How to Measure Drivers’ Speed Without Tools

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Our kitchen looks out on our street. Jane Jacobs would be pleased although I doubt Minto built our house with Ms. Jacobs in mind. It was 1965 afterall and we were in the middle of the Great Ottawa Infrastructure Makeover. Bigger was better, pedestrians had to be eliminated: make space for the station wagon.

Pedal to the metal

Our street is 7 meters wide and is in the middle of 1950’s/1960’s neighbourhood. There is a school and a park. There are no sidewalks. With 7000 ft2 lots, there are not many people in the street, making it ideal to put the pedal to the metal for all those who are in a hurry, from parents bringing there kids to school, via contractors to the ubiquitous white delivery vans. A few weeks ago, an older woman walking along the curb, who gestured to the pick up driver to slow down, got the finger.

Often, when cooking butter chicken or baking sourdough bread or Dutch apple pie, I wonder how fast that truck went that just blew by. I have a general sense of how fast 40 km an hour is, and I know some vehicles go considerably faster. But how fast are they going?

No need to invest

You don’t need a speed gun and a safety vest to figure out an estimated speed. A somewhat rudimentary method is to take two points on a street (a tree, a post, a parked car, a manhole cover) to measure the distance on Google Maps with the on line measuring tool and count how long it takes the vehicle to cover that distance. With a bit of practise you can fairly accurately count. Some people use the “1 Kichesippi, 2 Kichesippi, 3 Kichisippi” method, where pronouncing ‘Kichisippi’ is covering roughly a second.

Measure drivers’ speed without a tool

We have two windows in the kitchen; I can see the street through both windows. One window faces north, the other east. If a car drives by the east window, I start counting until they pass a certain tree further down the street. That is 80 meters. If the middle aged white man covered that distance in 6 seconds, he drove 80/6= 13.33 m/sec. There are 3600 seconds in an hour so that makes 13.33 * 3600 seconds= 48,000 meters or 48 kph. As we first multiply by 3600 seconds and then divide again by 1000 to convert meters to kilometers, we might just as well multiply by 3.6 only.

Your formula for drivers’ speed

So your formula would be (distance/seconds to cover the distance) * 3.6 = km/h

Some drivers drive it in 5 seconds, which is (80/5)*3.6= nearly 60 kph.

If you want to take it to the next level, use some marker on the road in two places and use the timer on your cell phone. Not that you can start writing fines, but it gives you a fairly clear idea how fast cars go. Next step, an email to your friendly neighbourhood city councillor pointing out your concerns with some rudimentary data and ask for changes. City councillors have a budget for it. Ask for a woonerf, you may get flexi posts.

1 Comment

  1. I’d rather have a button on the kitchen counter that I could push. A strong cable would then jump up from the pavement, tripping the speeding sutomobile. The driver would be catapulted out the sunroof. The landing might be a bit messy but no one is going to miss another middle age white male.

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