Saturday Evening in Jackson Heights, Queens: Feel the Pain

Fed up with the dysfunction of New York City’s streets, people all around the city are picking up video cameras and making their own StreetFilms. The one above is pretty amazing. Unless you like the sound of car horns honking, make sure your volume is turned down before you press "play."

This StreetFilm was produced by Will Sweeney and Kozo Okumura around the palindrome intersection of 37th Ave. and 73rd St. in Jackson Heights, Queens on a Saturday evening at about 6 pm. Will writes:

We put together the video because we wanted to show
how visceral the problem is on a daily basis. The problem of traffic
congestion has so many side effects that are difficult to communicate
in words or still images. Also, most residents would cite noise as the
main complaint, particularly horn honking.

Will and Kozo are part of a growing group of neighborhood
documentarians who are submitting work to StreetFilms. Last
month Brooklynite Doug Gordon shot this video of car traffic illegally entering Prospect Park. Likewise, Ian Dutton of Community Board 2 in Manhattan has been video-taping bike facilities to show the reality of what it takes to get around New York City on a bicycle, at times.

So how about you? It doesn’t take much these days. You don’t
need a great camera, just some patience, steady hand and an idea that you want to communicate. Check out
some of our StreetFilm-making tips then send it in to us to post.

  • Gizler

    A suggestion was made last year by a Times reader in response to Mayor Bloomberg’s call for quality of life suggestions, as follows:

    Suggestion: Counters should be installed in taxicab horns. Each month, cabdrivers would pay for the number of times they honked (they might be given a generous allowance of free honks for safety). The cost per honk could be relatively low, maybe 50 cents. The knowledge that disturbing the peace isn’t entirely free might quiet the pointless use of car horns, or at least raise some revenue. If the plan is a success, it might be expanded to other vehicles in the city.

    — Thomas Talbot, Upper West Side

    Matthew W. Daus, chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, responded: “Hornhonking for any reason other than to warn of danger is simply unacceptable, which is why it is singled out for mention in the ‘Passenger Bill of Rights.’ We definitely appreciate the highly creative approaches to this issue, but continue to believe that the best way to hold drivers appropriately accountable is to report incidents by calling 311.”

  • Gizler

    Obviously calling 311 every time someone honks is not a working or workable solution. I think if there was a way to charge even a dime or quarter per honk, for not just taxis, we would see a big change fast.

  • nobody

    Call 311?! Haha, that’s funny Mr. Daus. I’d be on the phone all day.

  • momos

    It’s unfair to focus only on taxi drivers. As a regular bike rider on the city’s avenues, I find SUV and luxury car drivers to be much worse.

    Many taxis certainly drive aggressively, but in my experience they also swerve around bicyclists while SUV and luxury cars (Acura TLs in particular, for some reason) blare their horns while not letting up an inch on the gas pedal or deviating so much as a centimeter from a straight line — usually forcing me, the bicyclist, to veer off the road and nearly into the lines of parked vehicles.

    As much as I dislike abusive taxis, it’s important to remember that drivers are a low-paid group working hard for a living and who have a higher place in the city’s transportation hierarchy than private autos. Any crack down on taxis should also include the broader driving public.

  • Steve

    Great job, Will and Kozo–its a lot harder to do this than it looks! The nice steady camera work and the captions establish a rhythm that builds really well to the climax.

    I agree that most cab drivers (like most professional drivers) are careful of bicyclists, and that the black car and livery drivers are the worst. There are of course exceptions.

  • Damian

    Starts off strong, but by the end, it just comes across as a litany of complaints about more or less everything. Traffic congestion? Yeah, a huge problem, and totally relevant to bring up, especially right now. Illegal sidewalk vendors? Uhh, ok. That clearly cuts down on pedestrian space. But litter? Come on. And what exactly is unsafe about that building? Let’s focus on the major issue here: too many cars.

  • Art

    So the gentry have arrived at Jackson Heights. I never would have seen something like this come from longtime residents.

    Having grown up roughly 7 blocks from this intersection (that Duane Reade used to be a Key Food), I can tell you it has always been busy, but it has gotten appreciably worse in the last 5-10 years.

    Cracking down on those double-parkers would be a start. I would like to see parking removed on one side of the street (and use the other side for deliveries) and have the sidewalk widened, particularly between Broadway and 37th Ave.

  • Ace

    Make the horns sound just as loud inside the car as they do on the outside.

