Subway Noise is Making You Deaf

08/20/2009 12:59 PM |

The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3

Not only is it unbearably stifling on subway platforms, it’s painfully loud. While the heat will fade with fall, noise is a perennial problem. New York City subway platform sound levels sometimes surpass 100 decibels, about as loud as a chainsaw, according to a recent report conducted by Columbia University. Researchers found that exposure to subway noise levels for two hours or, at one 102.1-decibel-loud station, as little as two minutes a day could damage hearing. The WHO and the EPA cap safe sound at 85 dBA (a logarithmic measurement of loudness). Half of the maximum noise levels on subway platforms exceed 90 dBA. The screeching is sawing off our ears.

While some (already deaf?) subway riders wait with bare ears and New York endurance as the 4 train brakes along the curved tracks at Union Square, many more shut out the shrill noise. But if we want to ride the subway forever and hear rock concerts, we should stop standing and taking it and pressure the MTA to reduce screeching. Soon we could have a new target for our complaints.

Governor Paterson recently nominated Jay H. Walder to be the chairman of the MTA. However, the state legislature still has to approve the nomination. Meanwhile, politicians, the press and the public will scrutinize Walder’s background and mission for the city’s subway system, trains and buses. If sound control isn’t a priority during his six-year term, we straphangers should shout about it here to see if he likes the noise.

We’ll have to yell loudly since transportation advocacy group, the Straphangers Campaign, isn’t protesting the screeching. Campaign field organizer Jason Chin-Fatt said that the group is looking at surveying subway noise levels, but added that noise reduction isn’t a priority.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft, chair of the CENYC committee for noise, said that if she were in charge, she could quiet the system. Bronzaft, who last year consulted the MTA on noise issues, said that structural issues cause the screeching.

“Noise is symptomatic of other problems,” she said. “If the system is getting noisier, we’re failing on maintenance. And when the MTA fails to acknowledge noise, there are going to be more breakdowns.”
Dr. Bronzaft also lamented the lack of state oversight. Since 1994, when the Rapid Transit Noise Act expired, the MTA hasn’t had to measure sound levels in stations or send annual reports to the governor and State Legislature. Further, New York State has left control of the MTA to the city, even though the MTA is a state agency. However, Bronzaft said that the MTA has formed a committee to oversee the noise problem and create a new noise code.