You can’t see it, touch it or smell it, but it’s everywhere around us, even in our own homes. And although we’re all used to it, it can be enough to drive you crazy.
We’re talking about noise, of course, and if we’re not careful — or lucky — there could be a whole lot more of it in the city’s future.
That’s what many Torontonians fear now that City Hall is looking at changing its noise bylaws. Though one might expect the intention was to quiet the urban roar, tone down the cacophony and generally introduce an element of quietude to the city, it could well achieve the opposite.
“It’s not a good news story for our community,” admits Toronto Centre-Rosedale Councillor Pam McConnell. “We’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about decibels. The proposed changes to the bylaw could set us back a decade.”
McConnell is referring to the neighbourhoods that line the waterfront from Bathurst all the way to Yonge and beyond. As the veteran downtown councillor explains, “We have to deal with different circumstances in this part of the city. The problem is that when you’re close to Lake Ontario, sound bounces off the water. Noise changes direction when you put wind and water together. We’ve had the ability to control noise down here, but we’ve had to use various mitigation strategies.
“My view is that the bylaw doesn’t need to be changed. The proposed changes to the bylaw would not allow for unique situations. But the city wants a standardized mechanism. It takes a one-size-fits-all approach. It says 85 decibels is fine no matter where it is, as long as it’s between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.”
According to the Canadian Hearing Society, “Typically, researchers indicate that if an individual were exposed to 85 decibels for eight hours a day over a number of years, this would result in hearing loss.”
Waterfront resident Ulla Colgrass argued in a letter to Mayor John Tory and local councillors sent this week: “That is equal to a snow blower running all day in your home.”
As she also pointed out, “New York City’s decibel limit for homes is 42 decibels.”
“To make matters worse,” Colgrass continues, “residents can only contest excessive noise by having an inspector from Municipal Licenses and Standards (MLS) visit their homes to measure the sound levels. The MLS’s few noise inspectors failed to monitor outdoor noise levels in the past, so how could this new system work for us?”
Don’t forget, among its pleasures, life on the waterfront includes more than a dozen outdoor concert venues and hundreds of live music events annually. During the summer, there are the party boats that ply the harbour like so many floating sound systems. Then there’s Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport, where planes come and go every few minutes.
But even in other areas, noise levels can be deafening. With all the construction going on, the trucks and equipment, there’s little respite anywhere in Toronto.
At the same time, we make trucks that emit ear-splitting beeps when they back up and traffic lights that make strange sounds when they change colour. Even in the loudest city, noise is thought to be a good way to get people’s attention, to keep them from getting run over by a delivery truck moving in reverse.
At some point, however, these good intentions get lost in the din. Besides, by the time we hit middle age, many of us have hearing loss.
The changes to the bylaw are intended, it makes clear, to be “less restrictive.” It signals a city open for business.
That sounds good, but only if you don’t have to listen to it.
A public meeting on the noise bylaw will be held Feb. 17, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Committee Room 1, second floor, City Hall.
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