Everyone’s heard it before: New Yorkers are assholes, and they hate tourists. I actually know people who are afraid to visit our hometown because they’ve heard this or seen it in the movies so many times, but in actuality it’s just not true. I get stopped by tourists for directions or recommendations at least twice a week and I’m always really excited to share what I know about the city in hopes that our visitors will love it as much as I do. So, let’s explore this rumor a little more in depth.
Imagine this… you’re on your way to work, let’s say you drive there every day. You leave your house at a specific time because you know exactly how long it takes at that time of day, what the traffic is like, and which lights you’ll have to wait the longest at. Your typical morning routine isn’t bad, and you’re quite used to it. But wait – this morning is different. For some reason this driver in front of you is going 25mph in a 55mph zone… what the hell? So you switch lanes to safely pass. Suddenly this driver is drifting toward your lane. You hope they’ll realize and correct before you guys smack into each other, but who wants to wait to find out if that’ll be the case, so you slow down until you’re sure. Now you’re going 25mph also cause you’re not sure how to safely pass and it’s usually 8:15a when you pass this stretch of highway, but now it’s 8:19a and you’re starting to get a little worried about being late. Sound familiar? Of course! People run into delinquent drivers all of the time! Not only that, who wouldn’t want to shout a curse, honk their horn, or even flip the bird when they’ve been tortured this way long enough and on top of that – you now have to explain to your boss why you’re on the fritz this morning and it’s all because one stupid driver couldn’t pull their shit together. If you can understand that, you can probably understand what happens in New York and why people get yelled at sometimes.
In most suburban areas your pedestrian areas are for hanging out: parks, malls, downtown areas. But in NYC our sidewalks are our freeways. Millions of people commute to work by walking on these streets every day, and when you’re casually taking up the whole sidewalk, completely unaware of those around you, you become the 25mph driver making everyone late for work and just asking for an accident. So, we’ve compiled this little list to help those of you who really want to take on Manhattan, to not be “that” tourist. Get ready to get your Sex and the City on!
- Stop, look and listen. It’s funny because whenever these three words come to mind I think about this silly old song from the cartoon Busytown, and as simple as that message is, it’s not only important to practice to not be an annoying tourist, but also for your safety in New York. The city has a pace of it’s own, and each block functions uniquely. The only way to understand what’s happening around you best is to constantly be assessing. Most New Yorkers follow the rhythm around them by keeping a keen awareness to how fast people and traffic are moving. If you’re paying attention you shouldn’t have a problem knowing where an ideal place to stand is, what an ideal pace to walk is, or where it’s appropriate to stop.
- DON’T STOP. Okay, so it’s actually not that dramatic, we get that you have to stop to take a picture, but use rule #1 to know when and where to stop. If you’re moving at a decent pace and then come to a halt you’re going to get rear-ended (yes, getting rear-ended does happen to pedestrians just as it does to cars, if you haven’t experienced it yet it can range from ruining your shoes to a complete fall and a very angry New Yorker). Just as you would in your car, if you’re going to slow down or stop, pull over! Look around you, just as you would check your mirrors, make sure you’re not going to crash into anyone, and find a spot to stop. The best places to stop are either against the buildings themselves, or all the way over to the curb, but in the middle of the sidewalk is precarious!
- Make a decision. This one is hard for people who are indecisive and not used to the quick decision making that needs to happen in a city like New York, but it sure is an important one. You know that moment when you end up dancing back and forth with someone on the street cause neither of you can figure out how to walk around each other? Don’t do that. Just pick a side and go. We’ll figure it out and no one will be mad about skipping that particular dance (although we can’t speak for other dances…). Coming out of a store or restaurant? That’s great. Not sure which way you’re going or walking when you do? Not as great. If you make an exit just to stand in the middle of the sidewalk you’re basically a car that merged onto a highway to come to a complete stop. Even worse, maybe you didn’t merge. Remember, our sidewalks are our freeways, the more you treat them as such the better off you’ll be.
- It’s okay to walk slowly. Really, it is. We want you to take it all in, but refer to rule #1. Try to be as near to the buildings or as far over to the curb as possible to let people pass you in the center of the sidewalk. Also, please don’t walk side by side with everyone in your group. We get that you’re excited… but imagine if you were on a 5 lane freeway and a group of people were driving across every lane at 25mph – not so great, right? Pair off if you’re more than two people, and if you are two people, still be aware that in order to let people pass you’re going to have to fold-in to single file periodically.
- Don’t take up the whole crosswalk. It’s no secret that New Yorkers love to jay-walk. If you’re not experienced in how to, it’s okay to wait for the light. Better safe than sorry. But be aware that if there is a New Yorker jay-walking, and you’re taking up the entire corner of the crosswalk, you’re stranding them in the street. Crossing the streets is a serious time to pay attention and make space for others.
- Put your phone away. You’re in a new city! What could be more important than your trip? Help yourself and others by not constantly being on your phone. Try to think back to the driving analogy as much as possible… would you text and drive? If you answered yes then you need to get your priorities straight and that’s a whole other conversation. I “pull-over” to text or call while walking all of the time. The truth is I just can’t weave through people or keep my pace with everyone on the block who is not texting or calling while I do. It’s especially important to not have your phone out while crossing the streets. If a driver or cyclist isn’t paying attention while you’re crossing the street you want to be able to help yourself out of the way, between you and the car, you’ll always lose, so play it as safe as possible.
- Don’t worry too much. The more stressed you are the more stressful your trip will feel. If you’ve never been to NYC you’ll notice a distinct energy when you get here. Soak it in and let yourself go with the new flow. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or directions, and don’t be afraid to get lost either. The city isn’t as big as some people think (only five miles long and two miles wide) so you can’t really get too far off the beaten path.
Stop, look, listen, remember the rules of the road apply to pedestrianism, be courteous to those around you, and you’re set for the city!