How to Walk in New York: Advice for Visitors

Spring has settled on the City.  The wisteria on the brownstones in the Village has bloomed and faded, the trees in the parks are in full leaf, and the tourist density is reaching critical mass.  Like almost all New Yorkers, I am happy to welcome the 50 million people per year who come from all over the world to vacation in our fascinating city.  On those rare occasions when I find their sheer numbers become irritating, I think about the $35 billion they add to the municipal coffers.

A hard place to keep my cool with them is on the midtown sidewalks. Eastside, Westside, all around the town, the sidewalks of New York are thronged.  And all those bodies slow things down so very much.

New York is a city in a hurry.  As far as I can tell, it has been since the 17th century.  New Yorkers want to MOVE.  We have places to go, people to see, stuff to get done.

What visitors do not understand is that, unlike in any other sizable American metropolis, for New Yorkers walking is a major form of transportation. Almost no one who lives here even owns a car, much less has one waiting in a driveway.  We have great public transportation, but we also use our feet.  For a distance of mile or two, except in the foulest weather, we hoof it.

This means that the sidewalks are major thoroughfares for us.  On foot, rushing to a dentist appointment, going to meet Auntie Doris for lunch, or trying to make curtain time at the Shubert Theaterwe expect to traverse a north-south block in about 45 seconds.  The longer east-west blocks should take about a minute and a half.

We are so intent on getting places in a hurry, we have strategies for taking the road of least resistance, crossing streets the second lights allow and jogging across to make it before they change.  We calculate the best way.  For instance, if traveling northwest starting from O on this chart, a New Yorker will try, in the shortest time, to land up at X, because then he can go north or west without being blocked by a red light.  If the destination is further north than west, he will keep progressing north until he hits a red light and then change directions.  We all learn this, and we pretty much all do it.

We like to be kind and welcoming to visitors.  We really want them to have a good time.  We will even give advice readily unless we are about to be late for the beginning of the opera.  But it makes us all a bit nuts when people just do not know how to be courteous to us, by letting us walk without obstruction.

To help visitors who do not ordinarily walk anywhere except in the mall or the forest, I offer the following rules followed by all New Yorkers:
·         If there are more than three of you, never walk more than three abreast.
·         If you have to stop on the sidewalk, dont stop in the middle; move to the curb or near the buildings so as not to block the flow of traffic.  This applies especially when pausing to take photos or to consult maps or guide books.
·         Never pause at the curb end of a crosswalk or in the street.
·         Even if you are English, Japanese, or South African, KEEP TO YOUR RIGHT.  Your instinctive keeping to the left will result in a silly dance with the oncoming New Yorkers.

A few corollaries:

On the subway: 
·         Never pause for conversation before the turnstiles.
·         When the train pulls in, stand aside to let people out before trying to push in.
·         Once in the car, move away from the door unless you are getting off at the next stop.
·         The pole is there to help us keep from falling, not for pole dancing.  Dont hug it if the car is crowded.  Just hold it with one hand so others can hang on too. 

While you are at it, look at the hands holding that pole.  They are all the colors human skin comes in.  Look around the car.  You are in a city where 150 languages are spoken.  The full panoply of humanity surrounds you when you are riding with New Yorkers, and we all get along.  Together we create the richness and fascination that makes our city the place you wanted to come toto see, to breathe in its culture, to wonder at its energy, to be entertained.  New York is WOW experience.

Shout when you say, WOW!  Just dont stop in your tracks when you do it.   

Annamaria Alfieri