We’re growing ever more aware of the dangers of urban air pollution, but what about noise pollution? In many big cities, the constant cacophony of sirens, planes, and street sounds can be maddeningly inescapable. For the first time, the U.S. Department of Transportation has created a sort of heat map of the country’s noise, focusing on aircraft and road noise. The new National Transportation Noise Map reveals that medium-loud sounds (roughly equivalent to the sound of a humming fridge) from highways and airplanes are pervasive, reaching the ears of 97 percent of the population.
While that bit sounds manageable, hundreds of thousands of people are subjected to potentially eardrum-damaging noise levels of 80 or more decibels daily—typically in areas around airports and flight paths. On the map, these areas stand out in splotches of purple and blue.
The visualization holds the promise of doing more than just confirming complaints of aurally toxic neighborhoods. The map offers city planners, elected officials, scholars, and residents a tool in shaping infrastructure design and policy. Wired, for example, notes: “Playing around with this thing is fun, but DOT hopes it’s helpful for anyone considering how transportation projects might change their neighborhood, and push back against an ugly history of shunting loud, smelly, or polluting infrastructure to poor and minority neighborhoods.”
You can explore the map here.