Arthur Klimowicz says the traffic outside his home in Toronto’s Old Town can make for a rough night’s sleep.
“People stop with the red light, they get all revved up, and then they take off,” said Klimowicz, who lives near Adelaide and Sherbourne Streets.
Throughout the night, he said, “We get peaks of over 100 decibels.”
That’s the average volume of a power lawn mower or chainsaw. It’s also well above the World Health Organization’s recommendation that people not expose themselves to more than 45 decibels of road traffic noise over night.
Nearly five years after Toronto amended its noise bylaw to limit amplified sound and motorcycle noises and empower officers to enforce it, the city is finally reviewing the bylaw — nearly four years behind schedule.
That’s welcome news for folks like Klimowicz and other residents who joined Ingrid Buday’s No More Noise Toronto, a grassroots campaign seeking to pressure city hall to crack down meaningfully on high-volume noise — which research has shown can hurt our health.
“I get woken up by a moving vehicle,” Buday said. “I can call the city and they’ll say, ‘thank you very much, but we can’t do anything because it’s a moving vehicle.'”
She says she’s felt compelled to speak out ever since one such incident in 2020.
“They told me to contact the police. The police want a license plate, they want a picture, they want a description,” Buday said.
“I’m in bed.”
City staff to recommend changes in January
The city began the public consultation phase of its bylaw review in September, hosting six meetings that month and accepting feedback via email through mid-October. In total, the city says 750 people attended the meetings and over 2,200 emails were submitted.
Buday, who began documenting sound levels in 2020, formed No More Noise Toronto two years ago in preparation for the bylaw review. Through the group, she’s rallied people to action, building a website with information about noise pollution and what the city’s doing about it.
She’s also created a digital map where people can report noise spikes that are then charted next to other reports. Since No More Noise Toronto formed, over 8,000 reports were filed — many from the downtown core but others near the Gardiner Expressway, the Don Valley Parkway, and other busy routes.
Focus on noise pollution, volunteer says
Clare Kumar, a campaign volunteer with No More Noise Toronto, says she’s particularly sensitive to sound. She says summers where she lives in Etobicoke are “motorcycles, exhausts. It’s jet skis, it’s construction noise.”
Kumar says she wants city council to approach noise pollution as a health issue during the upcoming bylaw review. Noise pollution is “actually raising your blood pressure, it’s causing more stress in your body, it’s not allowing you a full sleep,” she said.
Excessive noise is a big stressor, according to Tor Oiamo, an associate professor at Toronto Metropolitan University who studies noise pollution and consults with No More Noise Toronto.
Stress and lack of sleep can wear on the mind and body and excessive noise is linked to heart disease, stroke and other serious health risks, said Oiamo, who helped author a 2017 report for the city on environmental noise in Toronto.
How much noise is too much noise?
Oiamo says the bylaw review offers the city a chance to improve people’s quality of life, because while noise is inevitable in a big city, harmful noise levels are not.
“It’s important to distinguish between the types of sounds that populations will [naturally] produce, versus the types of unnecessary noise that we’re willing to deal with and accept,” he said.
“Sounds of life, you know, people chattering, people going about their daily life on a street versus having that street completely gridlocked with cars, or revving engines and honking.”
Buday has her own equipment to measure noise levels from her balcony, near a highway, and says she regularly measures spikes above 55 decibels. That’s the highest average level of noise that won’t interrupt sleep, work or conversation, according to the World Health Organization.
Buday plans to present the data she’s collected, from her balcony and others, to city council. City staff will take the public input and put forward recommendations for amendments which will be considered at the Jan. 11, 2024 economic community and development committee meeting.
Better enforcement could help, but Oiamo says that ultimately the city’s design needs to take pollution into account and look at big picture solutions such as traffic design and regulations that bake natural noise dampening into the city’s architecture.
As Buday bluntly put it in a CBC Gem documentary earlier this year: “The problem is the system doesn’t work.”
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