Enhanced noise laws aren’t effective without enhanced enforcement

Photo credit: Abraham

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

My mother came to New York City from Toronto, as a young woman, married here, and had two children. When I was ten years old, many years ago, my mother persuaded my father to move to Toronto and we did. After one year, we came back to New York City. Why? My father found Toronto too quiet. I wonder what my father’s reaction would be to this article by Matt Elliott titled “Complain all you want about your noisy neighbors in Toronto – no one is going to listen?”

Elliott starts out his article by stating that he likes the “noise Toronto makes” and goes on to say how a trip to the country was not welcoming at night because it was too quiet. He enjoys hearing the hums of the city at night including “barking dogs and honking horns and the occasional siren.” A a result of his attitude, he is dismissive of noise bylaws when they are debated at City Hall.

However, other residents of Toronto feel differently about noise and have welcomed a recent report suggesting changes to the Toronto’s noise bylaws that were passed in 2019. It’s not surprising that updating the noise bylaws was suggested, as there were 17,323 noise complaints in 2021 compared to 13,201 in 2020. Yet, as has been found in U.S. cities, including New York City, enforcement is the reason many of these complaints do not get resolved. Even when enforcement is possible as for loud vehicles, violations can only be issued in Toronto when vehicles are stationary. Bylaws officers cannot pull over moving vehicles. To deal with noisy vehicles, Toronto has introduced a noise camera pilot test, like several U.S. and European cities have, to capture the licenses of loud passing vehicles. A report was to be issued in 2022 and, possibly, Elliott could inquire about this report and do a follow-up article.

One area where Elliott believes Toronto should have a strong bylaw is in banning leaf blowers. The city’s response to this suggestion is that noisy leaf blowers are not high on the complaint list. Another area is after hours construction noise.

Yes, Toronto is far noisier today than it was when I was a child. Confirmation of this comes from individuals I have worked with in Toronto who have been advocating for stronger bylaws and increased enforcement of bylaws. The are not asking for silence–they simply want less noise. I suggest that Elliott speak to these residents. While he acknowledges that gas-powered devices are annoying, his article does not discuss the growing literature linking noise to adverse health effects. I also suggest that he read some of this literature.

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