Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
A large share of urban dwellers live in areas where road noise is highly irritating.
Having trouble sleeping at night? Feeling a little ticked off? Feel free to blame the world around you. According to new research, where you live and the transportation network surrounding you could be causing levels of road noise that lead to both sleep deprivation and high levels of annoyance.
By tracking traffic noise levels in and around the Atlanta metropolitan area of Fulton County, Georgia, researchers found that upwards of 9.5 percent of the area's population is regularly exposed to ambient traffic noise that's loud enough to be considered really, really annoying. The research [PDF], published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, also found that about 2.3 percent of the area's population lives in areas where noise levels can be highly disturbing to sleep.
These two maps show the noise levels throughout the county from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The highest noise levels were, unsurprisingly, recorded around major highways, freeways and arterial roads. The worst levels in these areas were above 80 decibels. That's about as loud as listening to your home stereo, which doesn't seem bad. But imagine 10 or 12 hours of road traffic coming through your speakers every day. "Annoying" is a very mild description.
For Atlanta, the roughly 10 percent of people dealing with this irritating sound may seem like a relatively small portion of the population. But according to this research, Atlanta's sound problems are likely similar in other metropolitan areas – and they may even be worse elsewhere. The U.S. Census Bureau's American Housing Survey collected traffic noise information from respondents in 38 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and found that, at only 14 percent, Atlanta had the lowest percentage of households reporting traffic noise issues. The amount of people in other cities facing super annoying road noise could be even higher than 10 percent.
These results add to an altogether unnerving set of research into the negative effects of road noise. As we reported back in June, traffic noise above about 60 decibels has been connected with higher rates of heart attack in people over 50 in Denmark. Though some have criticized this work for overlooking the issues regarding the income levels and health conditions of people who tend to live near busier roads, the work presents additional reasons to be concerned, if not scared, of louder traffic outside your window.
Photo credit: Mike Blake / Reuters