Those of us that live in a city love it for the layers and layers of life, light, and vibrancy that come from a busy and populous environment. While it is an exciting and bustling place to live, we can also pay a price living in a city when, say, we’re just trying to go to sleep.
Noise pollution in cities has a greater effect on people than we might think, and it’s a problem that Paris in particular is going to lengths to solve.
The noise problem
This cacophony across French cities isn’t just annoying, it is a public health concern. The World Health Organization attributes excessive noise, over 55 decibels, as a contributor to cardiovascular disorders and high blood pressure. Parisians are hit harder than citizens of other European capitals, like London or Berlin, by noise disturbance like this. About 5.5 million people in the Paris area are affected by excessive noise, while only a couple million are in London and Berlin.
According to France’s National Noise Council (CNB), excessive noise compromises people’s sleep and productivity and costs France up to 147 billion euros each year. This is not just in lost productivity, but in public health costs, with 25 million French people saying that noise impacted their lives and a reported 432,000 said they took tranquilizers to cope.
Plan bruit, noise plan
“Noise makes people ill,” says Dan Lert, deputy mayor for Paris. “It rots the life of Parisians. That’s why we decided to act.”
Paris’ first Noise Plan ran from 2015-to 2020 and implemented many innovative measures, including installing sound barriers along half the length of the périphérique (a highway surrounding Paris), increasing roadside noise checks, testing innovative low-noise asphalt, and establishing a rule that new housing must have at least one façade that isn’t exposed to external noise.
Noise radar is another measure that Paris and other French cities have taken to catch noise polluters in the act. Devices called “medusas,” for their resemblance to jellyfish (“méduse” being the French word for jellyfish) can target sources of excessive noise and even photograph license plates. Starting in 2023, a driver whose vehicle violates the set noise levels will be fined 135 euros.
This is a supplementary plan to Paris’ green ambitions of reducing traffic and pollution-causing vehicles, even going as far as to ban vehicles in the city center. The first Noise Plan reduced noise in Paris by two decibels, and this second phase aims to reduce it a further 37 percent between 2021 and 2026.
This will provide data to other research centers in other cities and countries trying to reduce noise pollution, it will improve French health, reduce city noise and carbon pollution, and also have a positive effect on the lower-income parts of the city where noise pollution can be at its worst.