CR worked with neighbors in Red Hook to gather data about truck traffic, air pollution and noise as warehouses proliferate in the area
A Numina traffic sensor in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Photo: Amir Hamja for The Guardian
Logistics companies like Amazon are expanding their delivery networks into more populous areas in order to deliver orders faster than ever. This push can bring clusters of warehouses to urban areas, increasing truck and van traffic, harmful air pollution and noise levels near people’s homes. Red Hook, a small waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn, is a prime example: Several Amazon warehouses, which were built without community input, are bringing big changes to an area already burdened with other environmental harms including lasting damage from Hurricane Sandy and unhealthy conditions in the borough’s largest public housing complex.
Residents in neighborhoods like Red Hook see the effects of increased traffic every day, but it’s often hard to advocate for change without data. To help fill that information gap, CR partnered with residents and a local nonprofit to build a network of sensors that measures several factors we heard were particularly important to people. The network is made up of three Numina camera-based sensors that count trucks and vans as they pass by; three PurpleAir air quality sensors that use lasers to measure the concentration of PM2.5, a type of harmful airborne microscopic particle; and a Convergence Instruments sound level meter, which picks up loudness in decibels but doesn’t record or store any audio.
We set up our sensor network in three key locations throughout the neighborhood: on two low rooftops along the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor—one across from a school playground—and on a volunteer’s balcony across from the Red Hook Houses, Brooklyn’s largest public housing complex. We gathered over six months of data, and supplemented the findings with interviews with dozens of Red Hook residents, elected officials, environmental advocates and experts.
- A traffic sensor on Red Hook’s main street counts nearly 1,000 trucks and vans on an average weekday. The street is lined with shops and restaurants, and regularly gets backed up with semis and double-parked vans.
- An air-quality sensor next to the Red Hook Houses, the neighborhood’s large public housing complex, measured 16 days between September 2022 and April 2023 with levels of particulate pollution the Environmental Protection Agency says can be harmful for sensitive groups such as people with asthma. Red Hook has disproportionately high asthma rates.
- A sound meter charts noises that are twice as loud as background levels every three minutes during daytime hours, and four times as loud every 30 minutes, on average.
- More warehouses are on their way to Red Hook. Several planned facilities, including one that is larger than a million square feet, could bring more than 1,300 additional trucks to the neighborhood every weekday.
The Red Hook sensor network continues to gather data, and our local partners are engaging community members to put the data to use to advocate for the neighborhood. It comes at a critical time, as local and state policymakers consider a slew of bills that would impose new requirements on warehouse operators. Red Hook’s community board, a quasi-governmental body, used CR’s investigation to call for a moratorium on new warehouses in the neighborhood.