by Tim Cigelske

June 22, 2006

Boom cars announce their presence on Water Street.

A chugging motorcycle rattles your bedroom windows.

Many hardened urban dwellers resign themselves to such noisy intrusions as part of everyday city life. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

“People are getting sick of all this noise,” said Ted Rueter of the Madison-based advocacy group Noise Free America. “They want peace and quiet.”

Rueter is not alone in his quest for a little quietude.

Richard Tur of NoiseOff in New York said he has received thousands of e-mails from people who have been driven from their neighborhoods or resorted to medications to cope with the stress of noise pollution.

“In my neighborhood, it was so bad my family and I couldn’t sleep at night,” said Tur, who lives next to a police station and a 24-hour fast-food drive-through.

Instead of fleeing, Tur decided to stay and fight invasive noise on the front lines.

Whether relaxing on your porch or taking your dog for a walk, these strategies devised by Tur and Rueter may help turn life down a decibel or two.

The offender Construction

The problem The price for all those new and renovated condos includes the din of dump trucks, jackhammers and other heavy equipment concentrated in residential areas.

The solution Tur recommends contacting the property owners and developers to tailor a work schedule that fits the community. The loudest work can be confined to set parts of the day so you won’t be rudely awakened before your alarm clock goes off. “(Construction) companies don’t want to create an adversarial relationship with a neighborhood,” Tur said.

The offender Leaf blowers

The problem Roaring blowers have become the weapons of choice for clearing sidewalks and driveways of everything from grass clippings to cigarette butts.

The solution Rueter wants to see local governments ban the blowers, which he calls “a ridiculous device.” The alternative, he said, is simply to use a broom. “Have people in this country gotten so lazy?” he said.

The offender Boom cars and motorcycles

The problem Loud tailpipes, blaring sound systems and squealing tires go more than bump in the night.

The solution Again, Rueter wants local government to crack down. He praises New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose Operation Silent Night has issued 7,000 noise-related citations. Rueter urges people to lobby their representatives for enforcement against illegally souped-up systems.

The offender Car alarms

The problem HONK! HONK! HONK! HONK! Need we say more?

The solution Rueter would like to eliminate overly sensitive and “completely useless” alarms that do little to deter theft. To do this, he said, people could insist that their dealer or mechanic disable their vehicle’s alarm. “They’re incredibly annoying,” he said. “And no one takes them seriously, anyway.”

The offender Miscellaneous noise

The problem It’s all but impossible to completely seal out every unwanted noise.

The solution Hearing protection can help mute the indiscriminate din that seeps into everyday life. Recently, Bose developed headphones outfitted with a sensor that is said allow desired sounds through while filtering out the noise. This price for this peace and quiet, however, is a hefty $300. Furthermore, Tur warns against relying too much on artificial blockers. “I would never say earplugs are a substitute for lobbying for a better, quieter community,” he said.