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Noise in London

24 März 2011 2,793 views No Comment

Having spent some time at Queen Mary University in Mile End, London, I’ve been drawn to think about noise pollution again: there’s just so much around. Bus engine noise, ambulance/police car sirens and Underground train noise seem to be significantly louder in London than in other places I have been (e.g. Tokyo, Berlin, Barcelona). At least, that’s what I perceive. While another ambulance car is speeding past my window, I’m wondering whether my claim can be sustained, and whether the noise actually results in health issues.

Regarding the noise levels in London themselves, it’s no surprise that they differ from the rest of England, as this study by the BRE finds (both in magnitude and distribution during the day), but I can’t find any of the underlying data (despite what the URL suggests). The DEFRA noise site has a broken link to something that’s very interesting though: the Noise Mapping England website (the picture to this post is the noise map of the Mile End/Burdett Road crossing). Sadly, these noise maps seem to be only estimates based on the amount of traffic that goes through these roads rather than actual sound pressure measurements (that would be very unlikely given the immense coverage of areas).
Noise complaint statistics can be accessed on the London Health Observatory website.

As to whether noise levels affect health and performance, there is some evidence that they do (Is noise bad for your health?).

I’m particularly annoyed by the extreme levels of loudness of London ambulance/police sirens and would be very interested in the following question: can we justify the high noise level of ambulance sirens by the health benefit arising from the (supposed) earlier arrival of the ambulance with an injured person, or is it offset by the health risks (hearing loss, stress, distraction) it causes in people exposed to the noise?

Further questions: why do buses (in particular doubledecker buses) need to be so loud, if cars with comparably-powered engines can be nearly silent? How loud is London? Is there any measurement data available other than that on the sites mentioned above?

Edit: I just found the website of the Noise Abatement Society. They have a campaign to test quieter and better ambulance sirens.

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