Beep Beeeeeeeep!!! Using the SparkFun Sound Detector to Test a Traffic Theory


I haven’t been in local journalism since the mid-1990s, when I left Newsday to join a national tech magazine. Ever since, my jobs have been national or international in scope.

But for my field test for Emerging Media Platforms, I’m planning to go local. HYPERlocal.

Like, my house local.

My family and I moved into this house in Pelham, N.Y., two years ago. We knew we were choosing a busy street — Boston Post Road, also known as Route 1, which traces the path of the colonial postal route from New York to Boston. It has a double-yellow line and is a conduit between two major highways, the Hutchinson River Parkway and Interstate 95.

Soon after we moved in, we noticed a problem. The traffic on the south side (our side) of the road heading east from the Hutch to I95 narrows from two lanes to one lane just before traffic reaches my house. Even though the speed limit is 30 miles per hour, motorists often battle for the lead position as they approach the merge into one lane. This dangerous game of chicken often results in near-misses, punctuated by drivers leaning on their horns.

Soon after we moved in, I petitioned the Pelham Manor village board to address the problem. The village responded by putting up a temporary speed sign showing motorists how fast they were going, and that slowed down traffic a bit. Then the village installed a sign about a block short of my house, warning drivers that a merge was approaching.

This has helped, but we still hear close calls on a regular basis. The village is reluctant to take any additional action, citing the fact that no accidents have been reported at that section of road.

I call BS. To me, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed or seriously hurt along this half-block stretch of road. We still hear a chorus of car horns several times a day, many of which sound like close calls. But until now we didn’t know of a way to prove that so many close calls were occurring, short of sitting on our stoop for hours on end, keeping a log.

Now I’m hoping to use the SparkFun Sound Detector to strengthen my case that more intervention is needed to mitigate the danger in this section of Boston Post Road. This device measures the amplitude of sound waves. One reviewer confirmed that the device could be set to measure noise above a certain decibel level.

Car horns have a unique signature, both in terms of decibel level (110 decibels at 10 meters) and other qualities like duration. My thesis is that I could set up several of these sound detectors along my stretch of Boston Post Road, with settings to specifically pick up car horns and perhaps even multiple car horns blowing at the same time. After a set period of time, to be determined, I would then compare the number and frequency of car horns blowing to illustrate just how treacherous (or not!) this section of Boston Post Road is compared with the other sections.

A preliminary review of the product’s instructions and reviews tells me that this citizen-data project can be accomplished at minimal cost, though the learning curve may be steep.


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