  • Damian,
    regarding the litany of complaints, i feel all these problems stem from inadequate space for pedestrians/buses/bikes. When ppl feel they don’t own something they tend to abuse it. Right now the neighborhood is the domain of the car, and pedestrians feel like they are intruding on that domain. As the experience is generally negative people aren’t going to feel bad about littering etc, because you’re not littering on “your” neighborhood street. As weird as that sounds, i feel that that is a major contributor to the mix.
    I’m sure someone might say that perhaps people just come to this country with differing standards as to what is acceptable or the norm in the public domain, ie littering & street vendors.
    However, I honestly believe that if the streets were welcoming and clean, people would treat the streets and neighborhoods accordingly.

  • Ian D

    See, before I watched this video, I thought that by honking, suddenly all the traffic cleared up and the honk-er would be free to drive at whatever speed he or she pleased.

    But that didn’t seem to be working in this video.

    Apparently, this subtle point was lost on the drivers.

  • Scott :)

    Brilliant! I just moved to this block three months ago and am AMAZED at the amount of noise and congestion. Cars just stop in the middle of the street and think nothing of it – then the honking starts. Believe me, this video is not an exageration. It’s like this until about 10 pm EVERY day! Great job documenting!

  • ddartley

    Ace, No. 8: brilliant, brilliant idea. I once heard Aaron N. mention the same thing. I wish I had more hope that it could actually become a reality one day…

  • anonymiss

    I know this is going to sound incredibly stupid, and hippy dippy, but mandating that certain kinds of cars be electric would make an incredible difference in NYC.

    A few months ago, I was walking down a city street, and one of those hybrid cars pulled up to a stop light as I was crossing the street. It had shut off the engine, and was in “battery only” mode. What was amazing was that the damn thing just snuck up on me! I never heard it.

    And then I kept walking down the street, and in contrast, the relentless engine noise was overwhelming in contrast. It was like a constant roar that I was hearing for the first time. I was like “what? I don’t have to put up with this?”

    Really, if we replaced all the cars we could with electric ones, it would make a huge difference–air quality, but immediately in terms of noise pollution.

    If we mandated cabs were all electric (and, of course, figured out some kind of subsidy to pay for the hardworking cabbies to switch over), that would make a HUGE difference. Likewise, what about credits for commuters who switched over? Maybe exempting electric cars from the congestion pricing?

    It would be a quality of life improvement akin to getting horses off the streets. Our grandchildren will wonder how we ever put up with it.

    The honking? I dunno what to do.

  • pete

    i believe that queens county has more registered vehicles then any other county in the country(jackson hights is also the most diverse neighborhood in the country), is there a way to confirm that? someone should also film main street in flushing.

  • MD

    I went through Jackson Heights on Sunday, taking the bus from LaGuardia – via 82 St, I think. The street was narrow and every time we came up to a double-parked car the driver leaned on his horn until the car moved.

    It was one of those new buses and it had the high-pitched horn sound that a lot of cars have now (thanks, MTA). Listening to the horn was painful from inside the bus, I can’t imagine what it was like outside.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Excellent work. I disagree with the inclusion of “over-development” in the litany of complaints. Depends on what you call development. I think it was under-development. If density is your beef you should be explicit but I would disagree with you there as well. It is not the density that is the problem but the civic management of that density. It is not possible to find the open space you crave with out increasing density somewhere to make up the difference. Density makes Central Park possible.

  • Emily

    I live in Jackson Heights and this video is painfully accurate. I understand Niccolo’s questioning the use of the term ‘over-development’. My understanding is that it refers to when a commercial developer is allowed to build in the area without the city increasing services, infastructure or management. Most people, myself included, moved to JH for the density and the diversity. That said, unfortunately, JH does not have a Central Park for all its density. There is not a single public green space in the neighborhood. 🙁

  • Sara

    Sweeney is such a hypocrite. He complains about the traffic and noise, but yet he drives a gas guzzling SUV (he’s a neighbor). One of the things that drew me to Jackson Heights is the diversity of the neighborhood and how the different cultures worked together. Sweeney’s just targeting the hard working immigrants of this culturally diverse neighbhorhood. Perhaps they’re just not white enough for him.

  • Drew

    Sara,

    I don’t see what part of this video is “targeting” hard working immigrants or cultural diversity. Are you suggesting that hard working immigrants enjoy traffic congestion, horn-honking and air pollution? Or that environmental degradation is the natural state-of-being for these hard working immigrants and any attempt to change that is an affront to their culture? Or maybe you’re suggesting that angry horn-blasting and fist-shaking is what drew you to Jackson Hts and is an example of the beauty of diverse cultures working together in NYC. Please explain.

