Sunday Video: Cities Aren’t Loud, Cars Are Loud


Not Just Bikes explores noise in cities and the impacts to people. A key point of the video is just how much noise cars introduce to otherwise quite places.

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Stephen is an urban planner with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. Stephen lives in Kenmore and primarily covers land use and transportation issues for The Urbanist.

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hayley b

amazed that no one is naming trash trucks and other idling truck activity in the comments. truly ear-smashingly loud.

i loved the lack of car traffic during the early pandemic – it was so peaceful. the idling/engine revving/honking of cars is this totally accepted part of urban life, but it’s so unnecessary. ditto leaf blowers, i’ve never seen (heard of) such a useless source of noise.

the trash trucks, on the other hand, are necessary – but my GODS can someone make them quieter??? my absolute nemesis. i’m no joke leaving the city because of them (slightly exaggeration but not fundamentally untrue).

Eveline Mueller-Graf

Remember when Seattle Closed ONE block in Downtown (Westlake Center)?? And it was unsustainable… “How do I go shopping?” everyone shoutet.
And thank you for that great video! I had many wonderful times in Holland. As well as other European cities with vast pedestrian only zones.

Last edited 2 months ago by Eveline Mueller-Graf

Can we also ban leaf blowers while we’re at it, please?


yes please!


Great video!

I’d like to also take this opportunity to ask people to please lock your cars without horn honking. It’s very obnoxious and it’s gotten a lot worse in recent years, as vehicle manufacturers(*) have encouraged the practice by making it far too easy. Please be especially considerate of others when parking late at night – a single 2 AM horn honk wakes up the entire block.

(*) I have found Nissan to be one of the worst offenders, as their cars seem to always honk every time you lock them, but if you dig through the owners manual, it is possible to shut this off.

Two other big sources of urban noise not mentioned in the video are leaf blowers and airplanes. Leaf blowers have become a particularly big problem since people started working from home due to COVID, and can make the *inside* of nearby homes around 70 dB or more for up to an hour at a time (with the windows closed). Washington D.C. has an outright ban on gas-powered leaf blowers going into affect in a couple years – I really wish Seattle would do the same.

Airplane noise is mostly concentrated in neighborhoods in flight paths of large airports, but it is a big problem in many Seattle neighborhoods, including Beacon Hill, Capitol Hill, and Montlake. One thing that makes airplane noise particularly insidious is that even in parks, away from cars, you can’t get away from it – the only way to get away from it is to either go indoors or somewhere miles away, out of the flight path.

Eveline Mueller-Graf

You forgot weed wackers!… another favorite of Americans.
And airplanes should stop flying at 10pm. According to noise ordinance.


Are leaf blowers a particularly american thing? I don’t think I know anyone who owns one. (in the uk) also it sounds more of a suburban problem than a city problem.

Stephen Fesler

They’re quite common in the US. I’ve lived in both contexts, so I’d say they’re just as prevalent in cities and possibly more so since leaf collection is more problematic (sidewalks and drains) and whatever else one feels compelled to blow away. Of course, the noise impact is higher in cities because there are more people nearby. If you feel like hurting your ears…


Leaf blowers are primarily a suburban problem, largely because there’s a lot more square feet of lawn to blow. It is true that most people don’t own them, but that’s only because people don’t like to do their own lawns anymore and, instead, hire landscapers to do it for them.

Back when people did lawns themselves, they might decide that the marginal benefit of blowing wasn’t enough to justify listening to the noise and breathing the pollution (or the expense of buying the blower). Now, leaf blowing is just part of the standard lawn package, so unless the owner objects, it just happens after every mowing by default. Typically, the owners are away at work while the blowing is happening, so they’re not the ones listening to it or breathing the exhaust, so they have no reason to object.