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Spatial distribution of traffic induced noise exposures in a US city: an analytic tool for assessing the health impacts of urban planning decisions

Edmund Yet Wah Seto1*, Ashley Holt2, Tom Rivard3 and Rajiv Bhatia34

Author Affiliations

1 Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

2 Environmental Science Policy Management, College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

3 Department of Public Health, San Francisco, CA, USA

4 Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, USA

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2007, 6:24  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-6-24

Published: 21 June 2007



Vehicle traffic is the major source of noise in urban environments, which in turn has multiple impacts on health. In this paper we investigate the spatial distribution of community noise exposures and annoyance. Traffic data from the City of San Francisco were used to model noise exposure by neighborhood and road type. Remote sensing data were used in the model to estimate neighborhood-specific percentages of cars, trucks, and buses on arterial versus non-arterial streets. The model was validated on 235 streets. Finally, an exposure-response relationship was used to predict the prevalence of high annoyance for different neighborhoods.


Urban noise was found to increase 6.7 dB (p < 0.001) with 10-fold increased street traffic, with important contributors to noise being bus and heavy truck traffic. Living along arterial streets also increased risk of annoyance by 40%. The relative risk of annoyance in one of the City's fastest growing neighborhoods, the South of Market Area, was found to be 2.1 times that of lowest noise neighborhood. However, higher densities of exposed individuals were found in Chinatown and Downtown/Civic Center. Overall, we estimated that 17% of the city's population was at risk of high annoyance from traffic noise.


The risk of annoyance from urban noise is large, and varies considerably between neighborhoods. Such risk should be considered in urban areas undergoing rapid growth. We present a relatively simple GIS-based noise model that may be used for routinely evaluating the health impacts of environmental noise.