    Also, I don’t know if it’s actually true that one of the filmmakers owns an SUV but I don’t think it matters one bit. Personally, I’d love to see more NYC car owners making StreetFilms and doing advocacy aimed at reducing traffic congestion, enhancing transit, cycling and walking, improving the environment and making it easier for New Yorkers — including themselves — to get around without cars and SUV’s.

    If that’s hypocrisy, then bring it on. I’d like to see more of it.

  • tmchale

    “i believe that queens county has more registered vehicles then any other county in the country”

    Not likely. LA county has 10,245,672 people and the majority of households own cars.

    I would believe that Queens has the most registered vehicles of any county/borough in NYC though…

  • Norm

    Thanks for the video. As a Jackson Heights resident, I see this sort of thing all the time. It seems especially bad on Roosevelt and 37th Ave. and along 82nd St., 74th St. and 73rd St. I’ve heard that there’s been talk of turning 37th Ave. into either a one-way street or a pedestrian walkway. Is there any truth to either of these rumors?

    I’ve also seen the city crack down on unlicensed vendors a couple of times. But it’s not a regular thing. Unless it becomes a regular thing, the unlicensed vendors aren’t going anywhere. I’ve also noticed quite a few store fronts along 37th Ave. that have been vacated and remained vacant for quite a few months. Does anyone know if there’s a problem with new businesses opening up?

  • SPer

    The obvious solution to the city-wide problem of idiot drivers leaning on their horns (because it really does work so well in getting traffic moving quickly) is for the City to announce that the law against honking except in emergencies is now going to be ENFORCED. Give everybody fair warning, and then commence a MASSIVE ticketing blitz. Once someone has gotten a $350 ticket for unnecessary honking, they will definitely think twice about doing it again.

    With a sustained ticketing effort, the honking habit will be broken. In many, many other places, drivers don’t think of honking. They will even sit behind you at a light that you have failed to notice has turned green and not do a thing for quite a while. Then somebody might give a very brief little toot to call your attention to the situation.

    New Yorkers CAN be trained not to honk. The City just has to decide to do it. And I don’t know why this hasn’t happened yet. It would be a nice little revenue stream, at least until drivers got the message.

  • Suresh

    Sara,

    What you said is absolutely wrong. I am not white and totally annoyed by the traffic congestion. Are you saying that to have traffic congestion is a cultural thing to preserve? I have lot of Asian friends and we all talked about how bad the traffic is. Improving our quality of life is not a white thing, it is universal thing we all want.

  • RC

    SPer # 22:
    You suggest that the city ramp up horn-honking fines, point out that in many places people do not honk, and then conclude tht “New Yorkers can be trained not to honk.”

    I would like to point out that your reasoning is fallacious, because in the places you describe (most places in the U.S. actually), people were not “trained” not to honk. They just have completely different driving manners due to a very different driving culture and a different pace of life. I’m not saying people can’t be “trained” not to honk, just that your example does not support it.

    tmchale # 20 and pete #14:
    It is unlikely that Queens has more registered vehicles than L.A. County or maybe some other large counties out west. However it is possible – in fact highly probable – that Queens has a highest *density* of vehicle registrations in the country. For example, it is over three times as densely populated as L.A. County, so would need to only have one third as many cars per capita to have a higher density of cars.

  • Clarence

    According to this research using stats from the city, Queens overwhelmingly wins over any boro with sheer numbers of cars registered, but as I suspected Staten Island is the big winner (loser?)when looking at per capita, etc…

    http://blogs.jhu.edu/chris/2005/cars-in-new-york-city/

  • SPer

    RC, thanks for the nit-picking. I was simply pointing out that in many places, it is not the custom to honk except to avert an accident, and that there’s no reason why this custom cannot be adopted here.

  • SPer

    RC — and since you agree that people can be trained not to honk, wouldn’t ticketing be the way to do that?

  • K

    The present way of ticketing people who honk is ridiculous. To give ticket, the police officer has to be on the spot and see the driver’s hand pressing the honking on the wheel. We need a better system than that for sure.

    As far as people can be trained not to honk, it is something that can be trained. I think people have different standard about the usage of honking. I grew up in a country where people rarely use honking except avoiding the emergency. It is basically considered as really bad manner to honk. They may honk but not too long like people do here. And yes some other countries have even worse usage of honking than the United States, also.

  • RC

    SPer:
    You are right that my comment sounds like nitpicking – I guess I failed to convey my point, that the pervasive honking in NYC has more to do with the pervasive stress of commuting/getting around, such as for example the fact that our commutes average 45 minutes one-way vs 23 minutes for the nation as a whole. So focusing broadly on that would probably be a more effective way to combat honking than trying to give people tickets for it.

