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City looking to overhaul noise bylaw

Last Updated Apr 4, 2018 at 7:13 pm EDT

Have you heard the buzz? So much noise is being made about traffic tremors, construction clamour and utility-work racket in Toronto that city hall is looking to overhaul what sounds should be against its bylaws.

This, as the city faces a new challenge: it will soon be responsible for investigating noise complaints — currently under the purview of Toronto police — with no additional funding for staff in the current 2018 budget.

Mark Sraga, the city’s director of investigation services, said the goal is to have bylaw officers respond faster to high-priority noise complaints.

“I think we could do better. That’s why we’re doing the review,” Sraga said.

Currently, noise coming from licensed establishments are to be investigated within 48 hours. Noise from construction projects or private homes should be investigated within five business days.

“Those are our stated service levels. Our response times are better than that,” Sraga said. “But that’s part and parcel of what we’re looking at and assessing how we do respond to noise complaints, prioritizing it, making the most effective use of our resources, as well as addressing the issues of the impacted residents.”

According to a city report on the ongoing noise bylaw review, noise complaints would instead be given high, medium and low priority. The report recommends responding to a complaint within 24 hours is if the noise is heard every day with multiple complaints. Medium priority calls — to be investigated within five days — would require the noise to be heard once every week or two with multiple complaints. One-off occurrences may just be monitored.

This comes after a number of downtown city councillors voiced their opposition to a new rule introduced by Mayor John Tory that forces utility crews to do much of their work on downtown streets outside of daylight hours.

Last month, Tory announced utility companies and their subcontractors are no longer allowed to do planned maintenance work between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on streets bounded by Dundas Street to the north, Lake Shore Boulevard and Harbour Street to the south, Bathurst Street to the west and Jarvis Street to the east.

After public objections from downtown councillors Joe Cressy and Kristyn Wong-Tam, the mayor noted that a city bylaw prohibiting loud noise overnight will still apply.

As part of the city review, Toronto Public Health (TPH) also did its own study on the state of noise in the city, finding 62 per cent of the time the average noise level in Toronto was above provincial guidelines.

CityNews reporter Amanda Ferguson asked TPH about its findings — and the effect of noise on human health. See her Q&A with Ronald Macfarlane, manager of healthy public policy, below.

CityNews: What was the mandate of the study?

Macfarlane: The Environmental Noise Study was undertaken in support of the review of the noise bylaw to better determine the exposure to noise in Toronto. TPH’s role was to monitor the health impacts of environmental noise in Toronto.

C: What did it look at?

M: The study reviewed the current evidence on the impacts of noise on health and undertook a noise monitoring and modelling study to estimate the exposure to noise in Toronto.

C: What were some of its findings and recommendations?

M: Levels of noise in Toronto are similar to levels of noise in other cities such as Montreal and Vancouver.

Transportation is the largest source of noise in Toronto.

People in Toronto are exposed to noise above exposure guidelines established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

C: What is the effect of noise on human health?

M: Environmental noise refers to outdoor noise from roads, rail, air, as well as construction noise, entertainment systems (amplified sound), small machinery, air conditioners and people. The health effects of noise that could occur at levels commonly experienced in urban environments include cognitive impacts, sleep disturbance, mental health and cardiovascular effects.