Increased Pandemic Road Noise According to Study

A recent Boston University study on soundscape ecology in urban parks in the Boston area suggests that increased vehicle speeds may be increasing noise in some urban parks despite overall reductions in traffic due to the pandemic.

The study notes:

Repeated exposure to high levels of noise pollution can have a variety of negative effects on people, including hearing damage, disruption of spoken communication, and disturbance of sleep cycles, with serious long-term health impacts…. High sound levels in parks can negatively affect the visitor experience; for visitors to national parks, enjoyment begins to decline after sound levels exceed 37 dB …. In many animal populations, noise pollution impacts physiology, behavior and fitness, and interferes with communication…. In bird populations, the effects on communication can result in increased success for some species and reductions in fitness for others, leading to a change in community structure.–Citations omitted

The study focused on three urban natural areas. In two of the areas, overall noise declined insignificantly by 1-3dB during the pandemic apparently due to decreased human activity.

However, areas near roads saw increases in noise attributed to higher vehicle speeds due to reduced traffic congestion from the pandemic. The study notes:

At Blue Hills, in contrast, sound levels were 4–6 dB higher during the pandemic lockdown in both March and June than during the pre-COVID-19 measurements. This increase in sound level in March and June, which occurred both near the road and hundreds of meters into the park, is most likely due to higher vehicle speeds during the time of the pandemic on U.S. 93.

The article notes the sometimes confusing aspects of sound-level measurement using decibels:

A 3 dB increase is equivalent to a doubling in sound energy; however, it takes a 10 dB increase for people to perceive sound as twice as loud (Buxton et al., 2017).

The Boston University study illustrates that noise research is complex but a serious source of community pollution. The growing field of soundscape ecology holds promise for addressing this pollution source.

Citations

BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Without Commuter Traffic, Pandemic-Era Boston Drivers Are Speeding Up, Increasing Noise Pollution

BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION: Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on noise pollution in three protected areas in metropolitan Boston (USA)

ENN: Without Commuter Traffic, Pandemic-Era Boston Drivers Are Speeding up, Increasing Noise Pollution