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An invisible threat: how sustainable mobility can help reduce noise pollution in cities

4 April 2023

Noise is the second largest environmental health threat in Europe. At least one in every five Europeans is exposed to noise levels that are harmful to their health.

With 20% of the EU population experiencing excessive noise levels, the most disruptive of which come from road, rail and air traffic, sustainable and active mobility offer key solutions to help combat this invisible health hazard.

Cities and towns across Europe struggle with the toll noise pollution takes on residents’ daily lives. Data from the European Environment Agency identifies Paris as one of Europe’s noisiest cities: more than 5.5 million people suffer due to noise that exceeds 55 decibels; 432,000 French residents take tranquillisers to cope with it. Meanwhile, 2.6 million people in London and 1.7 million people in Rome are exposed to disruptive levels of noise.

In addition to the myriad short and long-term health risks exacerbated or created by noise pollution, including increased blood pressure, problems focusing, insomnia and cardiovascular issues, the cost of noise comes with a heavy price tag. A report from CE Delft estimates that the social cost of road traffic noise in Europe is between 30 - 46 billion euros per year, representing approximately 0.4% of total GDP.

So, what is being done to mitigate this unseen threat to our health?

The European Environmental Noise Directive is designed to help cities identify, and reduce, noise pollution levels. Relevant authorities are also encouraged to join the Green City Accord to achieve better compliance with pollution-prevention laws, including the Environmental Noise Directive.

Local and national governments are also developing targeted Noise Plans to address pollution levels, such as Paris’ Plan Bruit which introduced numerous sustainable mobility solutions, including the installation of sound barriers, roadside noise checks and low-noise asphalt. In addition, the plan supports the French capital’s ongoing efforts to minimise car traffic in the city centre and expand cycling networks, while banning the most polluting vehicles.

Sustainable and active mobility solutions are an integral part of less noisy environments. As part of EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, thousands of towns and cities across Europe have implemented permanent measures that reduce car speeds, especially around school zones, which is also an effective measure for reducing traffic noise. The extension or creation of green areas is another holistic solution to tackle both noise and air pollution, and as part of the campaign, over 3,600 new greenways have been constructed.

While noise pollution may not be the most obvious issue cities have to confront to improve quality of life for residents, it is an important part of people’s daily lives and can significantly impact wellbeing. Sustainable mobility solutions and active mobility choices, such as walking or cycling, can help reduce noise pollution and create environments that are more comfortable to live, work and play in.

Learn more about the impact of the EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK campaign and the permanent measures implemented by participating towns and cities, here.