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New York, the City That Roars 24/7, is Forced to Quiet Down

The City that Never Sleeps and Makes a Lot of Noise has had to turn it down a notch after a tougher new noise code took effect this week . But where there are 8,000,000 New Yorkers, can decibels really drop?

The city's Department of Environmental Protection has a phone line, 311, for quality-of-life complaints.

And the top source of environmental disturbance, callers say, is distracting, annoying, shrill, dull or rattling -- noise.

"Honking horns, construction noise, the alarms, the airplanes, the subway, traffic: noise is a big problem for New York City. And we had not changed our noise code for over 30 years," Ailen Bronzaft, a researcher on the effects of noise on humans who helped the city develop the new code, told AFP.

Bronzaft has advised four mayors including Michael Bloomberg, who pushed for the new regulations approved by the city council in 2005.

She warned that noise can cause health problems that range from hearing loss to psychological and behavioral problems.

"The revised Noise Code will help make the City that Never Sleeps a little more comfortable for those who occasionally do," the environmental office jokes.

The previous code dates back to 1972, back when New York was on the cutting edge in the effort to limit the cacophony.

The new one in many cases leaves it up to an inspector to determine if noise is "clearly audible." City or police agents who are implementing the rules in some cases will have devices with which they can measure the vibrating noise typical of a techno music blowout.

Discos, dancehalls and restaurants will be given a chance to produce a plan to curb their noise output; and if they don't deliver, fines of up to 8,000 dollars could be imposed.

New Yorkers whose cars are tricked out with impressive sound systems meant to rock passersby to their bones can be slapped with fines from 100-350 doll ars if their reggaeton favorites, for example, can be heard at fewer than 6.5 meters (25 feet) from their vehicle.

Think you're keeping your big sound to yourself?

If New York authorities deem your iPod or other personal music players too loud in the clearly audible category, fines range from 50-175 dollars. If your car alarm goes off at night for more than three minutes, your car can be towed and you may receive a fine of 350 dollars.

Alan Fierstein, of the Acoustilog company that helps deliver soundproofing solutions, said he thinks the new code will be effective.

"It will work. In New York, I am sure that the code they have just enacted is very powerful in terms of being able to give tickets to violations because there is much subjective whim available to an inspector to do so.

"It is certainly one of the strongest noise laws in the country," he said.

Where before there was less clarity on what was potentially illegal, "now it's more at the whim of the inspector and that is written into the law. It says that many noises, if they are plainly audible, it is a violation," Fierstein said.

Decibel limits for some noises are being reduced, he noted. For an air conditioning or any air unit, the maximum level that a person can hear in their apartment is 45 decibels. Under the new code, it will be reduced to 42.

While music venues can make a plan to reduce noise in case of violations, there is no such chance for other everyday violators -- for example, people honking car horns in traffic.

Said Bronzaft: "This new code is saying: we want the city to turn it down a bit. It is not saying we want to turn the city into a quiet place, but a more livable place.

"The noise code is making the city a more livable place, it will still be the exciting city with all his wonderful life.

"New Yorkers are very tolerant and reasonable pe ople: they take the subways, they take the streets, they go out, to the stadium, to parades," she said. "But when they close their doors at home, that is when they expect to be quiet."


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