What About a Taxi Honkometer?

Curbed and A Test of Will are carrying photos of a construction project at Broadway and John Street. These photos reminded me of an incident on Saturday morning as I was returning home from photographing 66 Leonard Street and 380 Lafayette Street for the ever-expanding Hardenbergh architectural database.

I was cycling down congested Broadway. Just past City Hall, the traffic had to wait as one of the trucks you can see in the pictures was making a left-hand turn, with great difficulty, onto John Street. Then I had the following conversation.


I turned around to see a cabby talking on his cell phone, obviously too busy to pay attention to the affect his actions would have on the world around him.

“Hey! What’s the point of honking like that?”

“Did I honk at you, bro?”

“No, but it annoys everybody, not just that guy.”

“He knows he’s not supposed to turn like that.”

A-HA! So the cabby was jolting scores of pedestrians out of their socks and annoying who knows how many people in the adjacent buildings because an overworked guy driving a super-noisy, eight-ton truck loaded with lumber that was destined for the exact spot where he was maneuvering would understand that he wasn’t supposed to be turning like that. Either that, OR the cabby was just upset he wasn’t moving faster than he would be in the car commercials.

Here are the problems with honking, as I see them:

  • As a monotone blast, it fails to communicate any actual information.
  • It annoys many people who are not the intended recipient of the transmission.
  • It shows that drivers forget that many of the people within earshot are not ensconced in metal-and-glass exoskeletons.
  • It rarely makes anybody go any faster.

My ever-innovative friend Gary says that all cabbies should be given a honkometer, which would charge cabbies X cents for every honk after a certain threshold is passed each month. They can still do it in cases of severe emergency (because there are always those times when you see someone darting in front of the cab and would rather hit the horn than the brakes), but they would simply know they are being charged.

Is there any reason this idea wouldn’t work?

- Fulton Street Transit Hub Update: Screw Cutesy [Curbed]
- Corbin Building Scaffolded [A Test of Will]

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10 Responses to What About a Taxi Honkometer?

  1. mike says:


    An excellent idea! Another suggestion I’ve heard: make the honk as loud inside as it is outside.


  2. Ianqui says:

    The problem is that it isn’t just cabbies. Everyone needs a honkometer. Otherwise, I like Mike’s suggestion.

    Alternatively, I think we should have a couple of unplanned days a year when the cops actually enforce the $300 No Honking fine. I realize the police don’t have the manpower to enforce it all the time, but if people don’t know when it’s going to happen, they may at least be a little more careful.

  3. Brit says:

    OHmygod try living n Korea. It’s like their hands are surgically attached to their horns.

  4. AD says:

    Mike, HAHA, that’s a great idea too.

    Ianqui, you’re absolutely right. Everyone needs a honkometer. The only reason to start with cabbies would be that they’re easier to regulate (via the TLC), and as Transportation Alternatives has noted in lobbying for raises for cab drivers, they “set the tone” and pace of traffic in Manhattan.

  5. Mitch says:

    Perhaps taxi drivers should be required to learn morse code. They still might use their horns a lot, but at least they would be communicating information.

  6. AD says:

    .-.. — .-.. .- -. — – …. . .-. –. .-. . .- – .–. — .. -. -!

    Another great point. You’re on a roll Mike. (I’m a Ham radio operator, we have to learn the code to pass our exams.)

  7. Anonymous says:

    A sensitive issue for me – and I don’t even live or work in the city! But out here in the ‘burbs people honk, too. The rude sound makes my peace-loving soul jump out of my skin. I believe this mini-trauma creates bad vibes that echo into our atmosphere – jolting everyone/thing in it’s echo path. Anyway, I think the solution is to change the sound of the horn. Rather than the rude “AHNN!!!” why not polite chimes, or the audio equivilent of “excuse me” (“mmMMMmm”? Sound like a good idea?

  8. AD says:

    Absolutely! That’s a great idea.

  9. aaron says:

    Ah, my favorite topic in the entire world, honking. Thanks, AD.

    First off, forget the honk-o-meter. I think that all we have to do to solve this problem is to design horns so that whenever you hit it, it sounds inside your own car as well as outside your car. That would make the motorheads think twice.

    You know, when cars first started appearing in urban areas, they were often outfitted with separate “city horns” that were softer and less jarring than the “country horns” which were designed to be able to move a herd of cows off the road.

    Today’s horns are often designed to be heard by cars moving at highway speeds where you might need to notify someone of an emergency as far as an eighth of a mile ahead of you. Likewise, the horns are also part of the car’s brand identity and, unfortunately, many new car makers want their vehicles to convey a tough, agressive, intimidating identity.

    I think horn-blasting in NYC is an utterly sociopathic act. I think you have to either hate the people outside your car to do it. Or you have to just not care about them. I’d estimate that something like 1% of all NYC horn-blasting is necessary. I think the numbers justify the possibility of completely getting rid of the horn altogether.

    I think horn volume and pitch should be regulated as a part of the annual vehicle inspections process. If you horn is too loud, you don’t get your sticker.

    Back in the day, I sometimes used to honk back at people. I’d get right up in their open window and yell, “Hoooonk!” at the top of my lungs as close to their face as I could get. This is a great way to get killed and I don’t suggest anyone do it, though, wow, is it satisfying.

    Sales pitch for my book: http://www.honku.org.

  10. AD says:

    Aaron, great comment – I appreciate that information. Thanks. Yes, I recall your post over at your blog about the honking in people’s windows. It’s a fair thing to do, but … let me put it to you this way: I’m glad you’re still with us.