Paris’ Solution to Noise Pollution: Sound Radars

Iris Liu

Anyone who’s lived in a city is familiar with the sound of car alarms ringing down the alleyways until 3AM, dogs barking into the night, and obnoxious honking and yelling at every hour of the day. It can be maddening. But thankfully, there may be hope for city dwellers. Paris, one of Europe’s loudest cities, is calling for noise reduction policies as residents have become accustomed to the relative quiet of the pandemic.

Their plan has two stages. First, they will install sound sensors in a few select cities in France. These sensors are designed to detect and take pictures of excessively loud vehicles. If these new devices or “sound radar” work as planned, Paris officials will install them all over the country and noise violators will get fined as much as 135 euros ($150) when their cars, alarms roaring scooters exceed 85 decibels.

Citizens in Paris are ecstatic about this new system as traffic noise has grown worse. According to a study by Bruitparif, a state-backed center that monitors noise in the Paris area, a modified scooter crossing Paris at night can wake up as many as 10,000 people. 

“If the mayor didn’t buy a radar, we would have bought one ourselves,” states Raphael Bianchi, a resident in Place de la Bastille in Paris.  He added that the roaring sounds of motorcycles outside of his apartment never fail to wake up his 1-year-old son in the middle of the night. 

“It’s unbearable — it’s a constant acoustic aggression.”

Traffic noise has become so severe in Paris that it has begun to drive citizens away from their homes. Sébastien Kuperberg, who lived above an intersection in east Paris, could no longer stand the noise and was forced to leave. Even with the windows closed, motorcycles passing by woke him up at least once a night. And when the windows were open, the noise drowned out any conversations, music, and even the television. 

Traffic noise is not just a nuisance; it can also endanger the health of its residents. According to WHO’s 2011 report, constant traffic noise can cause cardiovascular disorders and strokes.

“Noise reduces the life expectancy of Parisians by nine months,” said David Belliard, the deputy mayor of Paris, citing studies carried out by a regional health agency and Bruitparif. “It’s a matter of public health.” 

The sound radars are only the first steps in Paris’ noise-reduction campaign. Officials plan to further diminish noise in the city by planting trees around the Paris perimeters, lowering the speed limit, and asking emergency vehicles to lower their sirens at night

Although these changes seem minor compared to the worldwide problem of noise pollution that has plagued cities for decades, these new policies could also mean progress in noise reduction all over the world.