Most of Manhattan is laid out in a grid pattern, which makes it easy to find your way around. Avenues run north-south, streets east-west, and most are one way. Fifth Avenue, which marks the center of the city, separates the East and West Sides. Street addresses are labeled accordingly (1 E. 50th Street, 1 W. 50th Street), with the numbers increasing as you head away from 5th Avenue. Broadway, following an old Algonquin trail, cuts through the city on a diagonal.
Those neighborhoods not laid out in a numbered grid pattern—essentially everything south of 14th Street—are much more difficult to navigate, and it helps to have a good map. The same applies in the other boroughs, where it’s also a good idea to get exact directions to your destination before you set out.
If you don’t know how to get where you’re going, call the New York City Transit Authority (718/330-1234) between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., and they’ll tell you the best route via subway or bus.
The subways are the easiest and quickest way to get around town. Service is frequent—at least in Manhattan—and the trains run all night.
To ride the subways, you’ll need an electronic fare card, known as a MetroCard. The basic fare is $2.25, though you get a free ride when you purchase an $8 card. Fees change regularly, access the website for up-to-date information: www.mta.info.
Subway maps are usually posted in each station, and free copies are sometimes available at the token booths. You can also pick up a copy at New York City’s Official Visitor Information Center (810 7th Ave., between 52nd and 53rd Sts., 212/484-1222).
Three subway lines service the city: The IRT runs north-south on either side of Manhattan; the IND runs along 6th and 8th Avenues; and the BMT runs from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens. The subway lines used most frequently by visitors are the IRT No. 6 train, which makes local stops along the East Side of Manhattan, and the IRT No. 1/9 train, which makes local stops along the West Side. There’s also a Grand Central–Times Square Shuttle connecting the east and west sides of the IRT at 42nd Street.
Over 3.5 million passengers travel the 700 miles of subway track every day without mishap. Still, crime can be a problem and you should take certain precautions. Keep a close eye on your belongings, especially during rush hours when the crush of the crowd makes pickpocketing easy. Don’t wear expensive jewelry. Avoid empty or near-empty cars, even during the day when the subways are theoretically the safest. During off hours, wait for your train in the well-lit “Off-Hour” waiting areas near the token booths. When your train comes, sit in the center car, which has a conductor and is usually the most crowded car on the train. Finally, although many New Yorkers ride the subways at all hours, it’s not especially advisable to take them after midnight.
Buses run 24 hours a day uptown along 10th, 8th, 6th, Madison, 3rd, and 1st Avenues, and downtown along 9th, 7th, 5th, and 2nd Avenues. East-west crosstown service can be found along 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, 65th/66th, 79th, 86th, and 96th Streets. Bus stops are usually located every two blocks, and signs or shelters mark the spots.
The fare is $2.25, payable with either exact change or the electronic MetroCard. Free transfers are available between uptown-downtown buses and crosstown buses, enabling you to make any one-way trip in Manhattan on a single fare. Good bus service is also available in the outer boroughs. Fees change regularly, access website for up to date information: www.mta.info.
By Taxi and Car Service
Another notorious mode of New York City transportation that’s nonetheless quite good is the taxi cab, all painted yellow with lighted signs on their roofs. When the sign is lit, the cab is available and may be hailed anywhere. Fares begin at $2.50 for the first quarter-mile, then jump $0.40 for each additional quarter-mile and $0.40 cents for every two minutes of waiting time. A $1 surcharge is added to rides begun between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; a $0.50 surcharge is added to rides begun between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. A 15–20 percent tip is the norm.
In the boroughs, where licensed cabs are few and far between, your best bet is to call one of the many private car services. Ask for recommendations at the place you’re visiting or check the Yellow Pages. The services charge a flat rate that’s usually reasonable, and pick you up wherever you wish.
Walking is by far the best way to see Manhattan and many parts of the boroughs. In Manhattan, figure on needing about a minute for each north-south block, two minutes for each east-west one.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition