The Realm of Effective Acoustics Part 4: Regulating Event Noise

The Realm of Effective Acoustics Part 4: Regulating Event Noise

Enter the realm of effective acoustics. Here we will dispel common misconceptions and take a look at the proper way to solve problems related to noise and sound, from making a room sound better to controlling and measuring noise.

Our previous foray took us through the world of noise-measuring smartphone apps. Earlier, we discussed sound isolation and viral armchair acousticians. Today we turn to event noise regulations.

Governing Event Noise w/ Municipal Bylaws

Noise isn’t an easy thing to regulate, especially in cities, like Vancouver, that want to allow for “life to happen.” The reality is that life often gets a little noisy.

When it comes to city noise, most of us think about traffic, construction, or event noise, like music from outdoor concerts. We have written about noise from traffic and construction quite a lot here, so let’s look at how municipal bylaws govern event noise.

A Few Ways to Deal with Noise

Most cities have more than one way of regulating event noise. For recurring events—concerts, hockey and football games, etc.—at venues like Rogers Arena, the PNE Forum, or BC Place, noise is governed by municipal noise bylaws. Essentially, these bylaws legislate how much event-related noise can be perceived at nearby residences.

The noise guidelines outlined in municipal bylaws are not arbitrary. They are based on studies of what most people would consider a reasonable level of noise within an urban environment. Because this is subjective, it’s possible for a noise source to negatively affect residents while also remaining below a bylaw threshold.

If a bylaw required every noise source in a city to be whisper-quiet in every residential area, the city might sound un-citylike. Most bylaws, however, leave room for hustle and bustle.

With or Without Numbers

We usually see municipal bylaws written in two different ways: with numbers (i.e., direct noise level limits) and without. With numbers, a noise complaint can be assessed with an objective measurement. Without numbers, noise complaints are determined by the subjective opinions of bylaw officers, who decide whether a noise is unreasonable or not.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. Noise that stays within a limit can still disturb some people. On the other hand, the subjective approach can lead to recurring complaints and frustration. “Make it so I can’t hear it,” is not always a workable solution. Some factors are beyond the control of event organizers, and the perception of noise always depends on ambient conditions.

Calling an Inaudible?

Here is the important part: A noise limit is just an operational control, and meeting a limit does not guarantee what we would call “inaudibility,” which occurs when a noise is reduced to the point where you can’t hear it.

Making something inaudible doesn’t mean the noise is gone. Rather, we just made it quieter than the other noises, to the point where you can no longer tell it apart. If these surrounding noise conditions are stripped away, the noise is still there. The only way to really stop noise is to shut down the source.

Bylaw Exemption Permit: A Hall Pass for Noisy Events

Municipalities can also deal with event noise another way: issuing a bylaw exemption. In these cases, event organizers apply for specific noise bylaw exemption permits, and are often required to notify nearby residents.

Exemption permits are typically intended for marquee outdoor events that promote a city’s culture and help attract tourists. Some events might even be considered part of a city’s soundscape.

For instance, Vancouver hosts an annual fireworks festival over three Saturday nights in the summer. Fireworks, of course, are really loud — even from a safe distance. Last year, Vancouver Is Awesome polled readers and found that most locals enjoy the free event, while 34 percent consider it loud and annoying. Despite the irritated residents, with a bylaw exemption, the show will go on.

Life and Noise, Finding a Balance

Because the perception of noise is subjective and depends on background noise levels, regulating event noise in the city isn’t easy. Life can get a little noisy at times, and bylaws exist to limit noise to levels that most people find reasonable.

Next time you walk by BC Place, look up at the residential towers. You’ll see that some buildings have enclosed balconies. These enclosures aren’t there because of traffic or pollution. They are an acoustical design feature that helps mitigate event-related noise from the stadium.

If you live near a venue, there’s a good chance you’ll experience some level of event noise. But the solution isn’t making noise inaudible or shutting down events. Assessing event noise requires case-specific analysis and insight into how noise bylaws are developed and enforced.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help you work with local bylaws and manage event noise.

Written by Joonas Niinivaara

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