Macquarie University Hearing academic director David McAlpine said 60 decibels is the sound of a normal conversation, but constant noise at that level in residential areas would likely have negative effects.
“The 24-hour city might be okay for some, especially if you choose to live in it, but acoustic spilling into living spaces is likely expanding the group of people you’re exposed to who just aren’t able or willing to live with the constant hum. ” he said.
McAlpine lives on the North Shore, within earshot of the Warringah Freeway, which contributes to the area’s high levels of noise.
“The longer-term perspective is certainly to get traffic underground, but the short-term perspective of noise needs to be considered,” he said.
Local councils, the NSW Environment Protection Authority, Transport for NSW and the Commonwealth Government are responsible for managing different types of traffic noise.
The EPA Street Noise Guideline is intended to provide guidance on how streets should be planned and designed to minimize noise.
An EPA spokeswoman did not comment on the ambient numbers because the data was not collected in the same way.
She said the EPA assessed potential noise impacts from sources such as industry, road and rail activity and set noise limits using the best available technology.
“The NSW Environment Protection Authority is aware of the impact of noise pollution and is committed to minimizing the impact on communities in NSW,” she said.
“Our noise monitoring focuses on the noise source, not the environmental level, to assist us in situations where we can take regulatory action.”
Paul Stephenson downsized his four-bedroom home in Roseville into an apartment in Neutral Bay in 2016, attracted by the harbor views and proximity to lively shopping districts.
Traffic noise from the nearby Warringah Freeway has increased over the years.
“Since we bought the property, the noise has increased exponentially,” Stephenson said. “We knew we had the freeway, but there have been years of roadworks and tree cutting has turned the road into an echo chamber.”
Stephenson hopes the double-glazed windows, funded by the state government, will block traffic noise somewhat.
Yet street noise constantly disturbs and bothers Stephenson, who works from home, and has forced him and his wife to convert a bedroom into a TV room.
Stephenson said the noise is a source of stress and anxiety: “I get very annoyed by the noise, especially when I’m in a meeting at night.”
North Sydney Mayor Zoe Baker said she was not surprised the North Sydney Council area was one of the noisiest parts of Sydney due to ongoing major transport projects, heavy traffic and ongoing construction of new housing.
“The council and our community are concerned that the major road projects will add to the already high levels of noise associated with traffic and dense housing,” she said.
Baker said the cumulative effects of noise and air pollution rarely seem to be given much consideration by NSW planning bodies and government.
“Councils and the EPA play a role in enforcing noise-related regulations, but often lack the resources to take action to ensure compliance. This is even more difficult when trying to enforce the impact of government projects like highways,” she said.
Ambient used computer models to calculate noise from roads, railroad tracks, and airplanes on a typical weekday, but did not consider short-term noise from construction work, sports competitions, or entertainment venues. The average traffic noise level of a house was based on the noise on the most exposed facade.
Ambient director and acoustics engineer Ben Hinze said Sydney’s noisiest suburbs are criss-crossed by busy roads and rail lines.
He said the impact on houses under plane flight paths is huge, especially at night, but there can be little noise in these suburbs at other times while there is constant traffic on a busy road.
“[It’s a case of] 100 flights a day versus 100,000 vehicles, 10 percent of which could be trucks,” he said.
In 2018, the World Health Organization listed noise as the second-biggest environmental problem affecting people’s health, after air pollution, which it linked to cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in children, tinnitus and sleep disorders.
Australia’s Standing Committee on Environmental Health also found that sustained perceived levels of ambient noise above certain thresholds can lead to sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease.
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