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Noise - In East Harlem

By Jose B. Rivera


East Harlem is a noisy place. And it is becoming noisier all the time. Throughout the community people are beginning to complain about street noise invading their homes. Community Board # 11 and the 23rd and 25th Precincts have seen an increase in the number of complaints being received from community residents about this noise problem.

Where is the noise coming from?
You might expect the answer to be from construction or wailing emergency service vehicles, but the complaints are about loud radios, public address systems, extremely loud car stereo systems and those apartment dwellers who feel the need to let the world know what music they listen too.

Cars Stereo Systems
Car radio/stereo systems are especially loud. The street seems to vibrate as they approach and one wonders how the drivers of these vehicles can concentrate on driving or can be alerted to approaching danger with the volume up so high. The good thing about the car as a noise menace is that it is mobile and the noise is short lived for anyone stationary. The car will come and then go taking its noise with it.

Public Address Systems (churches)
The public address systems utilized mostly by storefront churches are another problem. The pastors of these churches feel the need to reach as many people as possible (to save them) and therefore obtain the loudest systems which they can afford. The systems are used both indoors and outdoors. When used indoors the volume is set to low. When used outdoors, pastors tend to crank up the volume to address as many people as possible. The second error these pastors make is to target the same population over and over again. They do this by religiously (pun intended) setting up tent on the same block week after week. The result is that residents in that area are guaranteed not to be able to hear the audio on their own television sets. This can get quite annoying.

Two churches in particular having generated their share of noise complaints. Rev. Zayas’ church located on 105th Street and Second Avenue and the Iglesia Pentecostal church located at 111th Street between Third and Second Avenues. Rev. Zayas’ church used massive speakers in outdoor services last year and could be heard from 6 city blocks away. The 23rd Precinct has not reissued last year’s permit due to the complaints of local residents. The 111th street church uses a smaller speaker in their outdoor services, but resident on the block can still hear the service from a block away.

Street DJs
Street DJ also blast music from their systems, as do those who use boom boxes to let everyone know what they are listening too.

What to do?
Well the Washington Heights community had similar problems until last year, when the local precincts began ticketing anyone whose noise exceeded 83 decibels. This accomplished two things. One, it allowed those who use speakers, radios, public address systems to continue to use their equipment. In the case of churches, it allowed them to continue to practice their freedom of expression. Two, it lowered the noise level to a point where apartment dwellers could enjoy their personal space without having it be invaded from the outside.

Our community needs to implement the same measures which made Washington Heights a quieter place. It will take the cooperation of all involved, radio users, churches, politicians (they make noise too during the campaign season), the precincts and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) of the city of New York. Community Board # 11’s Public Safety Committee, chaired by Mr. Richard Toussaint, is leading the fight to decrease noise in our community. Mr. Toussaint is a good listener and his goal is to improve the quality of life within our community by lower the noise in it.

Who to call
If your community has a noise problem contact the Public Affairs Officer in your local precinct, tell him/her the source of the noise, location and time it is usually present. Noise abatement is not a priority issue with precincts, but sooner or later a patrol car will be sent to investigate your complaint. If the noise source is a regular event, the precinct will contact the New York City Department of Environmental Protection to do a decibel reading. If the reading shows that the noise exceeds what is allowed by law, then the party involved (making the noise) will be asked to lower their equipment. If the problem persists, then a ticket/fine will be issued. Don’t forget to inform your local community board about the problem too. The community board will track the issue and work along side the precinct to eliminate the problem.

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