Honking horns, noisy refuse trucks, construction clamor, boom boxes and car alarms are just some of the undeniable facts of life in living in the city that never sleeps. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, however, hopes to quell these noisy episodes with a quality of life initiative aimed at making the city a more peaceful place to live.
In October, the mayor began Operation Silent Night, a program that calls on the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Police Department and other city agencies to target noise problems in 24 different enforcement zones throughout the city.
The neighborhoods initially targeted under the directive include Soundview and Morris Heights in the Bronx, the Flatbush and Bushwick sections of Brooklyn; Greenwich Village and Washington Heights in Manhattan; Queens Village and Astoria in Queens; and St. George and Tottenville located in Staten Island.
More areas are being added in subsequent phases of the program, according to the mayor's office. The program will respond to complaints that are directly telephoned in to the New York Police Department's Quality of Life Hotline.
Noise complaints are the number one problem reported to the police hotline, comprising 83 percent of the 97,000 calls received during 2002. The first phase of this multi-agency effort, according to Senior Mayoral Advisor Vincent LaPadula, is concentrating the city's enforcement efforts where loud and excessive noise has proved to be a chronic disturbance.
Noise complaints range from the cacophony emanating from bars, nightclubs or restaurants to blaring horns from cars or motorcycles, music from home or personal entertainment systems or automobile sound systems, or just loud or disorderly individuals. Enforcement measures are varied depending on conditions observed, according to the mayor.
Since the initiative began in October, police and DEP personnel have been employing devices such as sound meters to monitor decibel levels; establishing vehicle checkpoints to monitor neighborhood intersections; ensuring that contractors are following regulations related to construction activity; towing vehicles that are parked illegally or are in violation; seizing audio devices from violators; and issuing summonses or making arrests where appropriate for vehicle, noise and alcohol-related violations. Other agencies assisting the NYPD and the DEP in their enforcement efforts include the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), the Department of Buildings (DOB), and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
The DEP is also working with legislative leaders to amend the city's noise code ordinances with respect to the proliferation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning units, according to the mayor's office.
"As we continue to attack offenses such as prostitution and drug dealing to improve New Yorkers' quality of life, we must target other chronic and disruptive problems like noise," Mayor Bloomberg said. "Operation Silent Night aims to effectively fight and control the loud, excessive noise that plagues too many neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. This coordinated, multi-agency initiative will specifically target those locations where noise adversely affects our everyday lives so New Yorkers may live, work and enjoy the city in peace."
LaPadula believes the crackdown is just one more way to improve everyone's quality of life.
"Car alarms, boom-boxes, and incomplete construction projects create unreasonable noise conditions that affect the quality of life of every New Yorker," said LaPadula. "Mayor Bloomberg continues to raise our standard of living by cracking down on noisy New Yorkers."
Noise can be a difficult problem to tackle, according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. "Excessive noise is a problem that can be difficult for police officers to deal with in a comprehensive manner. What's smart about Operation Silent Night is that it focuses our resources on the places where the problem is most obvious and egregious. By working together with other agencies, we can use every enforcement tool at our disposal - criminal and non-criminal - to have a positive impact on quality of life."
"Noise complaints in New York City are increasingly an indicator of the lack of civility and urban disorder," said DEP Commissioner Christopher Ward. "DEP is working to update the city's noise code to reflect this new set of issues and to vigorously enforce the code in those communities most often plagued by excessive and unnecessary noise."
Since October, the program has been successful in attacking the noise problem and also alerting police to other types of violations, Bloomberg says. The police department and DEP have combined to issue 973 noise violations, seize 57 vehicles and confiscate numerous stereos and audio equipment. Additionally, the police have issued summonses for parking and various motor vehicle violations and made 145 felony arrests, 565 misdemeanor arrests and 46 other arrests for an assortment of lesser violations, according to the mayor's office.
