1. Sustainable mobility versus noise pollution

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    Although we might not realise, noise pollution is Europe’s second largest environmental health threat. A staggering one in every five Europeans is exposed to noise levels that are damaging their health.

    Perhaps expected, the majority of noise comes from transport pollution, namely roads, rail and air traffic. City dwellers suffer the most, with Paris cited by the European Environment Agency as one of Europe’s noisiest. Data reveals that 5.5 million people are exposed to noise levels exceeding 55 decibels, with 432,000 residents taking tranquillisers to combat their discomfort. London and Rome are also identified as problematic cities, with 2.6 million and 1.7 million people exposed respectively.

    Sustainable mobility and its minimal noise output offers a solution for the estimated 30 – 46 billion euros that society spends every year in overcoming the problem. The findings from CE Delf approximate this as 0.4% of total GDP, understandable when considering the long and short-term health risks that amalgamate, including cardiovascular, blood pressure and insomnia concerns.

    Other solutions to noise pollution are being explored. The European Environmental Noise Directive offers guidance, while appropriate authorities are encouraged to join the Green City Accord and address pollution-prevention laws. In addition, local and national governments are developing Noise Plans that include sustainable mobility solutions such as low-noise asphalt and the installation of sound barriers. Paris’ Plan Brut is one such example, that also recognises the need to reduce car traffic in city centres, expand cycling networks and ban polluting vehicles.

    Reducing car speeds is an effective way of reducing traffic noise. Thousands of towns and cities across Europe have implemented measures as part of EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, a campaign that has also implemented the construction of 3,600 green areas that aid in air pollution.

    Although largely invisible, noise pollution does have an impact on people’s everyday lives and welfare. Sustainable mobility options and swapping traditional transport norms for walking and cycling will create more comfortable environments for all of us to live, work and play in.

    More details on the impact of EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK and those towns and cities involved can be found here.

  2. Adaptive acoustic vehicle alerting system (AVAS) – what will help improve acoustic ecology?

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    LEVA-EU Member Thor Avas shares the latest insight on acoustic technology as increasing numbers of electric vehicles appear on the roads and sidewalks.

    Electric transport has a positive effect on the ecology of the city and agglomerations in the broadest sense of the word.

    When considering electric vehicles locally, the emission of exhaust gases is reduced, and the acoustic ecology is improved by reducing the noise of vehicles (the hum of internal combustion engines disappears). Micromobility vehicles increase the personal mobility of the population.
    However, with the spread of electric transport, new difficulties also appear – the number of collisions with pedestrians is increasing. This is not only due to the fact that electric transport can pick up speed faster, but also because it is quiet and has low acoustic visibility at low speeds. Electric vehicles are even classified as silent vehicles, which, according to the national legislation of various countries in North America, Europe, and Asia, must be equipped with a special acoustic device that makes sounds when driving – an AVAS system (acoustic vehicle alerting system).

    Requirements for AVAS systems are regulated by national and international regulations FMVSS 141, GB7258, EU 540/2014, UN R138.01.
    These documents also define the maximum sound level (75 dBA) emitted by the AVAS system.

    The visibility of an AVAS-equipped vehicle to a pedestrian will be determined not only by vehicle characteristics, travel speed, road surface types, AVAS sound types, and loudness but also by the acoustic characteristics of the environment.
    When considering AVAS systems, the visibility of an electric car in a noisy city can be sufficient, but in a park area or countryside, it could be excessive. In this case, the damage to acoustic ecology can be even greater than the noise of an internal combustion engine.

    Thor AVAS conducted an experiment that assessed the visibility of vehicles (a car with an internal combustion engine, and an electric car with the AVAS system on and off) on a quiet country road.
    Visibility was determined using the “fixation time” – the time from the moment a research expert acoustically recorded (heard) that a car was moving in their direction until the moment the car reached them. Passages of an electric vehicle with the AVAS system turned on had two volume options – with the AVAS system operating with a sound level of 75 dBA (maximum allowed) and a sound level of 69 dBA (twice as quiet).

