City that never sleeps wants some peace

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They say that whatever you are looking for, you will find it in New York City. But there is one commodity that is in short supply in this heaving maelstrom of eight million lives: peace and quiet. Relief may be on the way.

They say that whatever you are looking for, you will find it in New York City. But there is one commodity that is in short supply in this heaving maelstrom of eight million lives: peace and quiet. Relief may be on the way.

Michael Bloomberg, the mayor who chased smokers out of bars and clubs, now has a new mission. He wants to put mufflers on the metropolis. It's all very well that this is the city that never sleeps, he has declared, but let's at least make sleep a possibility.

His pledge comes in a proposal to undertake the most sweeping overhaul of New York's anti-noise regulations in three decades. It may prove a tough task in practice, but politically Mr Bloomberg may be on to something. No one is going to complain if birdsong breaks out in Times Square.

Indeed, there is nothing that irritates New Yorkers more than the racket around them. The majority of complaints registered by residents on the city's 311 telephone helplines are decibel-related. Car alarms, road works, barking dogs and pounding nightclubs all drive the city's dwellers to distraction.

The Bloomberg plan, which will now go before the city council for debate, aims to clamp down on anything - be it human, canine or mechanical - that contributes to the cacophony. Dog owners beware. If your mutt starts yapping you had better tell it to stop or a hefty fine will be coming your way. Ten minutes of barking will be tolerated during the day. At night, the woofing must be done in five minutes.

Even Mr Softee will be forced to change his habits. There are 250 Mister Softee vans rumbling around the five boroughs in the summer selling ice-creams. Their jingle is part of the city's fabric. But the tinkling can grate. Under the new regulations, they would be silenced for ever. Instead, the vans would be allowed to announce their arrival in a neighbourhood with a more modest chime of a bell.

"Complaints about noise are not frivolous," Mr Bloomberg insisted while unveiling his plans. "Noise disturbs our sleep, prevents people from enjoying their time off work and too often leads to altercations when police are called in. It can also produce serious hearing impairment, especially for those who work in noisy jobs."

The initiative has grown out of an earlier experiment, called Operation Silent Night, which involved concentrating the city's army of 40 noise inspectors in 24 of its most ear-splitting neighbourhoods. It resulted in more than 30,000 court summonses, but the rest of the city was unaffected. "We knew all along that Silent Night was only a Band-Aid to a serious problem," the mayor said. The city council is already close to outlawing those car alarms that inevitably erupt at two in the morning and whoop and wail until dawn. But the package now being proposed by Mr Bloomberg is far more wide-ranging. Those who will be put on notice to lower their voices range from the construction industry to nightclubs and owners of boisterous air conditioners.

Construction companies, for instance, may find themselves forced to curtail their work during weekends. Mr Bloomberg also wants to force them to erect sound insulation walls around the noisiest of their worksites, while concrete-blasting jackhammers would have to be draped in insulating jackets.

The new rules for nightclubs may not be as stringent as some city dwellers would like. Fines will only be imposed if the throbbing from inside can be heard 15 feet away from the club, with its doors open.

The mayor conceded that he cannot simply silence the clubs. Already accused of depressing the nightlife with his smoking ban, he does not want to foster his kill-joy image further. Thus, he says, he aims to keep the city vibrant "by balancing the need for construction, development and an exciting night life with New Yorkers' well-deserved right to peace and quiet".

Air conditioners are vital salvation for most New Yorkers in summer. But the mayor says that they are simply too noisy. He aims to impose far stricter noise limits on the conditioners, especially where several are grouped together in clusters.

Not everyone is happy with the plan, of course. Among the first to raise their hand in distress is James Conway, owner of the Mister Softee fleet. "We're willing to work with the city on this, on some kind of compromise," he told The New York Times. "But we need the jingle. This is our livelihood, and we feel it's a New York institution."