Residents of the dense urban core neighborhoods of New York City (NYC) have expressed increasing concern about the potential human health impacts of diesel vehicle emissions. We measured concentrations of particulate matter [less than/equal to] 2.5 micro in aerodynamic diameter (PM(2.5)) and diesel exhaust particles (DEP) on sidewalks in Harlem, NYC, and tested whether spatial variations in concentrations were related to local diesel traffic density. Eight-hour (1000-1800 hr) air samples for PM(2.5 )and elemental carbon (EC) were collected for 5 days in July 1996 on sidewalks adjacent to four geographically distinct Harlem intersections. Samples were taken using portable monitors worn by study staff. Simultaneous traffic counts for diesel trucks, buses, cars, and pedestrians were carried out at each intersection on [Greater/equal to] 2 of the 5 sampling days. Eight-hour diesel vehicle counts ranged from 61 to 2,467 across the four sites. Mean concentrations of PM(2.5) exhibited only modest site-to-site variation (37-47 microg/m(3)), reflecting the importance of broader regional sources of PM(2.5). In contrast, EC concentrations varied 4-fold across sites (from 1.5 to 6 microg/m(3)), and were associated with bus and truck counts on adjacent streets and, at one site, with the presence of a bus depot. A high correlation (r = 0.95) was observed between EC concentrations measured analytically and a blackness measurement based on PM(2.5) filter reflectance, suggesting the utility of the latter as a surrogate measure of DEP in future community-based studies. These results show that local diesel sources in Harlem create spatial variations in sidewalk concentrations of DEP. The study also demonstrates the feasibility of a new paradigm for community-based research involving full and active partnership between academic scientists and community-based organizations.