  • SPer

    RC — Okay, point taken. I do agree that honking is part of NYC driving “culture”, but I disagree that working to make commuting less time-consuming and stressful would be an effective approach to changing it. It is the habit of NYC drivers to honk very aggressively and I think the only way to stop it is to impose some consequences on the behavior.

  • JD

    HI, I have lived in beautiful Jackson Heights for 49 years. Things have changed for the worst. All the school yards now have additional buildings. Where do the children play before school? They stand in line and wait to be searched for weapons. When I walk to 82nd street the street are filled with vendors. Selling garbage for pennies. You can’t walk down the street let alone drive down. My brother was in Elmhurst hospital it was a nightmare getting there. On the weekend they hold parades and close down the whole neighborhood. I can’t put my car in my garage. I have to wait til the parades is over. There are no signs to announce these events. THe streets smell eventhoy the department of saniation sweeps. THere is homless peson living in the 90 street park. Washes his cloths in the park and drys them on the fence. The best was thig morning . There was a peron wearing very little running downNothern Blv. lifting his dress, while the Watch Tower ladies watched in horror and my amusement.

  • Benny

    I’m glad that someone has the nerve and upstanding community spirit to enlighten all of US (get the anology). I to have been a long time visitor of this great community, and in the past few years Jackson Heights has gotten worse. The schools are built to educate the massive amounts of illegal as well the legal immigrants in this community. They spend our tax dollars building schools and community centers for the young, but what about the old? When we went to school we had a playground, we were home when the street lights went on at night. We respected our parents, friends and neighbors in the language of ENGLISH. The police spoke to us in ENGLISH, we were educated in ENGLISH, but most of all we respected each other by speaking ENGLISH. I know this deviates from the noise and garbage topic, but this has a lot to do with the horns and garbage!!!! We were taught respect for others. We worked hard to establish this community. Now the only thing this donkey riding community knows is to honk the horn (after all patience was not taught to them), spilling the garbage on our streets (reminds them of the village they came from), and bastardizing the language taught to us (the pussification of the new America). So you expect their peers to watch out for each other and respect the community we made( now a stinking rat infested third world country)! Please America has long been gone and WE are the last of a dying breed from a community we call Jackson Heights!!!!!!

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Oh, ick, Benny! I couldn’t disagree with you more. One of the things I love about Jackson Heights is walking down the street and hearing all the Bengali, Urdu, Spanish, Tagalog, Korean, etc. spoken all around me. But I can’t hear it very well, because of all the horns honking!

    I’m happy to welcome immigrants to Queens, just as my grandparents were welcomed when they came to this country. I just wish that so many of these immigrants didn’t feel that they had to buy cars to show everyone how much they’ve “made it in America!”

  • Kim

    I totally welcome the diversity in Jackson Heights. But what I don’t welcome is the people who don’t respect public space and i hate to say this but people should admit the fact that those who hang around on 73st and 74st do not respect the public space. They don’t seem to feel guilty about throwing the garbage on the street. I litterally saw a young girl throwing the garbage in front of the mother and mother didn’t say anything about it. (Trash busket was 3 feet away from her, by the way.) Everyone who lives around the area knows this, yet I think people have been afraid to speak out about this because they dont want to be called racist. but it should not be considered as racist to urging people to respect the public space. Jackson Heights has people from diffferent culture and we all share the public street, which should be kept clean.

  • Mr. R

    These people need to get a life, if you moved to Jackson Heights, this is how we are. We don’t need your activism, just because rich yuppies like you wanted to save money on your apartment.

  • Mr. R (circa 1897)

    These people need to get a life, if you moved to the Lower East Side, this is how we are. We like our cholera outbreaks, tenement fires and child labor. We don’t need your activism, just because rich, moralizing, urban reformers want things like sanitation and building regulations.

  • Benny

    Dear Mr. R
    This is why America has laws!!! We provide a working union and labor wage (not to be bastardized by some illegal). We screen future and legal immigrants for sickness(so keep your sicknesses to your country and don’t bring it here). We as a country believe in assimilation not colonization. As per the rich yuppies, well because of YOU and YOUR KIND, I have to work till I am 67 (Not the good old America way of 62). I have to pay for my medicare (not get it for free). Most of all I have to work past your overcrowded diaper smelling garbage infested tenement. THIS IS AMERICA AND I AM AN AMERICAN. I had immigrant grandparents that assimilated, spoke, and respected their new home. So Mr. R if this hit a nerve all I could say is LEAVE!!! YOU have overstayed your welcome as a guest!!! NOW LEAVE AMERICA and lets US try to make it what it once was!!!!