    The results showed that operating at acceptable volume levels, the AVAS system in the countryside will provide excessive visibility, that is, pedestrians will hear the approach of an electric car for 25-55 seconds at a speed of 10 km/h and 25-30 seconds at a speed of 20 km/h. These visibility values are several times higher than those for a conventional ICE vehicle.
    None of the regulatory documents indicates the possibility of an adaptive mode of operation of the AVAS system – such a mode in which the volume of operation is selected based on the acoustic environment. Such a mode of operation could reduce the noise impact on the environment and improve the acoustic environmental friendliness of the AVAS system.

  3. Brussels’ ‘Car-Free Sunday’ leads to 90% drop in automobile-related pollution

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    Source: Mayor.eu, D. Balgaranov

    On 18th September 2022, Brussels instituted a no-cars Sunday as part of European Mobility Week. From 09:30 am to 19:00 pm, cars were prohibited from much of the city to prioritize walking, cycling, and public transport.

    Outside of cultural and holistic benefits, Bruxelles Environment, the city’s environment agency, measured a 90% reduction in nitrogen monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, both of which are toxic substances emitted by combustion engines. Additionally, the city saw significant drops in noise levels, again seeing an approximate 90% decrease in typically congested areas; this further demonstrates what modern urban planners have been suggesting in recent years, “cities are not noisy, cars are noisy

    Authorities point out that yearly emissions have been going down since 2019, by about 10% per year. However, there is still a long way to go, since according to the European Environment Agency, in 2018, Belgium registered around 8,900 deaths caused by air pollution.”

  4. Harmful noise pollution impacts 60 million Europeans at home

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    Source: Mayor.eu, Tzvetozar Vincent Iolov

    The Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) releases figures obtained from the study of 749 continental cities, projecting potential health detriment.

    ISGlobal recently shared its noise pollution findings via the Environment International Journal, highlighting that 60 million people across Europe are negatively impacted by noise pollution. View the full breakdown of observed cities here.

    The main cause of environmental noise in urban areas is road traffic, with previous research linking high levels of sustained environmental noise to a range of health impacts. Such impacts include a sustained stress response, in which stress hormones increase heart rate, blood pressure, and vasoconstriction. With time, such reactions may lead to chronic illnesses including depression, anxiety, and cardiovascular diseases. Even with this in mind, it is still surprising to learn of a further conclusion in the study: if cities committed to complying with World Health Organisation (WHO) noise-level guidelines, 3,600 ischaemic heart disease deaths could be prevented annually.

    Of the 123 million adults that partook in the study, 48% were exposed to levels of environmental noise that averaged above 53 decibels in any given 24 hour period, exceeding guidelines by the WHO. Furthermore, 11 million adults admitted to being highly annoyed by road traffic noise, heightening associated stress levels.

    It should be noted that results are not fully comprehensive and standardized as varying methodologies and datasets were utilized in the study. However, there can be no doubt that this extensive noise pollution study provides insight into a worrying traffic trend.

  5. Europe’s 10 noisiest cities revealed

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    Source: TheMayor.eu

    Noise pollution in cities across Europe continues at a dangerous level, with the potential to significantly impact citizens’ health.

    British-based financial service provider money.co.uk has recently published a ranking of European cities based on noise level. The findings were calculated taking into account population density, Mimi noise pollution score, land and air traffic, and congestion. The final rankings were:

    1. Paris, France – Score: 8.40
    2. London, United Kingdom – Score: 8.21
    3. Rome, Italy – Score: 4.96
    4. Madrid, Spain – Score: 4.69
    5. Barcelona, Spain – Score: 4.55
    6. Manchester, United Kingdom – Score: 4.40
    7. Vienna, Austria – Score: 4.33
    8. Berlin, Germany – Score: 3.66
    9. Birmingham, United Kingdom – Score: 3.64
    10. Milan, Italy – Score: 3.41

    Long-term exposure to levels of noise pollution this high may lead to a range of health consequences including noise-induced hearing loss, sleep deprivation, increased stress and blood pressure, and cognitive impairment in children. With such a range of detrimental effects, reducing the level of noise pollution in our largest urban areas is key to securing population health. The question remains, how can this be achieved, and what role could light electric vehicles be set to play?

