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Expert confirms dangerous noise levels in New Orleans French Quarter

At the request of New Orleans residents, Mr. Arno Bommer, a nationally recognized and certified expert in acoustics, noise and vibration, measured sound levels in and around clubs of New Orleans and found they routinely and significantly exceeded the maximum allowed standards by city and state laws, and present a significant risk of harm to those exposed to the excessive noise.

Hear the Music Stop the Noise logoAccording to Mr. Bommer, sound levels at the clubs of French Quarter bars are the most concerning. Measurements at the doors of Bourbon Street clubs can exceed 105 dBA and can produce sound levels over 95 dBA on the streets.

Uptown, Marigny and other neighborhood music districts also have consistent problems when live music venues exceed neighborhood noise limits, especially after midnight.

“People regularly exposed to the very high sound levels can suffer permanent hearing loss,” said Mr. Bommer. “From my observations, some clubs produce sound levels that present a significant risk of hearing loss to musicians, employees and patrons. Even on sidewalks and in the middle of Bourbon Street, sound levels are sufficiently high to cause permanent hearing loss.”

Due to neighbor complaints, one bar studied before Mardi Gras was the Balcony Music Club at Decatur and Esplanade. Neighbors expressed concerned that even the area firefighters couldn’t sleep during their shifts. Mr. Bommer documented that in January, 2012, the bar routinely exceeded established nighttime noise limits of 55-60 dBA.


french quarter balcony noise level

From this one sample, Mr. Bommer noted, “The excessive sound levels are nearly continuous.” Similar results occurred from measurements at the Old Opera House on Bourbon Street and from the Courtyard of Pat O’Brien’s.

Measurements were also taken at the Uptown bar of Le Bon Temps Roule, 4801 Magazine St., where residents have similarly complained of noise violations but been unable to get police assistance in enforcing the noise ordinance. Mr. Bommer’s monitoring showed the club exceeded the ordinance limits, especially after midnight.


french quarter noise levels

Neighborhood groups contend excessive noise from the Quarter is keeping residents and tourists alike from enjoying the music and culture of the area, but also causing health problems. Mr. Bommer concurred that excessive noise is not just a nuisance, but also a health risk.

“Depending on the orientation of a business’s openings, the sound can be projected down otherwise quiet side streets, impeding neighbors’ ability to comfortably enjoy their property, as required by law,” said Mr. Bommer.

Mr. Bommer noted during his study that the city’s noise ordinance is rarely enforced, and to be enforceable clubs would have to make some sound-proofing modifications. He encouraged employees to wear ear plugs to prevent hearing loss.

One of the simplest suggestions he offered is simply enforcing a municipal ordinance provision that prohibits shops from directing speakers into the street. On March 8, Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens is scheduled to hear a trial enforcing the first code violation of that provision of the noise ordinance.

He noted that just stopping retail shops from blaring sound onto sidewalks and the streets would make a significant improvement.
Mr. Bommer offered several suggestions that would allow clubs to accept the expense of monitoring their noise and logging this measurement data into a computer for easier municipal reporting.

Mr. Bommer noted that one club owner in New Orleans renovated the stage, installed sound proofing, and now uses personal monitors for the musicians.  The owner likes the results.

“While this is not the only business model for a club, it is appropriate for eliminating the noise impacts of those clubs that are situated such that they produce excessive sound levels at residences,” noted Mr. Bommer in his report.

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