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Keep it down: New York City noise regulations going into effect
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Associated Press Writer

June 22, 2007, 12:24 PM EDT

NEW YORK -- On a busy street corner in Manhattan, a cabbie lays on the horn as he struggles through rush hour traffic. A few blocks away, sirens blare as an ambulance races down the street. In the subway below, train screech to a piercing halt and an amateur dance troupe blasts hip-hop music on the platform.New York can be earsplitting.

But city officials say Gotham is about to get a little quieter when new regulations governing the loudness of jack-hammers, barking dogs, bar music and other auditory menaces take effect July 1. Even Mr. Softee will have to keep it down _ the ice-cream chain must now stop playing its omnipresent jingle when the trucks are stopped in residential areas.From wary bartenders to construction workers and dog lovers, New Yorkers are bracing for stricter rules about just how loud the city can be, and are wondering whether it's really possible to reduce the noise level.

"Last time I checked, this is New York," said Erik Foss, who owns the bar and gallery Lit in Manhattan's East Village. "I don't know how you make it quiet around here. It wouldn't be New York if it were silent."Noise-related calls to the city's 311 hot line have been increasing steadily the past few years and are the top complaint, said Emily Lloyd, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, which handles noise complaints. Noise calls this weekend alone were a record with 4,942 inquiries. In 2005 there were 38,660 noise-related calls, followed by 41,856 in 2006.

The main gripes were construction during the day, and barking dogs and loud air conditioners topped the list in later hours.On top of the irritation, noise is also bad for your health. The Environmental Protection Agency says people shouldn't be consistently exposed to decibel levels of more than 75. Heavy city traffic is regularly 85, an ambulance siren is 120, and the subway averages in the 90s."Noise is so pervasive in the city that people don't even realize it's happening," said Robyn Gershon, a Columbia University professor at the Mailman School of Public Health. "But it affects your health; it has a cardiovascular impact, causes sleep deprivation ... plus you can go deaf," Gershon said.The new noise code is the result of revisions made in 2005 _ the first time it was changed in more than three decades. Business owners, labor unions and nightclubs initially balked at the idea, but changed their tune as a final plan was worked out that they agreed was reasonable.

The old noise code relied on a way of measuring noise that was generally considered convoluted and too subjective. Essentially, an officer could ticket if the noise was unreasonable to a person of "normal sensibility."Officials will now use a "plainly audible" standard for bars and clubs, which means if a cop or an environmental protection enforcement agent is able to hear it 15 feet from the source, they can issue a ticket.It's still subjective, but city officials say it's a more common-sense standard that will hopefully result in fewer tickets, fewer arguments and less noise.

Also under the new regulations, a first-time offense, which costs from $3,200 to $8,000, can be waived if a bar or club submits a plan to muffle the noise."Really, I think it allows the nightclub to continue to be a great place to hear good music. It's just, the music has to stay in the club," Lloyd said.Most police precincts also have devices to measure noise, but officers often lack the time to work with calibrating the devices. If the noise complaint is persistent, DEP officials will take decibel measurements with a high-tech device that also measures bass, which bugs a lot of sleeping New Yorkers.Construction is a little tricker, because it's loud by nature. Under the new code, companies will be required to submit a noise-mitigation plan on any development project. That way, builders can plan ahead and include in their bids the cost of keeping noise down.

A first offense citation is between $875 and $1,400."We know they are always worried about keeping costs down," Lloyd said. "Hopefully this puts everyone at a level playing field."Loren Riegelhaupt, spokesman for Forest City Ratner Companies, the company behind the massive Atlantic Yards project that includes a new Brooklyn arena for the NBA's Nets, said keeping the sound down is good business."As part of construction you have to mitigate noise measures, and we'll do everything we're asked to do," he said. As part of the plan to stifle construction noise around the Atlantic Yards project, the company is buying double-pained windows and quiet air conditioners for about 700 nearby neighbors to help offset sound.

In some years, barking dogs were the most prevalent noise complaint, especially in the outer boroughs. A violation was issued if the barking became "unreasonable." The new code states an owner can be fined between $75 and $175 for a first offense if a dog barks for more than 10 minutes during the day, and more than five minutes at night.And there's never been a case that Lloyd can think of where Fido had to go.

Other parts of the code limit trucks and city vehicles, which have to be quieter in residential neighborhoods. That includes Mr. Softee, which can't play the jingle when it is stopped, but can when it is moving."New York is never going to be a really silent place," Lloyd said. "It's something that people have to get used to, and we can't turn New York City into Grover's Corners. We're trying to help create a good balance."Erik Foss, whose bar and gallery is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, says he already takes precautions to keep sound down, including soundproof curtains against the windows and a new sound system that allows him to set maximum levels which can't be changed by DJs or bartenders. And since he owns the building, he gives the upstairs renters a discount."We really are part of the community, and they know it," he said. "But the community isn't supposed to be a super-clean, quiet, suburban yuppiedome”
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