Listening to the public address system at a New York City subway station shouldn’t be an oxymoronic notion. But between lumbering trains, squealing wheels and broadcast distortion, it often is.
Joe Solway of ARUP spent 15 years trying to fix that at the new Second Avenue station. As WNYC points out, Solway’s firm “has worked on the World Trade Center pavilion, the Greek National Opera House and London’s high-speed rail lines, among other projects. But nothing is quite like the New York City subway system.”
Solway relied on a number of design hacks, including tweaking how the tracks are attached to the ground. WNYC reports:
The [new] concrete ties have individual concrete boots, encased in rubber that mitigates the vibration of the trains. The MTA said these “low vibration” tracks cost $3,500 per linear foot, compared to traditional wooden railroad ties that cost $4,000 per linear foot.
Sound absorbing panels were also installed on the station’s ceiling and walls.
As far as the public address system goes, Solway “found problems in everything from the band-limited push-to-talk microphones, the sound booths that let in a lot of background noise, to the cables that were not properly shielded, and the old speakers,” according to WNYC. The new stations have better cables, booths and higher quality speakers.
A quieter ride may seem like a small improvement, but as Next City has previously covered, the continuous noise of a dense city like New York takes a real toll on residents’ health. “Noise pollution contributes to disrupted sleep and cognitive impairment in children, and may lead to loss of productivity or lowered property values,” Jen Kinney wrote last year.
Noise ordinances often try to take this into consideration, but many are outdated and lead to racist policing policies. Best to minimize the mechanical din — like screeching wheels — and let the many human sounds that fill a city ring out loud and clear.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.