm can assure quite is the way that tree planted hills are used in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza traffic Circle area. The Brooklyn Bridge is also an example where a difference was made by virtue of the new road surface the engineers substituted several years ago.
I should add to my mention of Grand Army Plaza above that the Project for Public Spaces is proposing that the Grand Army Plaza traffic flow be redesigned and this offers opportunity for even better noise reduction efforts in this area. I was told that the City has plans to actually effect some changes in about five years.
There are several places on the web site of the Project for Public Spaces where waterfalls are praised for their use in public spaces because they create “white noise” which gives a certain semblance of quietude. Creation of white noise is a worthwhile tactic to consider, but it is not the same as actually reducing noise. For instance, should you listen to an iPod in the white noise area you will still have to turn up the volume, perhaps uncomfortably, to hear it.
So I suggest that we focus not only be given to “sound” urban planning in New York but also to planning for reduced sound.
I am particularly interested in people who can point to the science associated with potential solutions.
(One of the people who has done work relating to this area is Arline L. Bronzaft.)