Sunday, October 21, 2007

People Watching

A few weekends ago, Oct. 6, I volunteered for a public survey organized by Gehl Architects and the New York City Department of Transportation. Basically, the Danish architecture firm is helping the city gauge vehicular and pedestrian traffic levels at various intersections in the five boroughs.

Meeting one of the organizers at Worth Square early in the afternoon, I was stationed at four different locations. Position A was on the south side of 34th Street just east of 6th Avenue and Broadway -- across from the tree in front of H&M on the opposite side of the street. Position B was roughly across the street from position A, across from the entrance to the Gap, standing under the H&M sign. Position C was on the west side of 6th Avenue, just uptown from the subway entrance. Position D was across the park, on the east side of Broadway by the fire hydrant in front of the Duane Reade.

Between 2 p.m. and 6:55 p.m., I stood at those four locations, counting pedestrians, cars, and taxis using a six-button Multiple Tally Denominator made by the Denominator Co. in Woodbury, Connecticut. With a Sper Scientific stopwatch (model 810022), I marked off five- and 10-minute intervals at each station, counting people and vehicles that passed by on my side of the street during that timeframe.


  • Count all the pedestrians walking through the street. Count pedestrians in both directions. Count pedestrians on one side of the street.
  • Count children, also children carried by parents.
  • Count people on rollerskates and skateboards as pedestrians.
  • Don't count people on bikes.
  • Use your stopwatch and counter. Check your equipment is working after a couple of minutes.
  • Remember to start from 0 at each count.
  • You don't have to talk to people asking questions, if you are busy. You might need to show your "official letter."

Here's my tally:

Location A
Time intervalsPedestriansVehiclesTaxisNotes

Location B
Time intervalsPedestriansVehiclesTaxisNotes
1710-17154894414Purse vendors there, gone (narrowed way)
1815-18259498911Ice cream truck at corner

Location C
Time intervalsPedestriansVehiclesTaxisNotes
1520-15253437671Car accident: Truck hit and stopped

Location D
Time intervalsPedestriansVehiclesTaxisNotes

During one of the shifts in front of the Duane Reade, I even got to meet Jan Gehl, who's been running Gehl Architects for about seven years now. He was making the rounds himself, taking sample counts at select intersections.

While the work wasn't very difficult, it was a fascinating experience. It was a great excuse to people watch for several hours, and it really brought home that city life and traffic have rhythms and cycles. It'll be interesting to see what comes of the study!

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