New York City councilmembers seek less intrusive sirens

Photo credit: David Vincent Villavicencio

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

Those who have read my posts on the Quiet Coalition know that I often say there are a number of ways to lessen noise, but the overall public will to do so is lacking. This article by Yessenia Funes in New York Magazine’s Curbed is another example of this phenomenon. The noise, in this case, is the wail of ambulance sirens which many New Yorkers complain about. While the article focuses on sound complaints from people living in the Washington Heights/Inwood and the Lower East Side/East Village communities, similar complaints have been made by residents throughout the city.  The way to reduce disturbing ambulance sirens, while still delivering life-saving services, can be done by using less intrusive sirens. These sirens are already being used in the United Kingdom and in many cities in Europe and the United States. However, the question remains: does New York City Council have the political will to do so?

Two city councilmembers, Gale Brewer (D) and Carlina Rivera (D), have introduced bills that will replace current siren sounds with low-frequency tones that will be less offensive. Rivera’s bill was introduced several years ago but has had difficulty advancing in City Council. The quest to make existing sirens less obtrusive has met opposition by those who believe that only present sirens can reach people in need of hospital care. 

Matt Zavadsky, an EMT and the at-large director of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, adds that many 911 calls are not time-critical emergencies and do not require quick responses. He is also concerned about the speed of emergency vehicles resulting in crashes.

The article includes a statement that links noise to hypertension and coronary heart disease, and recognizes the impact of noise on rest and sleep. This article is one of four published on the Curbed website this week recognizing the adverse impacts of noise on our physical and mental health. A hearty thanks to the writers, who have highlighted the need to lessen noise pollution.

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