Toronto’s too loud

By Laura Hull –

Our city, particularly down­town, has a constant hum of cars, people, animals, mo­torcycles and construction, among other things. The con­stant everyday noise, and noise spikes, have significant impacts on people’s health. But the city could do better.

Ingrid Buday, founder of No More Noise Toronto, a cam­paign to create community sup­port before the city reviews the noise bylaw later this year, has become quite knowledgeable about noise pollution in Toron­to. She said the most common sources of loud noises, accord­ing to 311 Toronto, are amplified music, construction and vehi­cles.

Harvey Watson manages the Air and Noise group at Burn­side, a company that assesses noise quality for municipalities, including the City of Toronto. In daytime, the default noise level for Burnside’s assessments is 50 decibels, he said, and at night it’s 45 decibels.

However, a 2016 study by Toronto Public Health called “How Loud is Too Loud” found that noise levels in Toronto were higher. Buday said noise has in­creased since the 2016 study, es­pecially after Covid-19 receded.

“When the cars were off the roads, we suddenly heard peo­ple talking, we heard birds, we slept better,” she said. “There was a collective sigh, and the earth moved less.”

Since then, many people can feel the effects of more noise. A quick social media call-out from the bridge regarding noise got many responses. Everyone had a story about noise disturbing their lives.

Many people living near ma­jor intersections or close to the Don Valley Parkway or the Gar­diner Expressway wrote that they are bothered by non-stop traffic. Others wrote of modi­fied vehicles whose drivers like to show off by loudly racing on residential streets.

Buday listed many potential side effects, emphasizing an­noyance, sleep disturbance, and hearing loss. Annoyance may not seem like a major problem, but it can lead to hopelessness, and combined with sleep depri­vation, can increase anxiety and depression.

“Our bodies are constantly listening, so the constant annoy­ance also causes the body to re­lease stress hormones, thicken­ing the arteries, which can lead to heart disease, strokes, diabe­tes, hypertension, among other things,” Buday said.

“Health impacts can start at a really young age,” she added. Children trying to learn get dis­tracted by noise, reducing their ability to think and hindering the learning process.

Toronto has by-laws to re­duce the impact of noise, and suggests that residents report excessive noise to the city’s in­formation gateway (call 311 or email [email protected]). But ac­cording to Watson, Buday and Alexandre Piccini, an acoustic engineer, these measures aren’t effective, especially regarding vehicles.

The pass-by test for road vehi­cle certification assesses if a ve­hicle works properly: “you can hear it subtly, but it’s not disturb­ing you,” Piccini explained. “As long as everybody is complying with the rules, there wouldn’t be any problems.” However, people don’t always obey the law.

Abnormally loud vehicles of­ten have “minimalistic and un­certified aftermarket parts, or a damaged system,” Piccini said. Inspection loopholes make law enforcement harder.

“In practice, it seems that there aren’t enough resources to handle all the complaints the city has, and so priority seems to go to recurring complaints,” said Piccini.

Buday agreed, saying the en­forcement process is flawed. Stopping vehicles over noise “has to be done by two depart­ments, the police and the by-law officers, which makes it slow,” she said. “Plus, the process to report to 311 is flawed.”

“Toronto police themselves said that doing noise enforce­ment blitzes is not worth the time, so right there is police en­dorsement that the by-laws need to be stronger,” she added.

How can you protect your­self from noise pollution? Many on social media suggested noise-cancelling headphones, or creating artificial white noise to help with sleep. Watson said building contractors should “put in better windows or better walls that reduce the amount of noise that goes through.”

Buday urged concerned peo­ple to sign up for city updates about the by-law review and stay informed.

“People need to show up to public meetings, have people tell their story and voice their concerns,” she added. “When it comes time for the bylaw review in November, people should de­pute, they should send in emails to City Council, they should speak their mind and speak loudly about noise.”


Thank You Laura for your insightful article regarding the noise levels in this city. I agree, this city is very noisy. I recently visited Paris and London. Cities, 10x the size, over 20 million people each.
Quiet! How is this possible I thought.
No helicopters flying overhead 15 hrs per day. No vehicles beeping while reversing, and they have road construction and delivery vehicles, no one seems to die because there vehicles don’t beep. No car alarms. No car honking, maybe the odd “toot” . No loud music. No loud motor bikes, speeding cars in the city. No drug addicts having 3 hr. screaming meltdowns. They have homelessness, they just didn’t seem as crazy.
With an emergency here, we hear 3 fire trucks, 5 police cars then an ambulance or 2. The alarms are so loud that if they start them while going down the street and you are on the side walk, you will jump out of your skin and have to plug your ears from the pain. There, 1 ambulance, perhaps a police car, the level of the sound quite acceptable.
All the mitigations you mention in the article are important but it comes down to each person in society understanding and doing there part to make the city livable.
I will be signing up for city updates regarding by-law reviews.