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Stories from DEP is a collection of feature articles
published in DEP's internal newsletter, Weekly Pipeline.
This article was originally published November 1, 2011.

We’re All Ears: Noise Code Listening Tour To Ensure City Stays Safe and ‘Sound’

When Mayor Bloomberg announced the first overhaul of New York City’s Noise Code in 2004, it kick-started a landmark process that had been languishing for 30 years. Joined by then DEP Commissioner Chris Ward and Deputy Commissioner Bob Avaltroni, as well as Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and representatives from the nightlife and real estate industries, the Mayor highlighted the goal of “maintain(ing) our City’s vibrancy by balancing the need for construction, development and an exciting nightlife with New Yorkers’ well-deserved right to peace and quiet.” By addressing the highest complaint volume received by 311—averaging nearly 1,000 calls a day in 2004—this undertaking had to account for the fact that the city’s noise comes from a wide variety of sources: The stereo bass at a downtown bar, the jackhammer at the construction site, and the ubiquitous “Mister Softee” jingle on summer nights.

After conferring with community representatives, industry stakeholders and legislators, the Mayor signed the revision into law on December 29, 2005, completing a process that has since become a worldwide model for noise regulation from Tacoma to Tel-Aviv. The Noise Code has won its share of trophies as well, most notably the 2010 Safe-in-Sound Award given by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in partnership with the National Hearing Conservation Association.

But the city is continually evolving, and with that its Noise Code must evolve along with it. This spring, DEP began holding meetings with various groups throughout the city as it looks to make the global standard for noise regulation even better. Meeting with Community Boards, Business Improvement Districts, and local businesses throughout the city, this listening tour will continue throughout the fall and culminate with updates of the Noise Code in spring, 2012. As described by Director of Air Policy and Enforcement Gerry Kelpin, the feedback DEP has heard reflects the broad needs varying across neighborhoods and seasons. “People think that the Noise Code has been a help to them and their communities,” Kelpin said. “They really appreciated us getting their input first. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

These changes must not only accommodate the needs of a neighborhood, but also construction and maintenance workers themselves. The code has been commended by the national Centers for Disease Control for its protection of construction workers, mitigating high decibel sound levels for those who make their living surrounded by noisy equipment. Assistant Counsel for Air and Noise Charles Shamoon, who has worked on noise regulation at DEP for more than two decades, has been on the front lines of DEP’s partnership with other city agencies as they have adopted the Noise Code into their standard practices. “Very often, a 30-year-old construction worker can have the hearing of a 50-year-old, so it’s very important that our noise regulations protect workers as well as the surrounding communities,” Shamoon said. “In fact, the code has produced such exceptional results that the National Parks Service has emulated New York’s construction and maintenance standards across the country.”

By protecting residents and workers alike from unreasonable noise levels throughout the city, the Noise Code is helping to prevent more than inconvenience—it diminishes the impact of what is increasingly recognized as a substantial threat to public health. Given that 311 noise complaints received annually have steadily decreased since its adoption, past experience shows that the Noise Code will be instrumental in shaping the city’s sustainable future. To learn more about the Noise Code and read the 2005 law, visit the Noise Code and Complaints section of DEP’s website by clicking here.

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