Additionally, Operation Clean Sweep, another initiative, which began after September 11th to improve quality of life, has resulted in 10,600 arrests and the issuance of 105,000 summonses for a variety of violations. The quality-of-life violations, according to the NYPD's Department of Public Information, range from prostitution, graffiti, illegal peddling to aggressive panhandling, disturbing the peace and unreasonable noise.
Noise is definitely a problem from a management perspective, says Greg Carlson, the executive director of the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives and Condominiums (FNYHC). "Noise from one apartment to another is one of the highest complaints a manager gets."
Carlson notes that outside noise from traffic, construction, stereo equipment, nightclubs or restaurants, can be particularly bothersome to co-op and condo owners. "It does diminish the quality of life for those people that are woken up in the middle of the night by unnecessary noise."
Several Community Board leaders say the program is essential to maintaining the peace and harmony of their neighborhoods.
"We think it's great," says Arthur Strickler, district manager of Community Board 2, which governs approximately 90,000 residents in an area that includes Greenwich Village, NoHo and SoHo and extends from around Canal to 14th Street, 4th Avenue and the Bowery to the Hudson River. "Noise and quality of life concerns have been the number one issue in Community Board 2 for years," says Strickler, who notes that the residential neighborhood is also home to a great many bars, nightclubs, restaurants, lounges and theaters, all of which that generate frequent noise.
"We hope they continue it. It has had a chilling effect on other businesses down here with the fines and all. We hope they keep up the pressure."
Fines can range from around $45 to in excess of $25,000 (against businesses with repeated violations for noise or other offenses). In fiscal year 2002, which ran from July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2002, police issued 7,642 noise summonses, compared to 6,270 issued in FY 2001.
"It is working here," adds Marie Bodnar, district manager of Community Board 3 in Staten Island, which encompasses the Annadale, Arden Heights, Bay Terrace, Charleston, Eltingville, Great Kills, Greenridge, Huguenot, Pleasant Plains, Prince's Bay, Richmond Valley, Rossville, Tottenville, and Woodrow neighborhoods. Police recently attended a board meeting and reported that they had issued 288 summonses during a recent two-week period for quality of life offenses ranging from public drinking and illegal parking to noise disturbances, says Bodnar. "The program has been very successful and we hope they continue it."
The enforcement zones currently in effect in the five boroughs are as follows:
- Westchester Avenue and Leland Avenue to Metropolitan Avenue
- East 158th Street to East 161st Street and Sherman Avenue to Walton Avenue
- East 187th Street to East 189th Street and Lorillard Avenue to Belmont Avenue
- Parkside Avenue to Linden Boulevard and Bedford Avenue to Rogers Avenue
- East 76th Street, Ralph Avenue and Flatlands Avenue triangle
- East 15th Street to East 19th Street and Avenue L to Avenue N
- Saint John's Place and Ralph Avenue to Howard Avenue
- Saint Mark's Avenue and Grand Avenue to Classon Avenue
- Wilson Avenue and Flushing Avenue to Troutman Street
- MacDougal Street and Bleecker Street to Minetta Lane
- Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place to Thompson Street
- 1st Avenue and East 1st Street to East 2nd Street
- 5th Avenue and 132nd Street to 135th Street
- Broadway and LaSalle Place to 125th Street
- Broadway and Arden Street to Dongan Place
- 164th Street to 168th Street and 89th Avenue to Archer Avenue
- 147th Avenue to 147th Drive and 249th Street to Hook Creek Boulevard
- Francis Lewis Boulevard and Cross Island Parkway to Utopia Parkway
- 116th Drive to 118th Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard to 155th Street
- 30th Avenue to Newtown Road and 30th Street to 33rd Street
- Shore Boulevard and Ditmars Boulevard and Ansonia Park South
- Westervelt Avenue and Richmond Terrace and York Avenue to Jersey Street
- New Dorp Lane and South Railroad Avenue to Hylan Boulevard
- Arden Avenue to Jefferson Boulevard and Nedra Lane to Woodrow Road
To report a noise complaint, contact the NYPD's Quality of Life hotline at (888) 677-5433.