  6. European Environment Agency: Noise Pollution Expected to Increase

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    Road traffic is the top source of noise pollution in Europe, the new EEA report ‘Noise in Europe – 2020’ says, with noise levels projected to rise in both urban and rural areas over the next decade due to urban growth and increased demand for mobility. Rail, aircraft and industry round up the other top sources of environmental noise pollution.

    The EEA’s report provides an update of noise pollution trends over the 2012-2017 period. It also provides an outlook of future noise projections as well as the associated health impacts in Europe, based on new World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on the health effects from exposure to noise. Building on the previous EEA assessment of noise in Europe from 2014, the report also looks at actions being taken to manage and reduce noise exposure and reviews progress made to meet the EU objectives on noise pollution set by EU legislation, including the Environmental Noise Directive and the EU’s 7th Environmental Action Programme (EAP).

    Significant health impacts

    Long-term exposure to noise has significant health impacts. On the basis of the new WHO information, the EEA estimates that such exposure causes 12,000 premature deaths and contributes to 48,000 new cases of ischemic heart disease (caused by a narrowing of heart arteries) per year across Europe. It is also estimated that 22 million people suffer chronic high annoyance and 6.5 million people suffer chronic high sleep disturbance. According to World Health Organization evidence, these health impacts start to occur below the reporting thresholds set by the EU Noise Directive and so are likely to be underestimated. In addition, the information provided by countries under the EU directive does not cover all urban areas, roads, railways and airports.

    22 million people are exposed to high levels of railway noise, 4 million to high levels of aircraft noise and less than 1 million to high levels of noise caused by industries.

    Apart from affecting humans, noise pollution is also a growing threat to wildlife both on land and in water. Noise can reduce reproductive success and increase mortality and the fleeing of animals to quieter areas.

    EU objective for 2020 on noise will not be achieved

    While some progress has been made by EU Member States in mapping and reporting more areas of high noise across Europe, overall policy objectives on environmental noise have not yet been achieved. Notably, the objective set for 2020 by the 7th Environmental Action Programme of decreasing noise pollution and moving towards the WHO recommended levels for noise exposure will not be achieved. Noise pollution is projected to increase because of future urban growth and increased demand for mobility.

    More than 30 % of data required under the EU directive is still not available after the legally set 2017 reporting deadline. Significant delays suggest that countries may not have taken the necessary steps to address noise pollution. The report adds that better implementation is also required — a point reinforcing the conclusions of a separate recent European Commission assessment on the implementation of the directive.

    Actions to reduce noise levels

    Countries are already taking a variety of actions to reduce and manage noise levels, however, it remains difficult to evaluate their benefits in terms of positive health outcomes, the EEA report says. Examples of the most popular measures to reduce noise levels in cities include replacing older paved roads with smoother asphalt, better management of traffic flows and reducing speed limits to 30 kilometres per hour. There are also measures aimed at raising awareness and changing people’s behaviour in using less-noisy modes of transport like cycling, walking or electric vehicles.

    A significant number of countries, cities and regions have also put in place so-called quiet areas, most of which are parks and other green spaces, where people can go to escape city noise. The report says more needs to be done to create and protect quiet areas outside of the city and improve accessibility of these areas in cities.

    Background on the EU’s Environmental Noise Directive

    People’s exposure to noise is monitored under the Environmental Noise Directive (END) against two reporting thresholds; an indicator for the day, evening and night period (Lden) that measures exposure to noise levels associated with ‘annoyance’ and an indicator for night periods (Lnight) that is designed to assess sleep disturbance. These reporting thresholds are higher than the WHO recommended values and currently, there is no mechanism in place for tracking progress against the latter lower values.

    Find the report here

    Photo credits: @chairulfajar on Unsplash

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