As discussed in Blog 3 (link), there are many exciting uses for noise monitoring tools. For this blog post, I’ve focused in on traffic noise as a potential area that could benefit from noise monitoring. Further, I explain how COVID-19 relates to noise monitoring.
For most urban areas, traffic is a component of daily life. Often, cities experience disruptive traffic during the workweek due to commuting; the integration of offices and businesses leave streets filled with drivers at a few select times. While seemingly only an annoyance for commuters, some studies, like Leon Bluhm et al., 2007 suggest there is an “association between exposure to residential road traffic noise and hypertension” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2078434/, Leon Bluhm et al., 2007). In our previous interview with Gunn Marit Aasvang (link to interview), a senior scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, we learned that traffic is by far the biggest culprit in noise pollution.
So then, how can noise caused by traffic be both monitored and then improved?
Sensors like those created by Soundsensing give users the ability to classify noise. This is particularly useful when detecting changes to traffic. Perhaps a street has a constant hum – a normal noise threshold – but then, randomly, there is an observable increase in honking. Perhaps this could signal an accident and requires attention from emergency services. Or, perhaps there is a traffic jam due to some external factor. Either way, giving stakeholders an understanding of their city’s traffic will be extremely useful to effect responses to traffic issues.
On this point, and particularly relevant due to COVID-19, there has been a remarkable shift in city noise across the globe; most cities’ normal hum has essentially disappeared. An NYU project called SONYC records noise and saw a remarkable decrease in noise compared to one year ago (Bui and Badger, 2020 – https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/05/22/upshot/coronavirus-quiet-city-noise.html).
The COVID-19 crisis has perhaps situated the importance of noise monitoring. The ability to capture normal levels of sound, especially like traffic or construction, can help detect or confirm changes to an urban landscape due to external situations.