You can hear them Uptown, Midtown, Downtown: in the rush-hour snarl round Columbus Circle, at the foot of the Empire State off 5th, and down by the half-built World Trade Center tower, as restive drivers navigate the barriers surrounding the construction site.
They are car horns, blaring at street corners and in the middle of wide avenues all across Manhattan (and beyond, in Brooklyn and Queens). For the most part, they’re illegal. Local laws threaten drivers in the city with a $350 fine lest they unnecessarily thrust their palms against the steering wheel.
But now, though the law remains in place, the city appears to be signalling defeat, with New York’s Department for Transportation moving to pull down all of its “Don’t Honk” signs. After a two-and-a-half decade run, none will be visible by the end of the year.
Officials say they want to rid the streets of signs that are routinely ignored, according to the New York Times, which first reported the move. The Department for Transportation, whose figures indicate that complaints to a freephone number about unnecessary honking have declined more than 60 per cent since 2008 said: “There are 1.3 million signs on New York’s streets - that’s enough to provide one for every man, woman and child in the Bronx."
The added: "For the first time in generations we are systematically updating our streets to eliminate the signs that don’t work and improve the signs we actually need. While honking signs have been around for decades, there’s no sign that they do anything except add clutter to our streets.”
Critics, meanwhile, have seized on the subtext: the city seems to be saying, “we give up.”
It was only in October that taxi drivers - blamed by many New Yorkers for the most repeat offenses, though a simple stroll down a busy avenue would show that ordinary residents are hardly beyond reproach - were warned to tone it down.
Reportedly spurred on by a resident irked by the incessant din, the head of the City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, David Yassky, shot off a text message to New York’s 13,000 tax drivers, advising them that “honking is against the law except when warning of imminent danger.”
The counter view, put forward by the American Automobile Association (AAA) in New York, is more romantic “Blowing the horn is a fact of life, part of the fabric and culture of the city,” Robert Sinclair Jr, a AAA spokesman, told the New York Times. “If it weren’t there, people would wonder.”