  • Eric

    Geez, it sounds like Benny is telling the hipsters to go back to their own country. Does he mean Williamsburg? Or Avenue B?

    This topic has gotten a bit un-StreetsBlog-like, I’m afraid.

  • psycholist

    Benny’s got issues, but the point about retiring at 67 is off target. The original retirement age was set at 62 because life expectancy was so much shorter. You were expected to die before you saw much of the social security benefits. So you’re actually getting a much better deal overall, if breathing all the noxious exhaust doesn’t get to you first.

  • Flamma

    WOW! Who would have suspected that this discussion would turn into immigrant baiting by GREAT AMERICANS like Benny here? Anyone? Now let’s see why this happened. Is it:
    a) because Benny’s got issues
    b) because the video has elements that are a jab at immigrants in JH
    c) because anti-immigrant attitudes are becoming socially acceptable
    d) because immigration and gentrification don’t get along too well
    or is it just a fluke?

  • Benny

    You’re right Benny has issues, but at least I air it out. A question? Do you go home at night and say something anti immigrant of off color? I cannot be perfect, and yes I have views that many people do not and will not agree with. This is my choice, Earlier I broke down and bashed an immigrant culture, but are you that pure at heart also? Remember Mr R stated the following “This is how we are. We like our cholera outbreaks, tenement fires and child labor” So as I speak for Americans that do not want to express thier hidden views, so has MR R.
    Yes, I am a die hard American. I have held this country so dear to my heart. In my home I hold 5 armed forces burial flags of people that are dear to my heart and it is a shame to see their past efforts fall to ashes (and hopefully some one will cherish their sacrifices when I am gone from this earth). America is a great country. It is great for all walks of life and cultures (this I am not denying). When I am forced to conform to what I feel is colonization (speaking the new languauge, the clans, the private places of business), I get defensive. Again note to quote the good book “he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

  • Flamma

    Benny, I could care less about your issues. As your writings amply show, you are simply a racist and a bigot! Shame on Streetsblog for tolerating people like you.

  • stan

    Let’s all set Benny’s personal issues aside, it’s digressive….the real issue in Jackson Heights, and particularly around the intersection of 73rd St and 37th Ave, is the passive acceptance of conditions that can only be described as incipient decrepitude. I agree with the earlier comment about the lack of respect for public space in Jackson Heights, which is only reinforced by complete lack of enforcement–by police, by DEP, by the Health Department, by the Department of Buildings, by Dept of Sanitation; reinforced by a complete lack of political will by do-nothing representatives Sears, Peralta and Sabini, as well as a tired Democratic machine that isn’t compelled to do anything by a sleepy electorate; and a total neglect of the residential concerns in the area by City Planning, which has the power to re-zone and cut the crappy commercial expansion in what is already a dangerously crowded and polluted intersection. How do you raise the consciousness–and compel to action–a slice of the community that has no regard for the wider community; elected officials who do nothing but gerrymander the district to their personal advantage; and a developer-friendly City whose Queens agencies are a mockery of ”public service”? The out-of-control horn-honking travesty alone tells you what we’re all up against.

  • Kim

    I think this area 73rd St btween 37th Ave and 37th Road is getting into vicious cycle where people on the street don’t respect the public and throw garbage on the street and this condition sending the message to city department like DOT and sanitation department “Ok, this street is dirty and people here don’t mind it. So, it is ok not to do job, either.” So, MTA bus drivers honk way more often than they would honk in Manhattan. Sanitation dept. inspector don’t respond quickly. (These days, it takes 3 days for them to get there to give a ticket.) One time, I happened to see the a guy from sanitation dept. in the car and there was a huge garbage dump on the sidewalk. I asked him if he can give a ticket to the store owner and he was like “we all know this area. We can’t give a ticket everyday.. I have to go…” and he ignores the dirty side walk.

  • A K

    They have a sign hidden by the trees warning if you honk, you will be fined. Ive called the police station so many times- every weekend when it get realllly crazy. Even today, monday night as I am writing this, around midnight, people are sooo inconsiderate and are honking away. Please can someone actually research how many times people have actually received a ticket on 37th Ave around 72st or 73st? I bet non, in the past 10 years. Seriously, whats the point of that sign? Doesn’t the city need to make money? I wish they also gave tickets for littering!

  • C

    I live here and am moving soon mainly because of the poor quality of life with the noise, crowds and pollution. We’re staying in the neighborhood but it a quieter, less crowded section. 73rd Street and 37th Avenue really is this bad. Thanks for trying to build awareness.

  • Do you see the traffic? Look at it! No wonder they honk so much! Everyone is clogging up the box! 

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