Observing an Intersection


I watched the intersection of North 7th street and Bedford Avenue, a pretty busy intersection with a bus stop and two subway entrances to the L line, 2 pay phones (not that these are used anymore, but still), two deli/groceries, two post office boxes, 2 newspaper stand areas, and whereas other intersections usually have one city garbage can per corner, this one has three on each corner, totaling 12 city garbage cans.


the four corners:

I marked places where people stopped for a long time, usually doing something on their phones, and noticed most of them are around street objects like lamp posts, garbage cans, walls, parked bikes, and sometimes the very edge of the sidewalk.


There are two one way streets that run through here, so people should look in one direction if crossing one of them, but tended to look both ways. I also noticed that people tended to leisurely stop at the intersection regardless of whether or not they had the right of way, especially when they were on their cell phones, when they seemed to take the opportunity to fully engage in their cell phone use for a little while, sometimes even missing their light.

the cellphones:

Cell phone users stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, right at the edge of the road, whereas people actually looking to cross usually waited in the road, around the line where the outside of parked cars has an edge with the road.

People who were waiting for somebody, or who wanted to stay at the intersection and on their phones for longer, would usually line themselves up against the edges of the garbage cans and light posts, or in the few nooks provided by the flower stands or ice box.

the waiters:

People waiting without a phone seemed obviously less patient and uncomfortable, usually gesturing “waiting”, for example with hands on hips, looking around anxiously and in an exhagerated way, as in the picture below, or folded arms, leaning back, looking unhappy, or pacing.

One guy waited for a long time in the nook on one corner provided by a break in the flower stands, then moved to the next corner, where he did not stay long, he then came to my corner, that was one of the less inviting, with no good places to stand, and then proceeded to the final corner. His total wait was around forty five minutes, and he finally encountered his friend in the middle of the street, walking towards him once they saw each other. I saw several people wait and meet, and they usually finally met very near or on the road, taking a moment to meet, and then realizing they should move onto the sidewalk. I creepily stalk the guy I mentioned moving around the intersection in the images below:

mobile phones everywhere:

Today’s intersections could probably never imagine a life without cell phones. In the Whyte video, for example, the solo person standing was singled out as a (kind of strange) activity. Today that person would probably be gazing into a mobile phone and effectively be not alone and not doing anything mysterious. There is no more alone-ness! There were mobile phones everywhere, specifically smart phones, which come with different gesters and postures than regular mobile phones, but both of these phones remove the people a little bit from the moment, and shield them from the old rules of where and how to stand, while creating new ones. Everything about everybody’s gestures made me know exactly what they were doing (or so it seemed).

I hypothesized that something about intersections made people pull out their phones. Maybe it was seeing the light, and knowing you have a few uncomfortable waiting minutes to kill, or seeing everybody else’s phone and remembering to check your messages, or maybe it is like yawning, where seeing somebody else yawn inspires a yawn subconsciously, or maybe it has to do with the fact that they may be getting onto the subway, and had a few connected moments left. Or all of these things. Suddenly when I had this thought, everybody had an iphone. Some people were listening to music, or talking with their headsets. Others were just holding it like a remote control for something in front of them at a distance, or like a sensing antanae they needed to walk through the street. This lasted for five minutes, during which I frantically tried to capture it on camera, and it culminated in a near iPhone on iPhone crash right in front of me, when two guys, both holding their iPhones forward like I described, almost walked right into each other, iPhones first. Then it stopped. Right after that moment I did not see another phone for several minutes, and never again in such density. It was bizarre.

The aggressive looking guy:

The third corner contained a crap table, run by the crap table lady that is always there, selling crap. Her husband, I assume, is also alway there sitting across from her in a chair uncomfortably close to the intersection. Together they create an eye beam that you have to cross through to get by them, and I hypothesize that his positioning is the reason that fewer people casually hang out there. He seems very territorial in the way he sits on the corner, leaning back, facing his merchandise. People always look uncomfortable when they look through the stuff, and seem to only pretend to be looking toward the end, when they seem to be trying to escape without confrontation by pretending to still be browsing until they hit the intersection when they quickly blend with the crowd. Right around the corner, slightly out of the sight of the watchful gaze of this guy, but not completely, some people gather to wait by the pharmacy. This is a great place to sit, so I really think it was this guy who made this corner so uninhabitable, but it is hard to convey exactly why I think this, which is why I love the following picture, where he is hiding his face, and the people in the foreground appear to be hiding from him.


other images: