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Position Paper on Noise in Salem
submitted by the
Salem Committee on Noise Pollution
"We take the liberty of submitting to your attention the particular geography of our
village, a narrowness of space and structure at everyone's disposal, which is partly cause
for its esteem. The calm and tranquility of this place, the common interest of inhabitants
and tourists, are entrusted to the behavioral modification of everybody. For that reason,
during the hours after sunset all kind of clamor and noise or every disturbance of people's
repose will be punished like an indictable offense." &endash; from a sign in Vernazza, Italy
Salem &endash; complete or perfect peace. &endash; Hitchcock's Bible Names
Position Paper on Noise in Salem
The common was the shared resource of our colonial antecedents. Our state was itself
founded as a "commonwealth." Our nation, now more than ever, has become aware of
the need to respect and work together to protect all that we value.
The concept of "the commons" is found in every society. The effort of the Salem
Committee on Noise Pollution to control second-hand noise is part of a greater effort to
protect that which is held in common by the public from loss and degradation. Other
efforts to protect the commons are concerned with public lands and parks, water, air,
endangered species, historic buildings, and scenic vistas. These efforts share the
recognition that everyone's well-being is enhanced when the profits or freedoms of a few
do not take precedence over the common good.
Polluting the commons is not a right. On the contrary, along with democracy's freedoms
come responsibilities, including collective stewardship of the commons. Noise, like other
pollutants, precludes many enjoyable and profitable uses of the commons. Public noise
can even endanger health and well-being in one's own home.
Noise Affects Health and Quality of Life
The impact of noise on the quality of life in Salem is larger than what one might first
consider. When infants are awakened by noise, they may not be able to fall back to sleep
and others in the household or child care center also suffer the consequences. When
elderly residents must keep their windows closed during a heat wave to reduce the street
noise coming into their bedrooms, their suffering is not just auditory and it is lifeendangering.
Insomniacs, people who are grieving, and others who have difficulty
sleeping may find it impossible to get the rest they need. When a rumbling truck activates
a car alarm, what would otherwise be a momentary impact extends for many minutes and
affects many people trying to work, relax, or sleep. When noise makes it difficult to rent
apartments or sell houses, profits and tax income decrease. Motorcycles without mufflers
frequently interrupt each concert, play, and ceremony held on the Salem Common.
Those who suffer from noise always outnumber the noisemakers. We estimate that a loud
motorcycle or car without a muffler traveling through Salem will be heard by more than
340 residents each minute it travels.1 Many more are affected during the tourist season
and at outdoor gatherings in the downtown area.
Health and peace of mind are threatened directly and indirectly by noise pollution. Police
have long understood the "broken window" effect on community safety and prosperity.
Noise pollution, like graffiti and broken windows that are not quickly repaired, fosters a
poor image of Salem. This may encourage crime, hurt businesses and tax revenue by
discouraging tourists and shoppers, and depress property values. Moreover, Salem's tacit
condoning of loud motorcycles and "boom cars" may encourage other types of
inconsiderate behavior, such as littering and road rage. Loud motorcyclists may also
create public hostility toward more responsible motorcyclists.
The major causes of noise in Salem are loud vehicles, including trucks, motorcycles
without mufflers, and cars that are noisy because of their occupants' behavior (playing
their radios loudly, shouting, or honking their horns in unison).
Truck noise can be minimized by restricting truck routes, particularly in historic
neighborhoods. Older homes often lack front yards and insulation, which act as a buffer
from street noise in newer neighborhoods. Some communities have banned trucks from
historic neighborhoods not only because of noise pollution but because truck exhaust
damages the buildings.
Salem already has ordinances that ban use of a motorcycle "in a manner so as to create
loud, unnecessary or unusual noise so as to disturb or interfere with the peace and quiet
of other persons" and which provide for fines for violations. 2 Despite these ordinances,
the noise problem in Salem remains severe, particularly during the warmer months.
Enforcement by the police is essential. It may be necessary to provide police with noise
measuring devices to insure that law enforcement meets objective criteria. If so, we ask
the city to develop objective criteria and to fund a sufficient number of noise measuring
Noisy drivers and passengers in cars might respond well to public information
campaigns. Some noise polluters are bullies and must be dealt with by the police. Others
may not have considered other peoples' preferences and needs.
The effects of individual polluters are multiplied when they operate in groups, as when
motorcyclists without mufflers ride together or a succession of honking cars or
emergency vehicles passes by. Any regulation governing noise should address this effect.
Street noise is particularly problematic in downtown Salem, which is densely populated
and has many older homes. Downtown Salem is also frequented by tourists and hosts
many outdoor performances.
Salem officials may want to consult with communities that have been more effective in
combating noise pollution, such as Marblehead. Further information is also available at
the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (http://www.nonoise.org/commons.htm).
Summary of Objectives
The Salem Committee on Noise Pollution seeks to reduce noise levels in Salem with the
= Strengthen ordinances against noise pollution.
= Help police obtain the resources they need to enforce noise ordinances.
= Educate the public and public servants about the effects of noise pollution.
1 Assuming an average speed of 22.5 mph, noise duration of 30 seconds, and Salem's
population density of 4,703 residents per square mile. Densities vary, of course; noise
pollution is particularly acute downtown.
2Sections 24-20 (a)(3) and 22-1 (a)(2).
Businesses That Need Quiet
Child care centers
Financial companies, accountants
Performing arts centers
Yoga and meditation centers
Churches, mosques, synagogues, temples
City Council chambers
People Who Seek Quiet During the Day
Children and others who nap
Night workers (who sleep during the day)
People listening to music
People taking tests
People with anxiety or nervous conditions
People who are reading
Public speakers and their audiences
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