Deaf in DUMBO

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Now hear this: DUMBO may be the city’s most-fashionable neighborhood, but the arty area down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass is so noisy that even its own community association president just moved away because she couldn’t take it anymore.

“I’ve lost some hearing as a result [of working and living here],” said DUMBO Neighborhood Association President Karen Johnson, who used to live on Plymouth Street, hard by the Manhattan Bridge with its truck traffic and B, D, N, and Q trains.

“I moved out of DUMBO because the noise was too much,” she said.

Certainly there are noisy neighborhoods all over town. But DUMBO is measurably, objectively, and scientifically eardrum-rattling.

At the intersection of John and Adams streets, sound engineers recorded 80 decibels of sound during the day — a full 30 decibels more than “typical” urban daytime noise.

Other intersections were only slightly more pleasant, with the corner of Jay and John streets clocking in at 71.5 decibels and a corner in Empire–Fulton Ferry State Park registering 71.7, according to an environmental study conducted for the proposed Brooklyn Bridge Park development.

DUMBO residents have taken matters into their own hands — for example, new and renovated buildings routinely install double-paned windows. And the community Web site offers a running list of local contractors who can insulate apartments from the noise.

It’s so bad that one concerned DUMBO resident posted a copy of that study in the window of a grocery store at Washington and Front streets under bright yellow text that read “Deaf and DUMBO.”

New high-rise condos such as the 33-story J and the 23-story Beacon Tower have added to the problem because train and car noise from the Manhattan Bridge bounces off the fa├žades and into the windows of lower-lying buildings, residents said.

“It’s just something we live with,” said DUMBO Improvement District Executive Director Kate Kerrigan. “We mentioned it in our annual report as something to think about,” though noise is still behind street repaving and other renovations as higher priorities.

Despite those priorities, Kerrigan and her group are actively trying to reclaim some long-forsaken spaces under and around the booming Manhattan Bridge for use as public areas — but the main problem is the cacophony.

When she shows off the spaces, she said, “it’s always interesting to hear other people’s reactions to the noise, because when you’re living or working down here you get used to it.”

Well, not everyone — Johnson said she couldn’t sleep at night despite thick windows, but her efforts to work with the city to tamp down the tumult came to no avail.

“Changing the train patterns doesn’t seem likely. We have received complaints about truck traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but I’m not really sure what anyone can do about it,” she said.

Furniture maker Eric Manigan, whose studio is in DUMBO, wishes someone would do something because the noise “rocks the whole neighborho­od.”

“There’s a serious noise issue, especially in the summer when people want to sleep with their windows open. If the noise wakes you up one or two times a night, you’re ragged,” he said, noting that sleep deprivation is often used as a form of psychological torture.

— with Liza Eckert

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Reader Feedback

Deaf & Dumb from DUMBO says:
you can move it's not prison, prison is quieter
Sept. 26, 2008, 12:02 am
alpankin from downtown says:
gee, what would you expect living under a bridge in an old industrial area? if you want peace and quiet you move to the country. or maybe, if you're hard of hearing living there would be a perfect place, or maybe you'll become hard of hearing after a while. anyway, it's a great view, if you can forget the noise.
Sept. 27, 2008, 6:27 am
NS from Dumbo says:
I live on 70 Washington near the BQE side and I am never bothered by noise. With our windows closed we don't hear a thing. With the windows open we hear the horns of cars or the occasional siren but no more than we ever heard when we lived on the Upper West Side.
Sept. 29, 2008, 10:22 am
mike from ev says:
You know what can be done about it? Congestion pricing.
Sept. 30, 2008, 8:29 am
cls from DUMBO says:
congestion pricing? It's the subway that is the big noise contributor.
Oct. 2, 2008, 5:02 pm

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