Typical sidewalk in New York City

Typical sidewalk in New York City

It was my first day of my first trip working at a client in New York City.  I stepped out onto the sidewalk of the Waldorf Astoria, all 240 (muscular) pounds of me.  As I looked down at my phone for an address, I was shoved aside and nearly knocked over by a crazed New Yorker.  I loudly said, “Excuse ME, pal,” to which the CNY responded “Maybe don’t stop in the middle of the bad word bad word sidewalk bad word.”

It’s been five years since that fateful morning and I’ve learned a lot about getting around in New York City.  There are plenty of How To articles regarding the City (especially the subway) that are much more thorough than this one, but I haven’t found many that will tell you what I’m about to tell you about how to get around peacefully in New York City.

1. How to navigate the sidewalks
This one is easy to say but hard to implement.  Many New Yorkers do not drive or own a car since parking is so expensive here.  They either walk, subway, bike, or taxi to their destinations.  So here’s the trick for tourists: think of the sidewalks as highways.  Before doing anything on a sidewalk, ask yourself if you’d do it in a car on a highway and act accordingly.  If you don’t, you’ll encounter “sidewalk rage”, a very real thing in NYC.

Would you ever slam on your brakes on a highway to check your phone?  Of course not, cars would slam into you.  It’s the same in New York (see story above).  If you need to check your phone, go ahead and exit to the right, lean up against a building, and check your phone.  If you’re walking slower, stay to the right-hand side of the sidewalk.  If you need to pass someone, pass on the left just like you would on a highway.  See the example below:

Lady on the left is passing the two men on the right

Lady on the left is passing the two men on the right

Once the pass is completed, she gets over to the right

Once the pass is completed, she gets over to the right

If you’re traveling with kids, instead of everyone holdings hands and walking beside each other and blocking off a sidewalk (which will cause problems), walk in a line, which lets people pass you if necessary.

Sidewalks are easy once you get the hang of this.

2. How to spot locals
Many people will tell you to “do as the locals do” in a place like NYC.  I agree.  But how can you spot a local?  Here are some strategies I use that hopefully aren’t too presumptive:

  • People wearing suits not around Broadway
  • People with headphones in
  • Older men wearing tweed jackets and baseball caps
  • Women wearing flats but carrying purses large enough for heels/nicer shoes
  • People who cross the street whenever traffic is clear without waiting for the crosswalk light

3. How to tell cab drivers where you want to go
Street then avenue if you’re in Manhattan.  Don’t say “avenue” either.  If I need to get to 53rd and Lexington, I’ll say “fifty-three and Lex”.  I find it better to say fifty-three instead of fifty-third, most cab drivers in the city don’t speak English as a first language and I feel like this makes it easier on them.

4. Understand taxi lights
This is the easiest tip of all and will save your arm from attempting to hail occupied taxis.

If the light is on, the taxi is available.  If the light isn’t on, the taxi isn’t available, no matter how much you wave/yell at it.


As always, your mileage may vary, but hopefully this will be helpful for you.  Leave your favorite NYC tips in the comments below!


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