N.Y., Other Cities Confront Noise Pollution

The drills and horns, the bars and radios, the roar of modern life — it's enough to drive you crazy.

And Arline Bronzaft, a New York City psychologist turned activist, says it's not to be taken lightly.

"The people are stressed," she said. "They're unhappy. They're miserable."

Bronzaft studied children at a New York school where classes were interrupted every four minutes by elevated trains.

"By the sixth grade, the children were one year behind in reading, in comparison to the group of students on the quiet side of the building," she said.

Other scientists have found that people with noisy jobs have higher blood pressure, even that people with office jobs have more stress hormones when the phones ring in other people's cubicles.

But some of the key studies are 25 years old. Nobody's been listening — until, maybe, now.

"Something like 85 percent of all the calls to our quality-of-life complaint line are about noise," said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New York, Others, Take Action

Bloomberg has just ordered a crackdown on car alarms, motorcycles and noisy nightclubs, and police have been setting up checkpoints with handheld noise meters. Fines begin at $45, and can go into the thousands for really troublesome businesses.

"I like noise," Bloomberg said. "I like the hustle and bustle — but it's at 3 in the morning that you don't want to be woken up."

Technology can help, with quieter jets, for instance. But that only goes so far.

So Charleston, S.C., has begun a "civility court," where noise complaints won't have to compete with felonies.

Chicago's commuter system is shopping for quieter locomotives.

Madrid and London have elaborate plans for quiet zones.

You can imagine the skepticism.

"It's part of life in the city," one New Yorker said. "It's always going to be."

Maybe not always. If the latest initiatives work, advocates say people won't have to struggle to be heard.

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