The COVID19 pandemic has seen a reduction of noise in our cities. Despite this, urban noise is on the rise again and only expected to increase as our cities become denser. In fact, noise plagues us so much that it registers second only to air pollution in terms of environmental disease burden for Europeans, leading to 12,000 premature deaths each year.
In the world of policy legislation it is an area that feels a bit left behind, according to a new paper by the Eurocities network, with “no improvement in reducing harmful noise levels over the last 10 years”.
What’s more, as the network points out, legislating on noise can lead to many double wins. For example, encouraging greater use of active forms of travel, and most especially shifting away from the use of private cars, both reduces road noise (the greatest source of urban noise) and improves air quality. Likewise, designating and protecting quiet areas can promote both peoples’ health and nature alike.
Current noise levels in the EU far exceed the safe noise limits stipulated by the WHO. This leads not only to a significant disease burden, but other societal pressures, such as an estimated 6.5 million people that suffer from chronic high sleep disturbance.
In its new policy paper, Eurocities sets out numerous policy recommendations for the EU to try to improve this situation. These include setting legally binding noise reduction targets, which could for instance prevent 800,000 from being highly sleep deprived people by 2032.
Further proposals include reducing the noise made by vehicles, notably the mandatory noise levels built into e-vehicles, which would otherwise be much quieter, and regulating contact points such as road surfaces and tyres as sources of noise.
Another area for attention according to the network is to consider noise reduction as a central component of urban land-use and transport planning. In particular, the network suggests that noise should be a component of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans for which EU level guidance and support should be provided.
The network also calls on the EU to consider a fundamental shift in the way it tackles noise pollution, by moving from measures of prevention – such as noise at source – to mitigation. With this in mind, the use of alternative forms of transport and reducing speed should be considered key measures to reduce noise pollution.
Clearly traffic related noise has serious health implications and environmental costs. Yet, legislating and tackling infrastructure projects demands money too. The network therefore suggests that targeted efforts through the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and the Next Generation EU recovery facility towards a green recovery should prioritise funding that supports “significant investment in public transport, clean and healthy mobility”.
The post-COVID recovery currently being put in place provides a key moment to reflect on how our cities are developing, and right now seems like the right time to stop and, simply, listen…
Read the full policy position here: Eurocities statement noise policy in Europe