As a person who is easily irritated by noise, I sure picked a loud town to live in. In Forest Park, our ears are constantly under sonic assault. We have the relentless roar of the Eisenhower Expressway, the clatter of CTA trains and the noise of planes flying to and from O’Hare Airport. We are not alone when it comes to noise pollution — 97% of Americans are subjected to traffic and aviation noise.
Noise isn’t just a nuisance. It can contribute to high blood pressure, dementia and depression. In 1972, President Nixon empowered the EPA to quiet the country but noise pollution has tripled in the last 40 years. The world is getting noisier and it’s affecting our health. The World Health Organization warned that, “Silence is a precious commodity that is disappearing.”
The constant noise from planes, trains and automobiles forms the sonic background of our village and we become accustomed to them. It’s the intermittent sounds that really annoy us. Leaf blowers, lawn mowers and motorcycles produce sudden high levels of noise that startle us. These three devices operate in the 90-125 decibel range. Medical professionals warn that anything above 85 decibels is harmful to our health.
The worst offender to our ears, though, are the back-up beepers on vehicles. Their piercing sound is over 100 decibels. Beepers were first used at construction sites and they successfully prevented injuries and saved lives. But now we have beepers on backhoes, garbage trucks and delivery trucks. Why? It’s not like we’re all living on a loud construction site. If beepers are here to stay, they should be adjusted to the noise level of the surrounding area.
It’s not just machines assaulting our ears. Shouted conversation produces 90-95 decibels. We should be using our “inside voices” even when we’re outside. National parks have posted signs asking visitors to speak quietly. It’s even worse when the offender is shouting into their cellphone. In the old days, phone conversations were considered private. We even had phone booths to protect our privacy. (These booths also came in handy for changing into superhero costumes.)
Now we are subjected to a stranger’s conversation with another stranger. It’s impossible to block out. Noise isn’t just about sound. It has to do with power. The person shouting into their cellphone is dominating the space they occupy. It’s like the neighbor who plays loud music. They are taking over the soundtrack of our lives.
Loud music is another plague we face in Forest Park. We have an ordinance against motorists playing loud music that is increasingly enforced. When we’re dining al fresco on Madison Street, we are subjected to a parade of cars and motorcycles blasting music. The worst part is when they’re playing a song we like and the light changes before the end of the song.
Madison Street has also been under assault from loud late-night crowds. Noisy bar patrons triggered the 11 p.m. curfew for our bars and restaurants. The owners have already suffered so many hardships during the pandemic, it’s cruel to make them close early. The curfew was considered necessary, though, to curtail late-night noise and violence.
Even during the day, the noise level in my neighborhood is high. Jackhammers are 100 decibels, wood chippers are 110 decibels and power tools range from 91-113 decibels. I’m not against construction or the disposal of fallen branches but these devices contribute to stress, heart disease and, of course, hearing loss.
If you think Forest Park is noisy now, wait until the cicadas emerge. They generate over 100 decibels.