How to Walk in New York

Walk or don’t walk? In New York, there is rarely a choice. The ground rules for how you should maneuver the pavement, always showing your best side under special circumstances, and what to do when sidewalk rage hits.

Everybody walks in New York, that’s how we go just about everywhere our trains, cabs, or…limos won’t go. Where, for instance, in Los Angeles or Atlanta you might think a trip to the corner store should be made in your car, in New York that’s a walk, pal—maybe because it would be too hard to find another parking space, but more likely because you have no car.

Here our bodies are our vehicles. A satchel serves the duty of a trunk; our shoes must be replaced (or resoled) every 2,000 miles. We use ‘pedestrian’ to describe the latest Von Trier film, never ourselves. There are drivers, sure, but the sidewalks belong to us, and their regulations and protocol are unspoken but understood by its rulers: the walkers.

The Basics

Walkers in New York often follow the same rules drivers do everywhere else—except in those special areas that simply don’t apply to cars, save, perhaps, in Lethal Weapon movies.

On Sidewalks: Here, oddly enough, the only rule is to move quickly and accurately. Always watch where you’re going. Ferret out a path, and take it. Be predictable, you’re not running interference for the Jets: No serpentining, no running, and no getting too close to your fellow walkers. Jostling another walker is like touching another car with your bumper: It isn’t done, and certainly not on purpose, and if it happens, must immediately follow with an honest apology. Likewise, a true, full-on ‘wreck’ may require an exchange of insurance information.

Jaywalking: Knowing that half the ‘Press for Walk Signal’ buttons in New York don’t work, an integral part of foot transportation in New York is knowing how to properly cross a street, light or no light. A few basic rules:

Look both ways—even if you’re crossing a one-way street. You’ve had your own share of wild cab experiences, so you should know that anything goes for drivers—and an errant cabbie could flatten the unawares jaywalker.

Move quickly. There’s no reason to dally in the middle of the street. No skateboarding trick that begs to be performed, no moonwalking maneuver that must be seen to be believed. Get out of the street, and fast.

Use the median to your advantage on heavy-trafficked, two-way, multiple-lane streets (e.g., Delancey, Houston). If Frogger had a median available, we might have made it to level two. Which we never did.

Don’t forget: Cars will kill you. The streets are their territory; everywhere else is yours. Be careful, defer to the cars, that you might live to walk another day.

On Escalator Lanes: As on the great superhighways that stretch across this land, so too on the escalator: If you’re not really moving, stick to the right. The walker who stops dead in her tracks on the left, riding the escalator at her leisure, inconveniences and annoys her fellow walkers. Stand on the right, walk on the left, and make everybody happy.

On Subway Stairs: Mass makes the rules. A rush-hour train’s worth of stair-hogging passengers has more to do with who’s going where than whatever resolve you think you have. Squeezing yourself down the narrow side of an oncoming wave of walkers is pointless, dangerous, and exactly like driving the wrong way down a city street that’s switched direction, without warning. So: Be sensible, wait at the top the stairs. Yes, even if it’s raining.

Wide Load

As a walker in New York there will be times your load is extra heavy, be it with an umbrella in the rainy months or an area rug in summer. Other walkers must account for these instances, and accommodate accordingly.

Umbrellas: When it’s raining, everybody opens their umbrellas at full-staff. And, unfortunately, often at the same height. You absolutely must avoid side-swiping another walker’s umbrella—an irritable, thoughtless act that always results in one or both of you spritzed by pooled-umbrella rain. Instead, move to the side or bob your umbrella up (or down) to make room for the trajectory of their approaching umbrella. If you both bob up or both bob down and still collide—have faith it was only a crime of good manners and, more meaningfully, a sign of hope for the world.

Shoppers: See the shape of a weary soul at 59th and Lexington, ambling ever…so…slowly inside an opaque bubble of little, medium, and big brown bags? Cut a wide berth and don’t curse their slowness. They can barely move and are in such agony and arm-pain they can’t even hail a cab. You too will appreciate a little grace when you’ve got 30-pound Citarella bags in each arm and you’ve…never…walked…so…slow.

Baby Strollers: Eating for two, sleeping for two, or walking for two, give those with rolling babies a break. That is, unless they’re in the habit of retooling their child’s stroller to fit their own purposes. Those who use the stroller to wedge apart subway doors or as a makeshift cattle guard for pushing the sidewalk clear are putting their children in danger and, as such, are psychopathic and should be feared. Those who are using the stroller for those very same reasons—yet have no child in the stroller or in the visible vicinity—may be working an interesting angle, but you should still avoid them.


As we putter the city streets, we will almost certainly run into those who would inspire sidewalk rage. They’ve stolen our path from right in front of us, and knocked us silly with their backpacks as they passed. Giving the finger from the sidewalk, however, isn’t nearly as effective or safe as it is from within the steel carriage of a car. Here are two simple and popular ways you can let ‘em have it, without getting it right back in your face.

The Evil Eye: You’ve been waiting 45 minutes for the subway train to show up. One finally arrives, bursting at the gills with passengers, and, as the passengers pour out and dive in, one passenger insists on standing right inside the doorway, preventing you from getting on the train and letting the doors shut in your face.

Don’t: React with profane gestures! After all, the doors could open again and that guy could turn out to be a kickboxer.

Instead: Don’t look at the passenger, but glare off into the distance, and hard. Arch both eyebrows slightly. Think about feral cats and bags full of their crap set ablaze on the passenger’s front step. Leave it at that. Wait for the next train, and don’t boil over.

The Shy Bird: You step inside the deli for your morning coffee, when all of a sudden: Zip! Another pedestrian slips into the door you’ve held open—for yourself. You’ve been snaked, and you’re too groggy to say so. But you want your bile to be felt anyway.

Don’t: Say, ‘Hey, fuck you buddy.’

Instead: Pretend you’re scratching a spot by your eye—but do it with your middle finger, slightly extended beyond the other digits. You’ll release the anger, gain the satisfaction of having flipped off your fellow walker, and taken care of an itch, whether fake or not.


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