Friday, April 29, 2011

Reggie's Rules for Navigating One's Way Around Manhattan Like a New Yorker, Part I

Like most residents of Manhattan, Reggie knows his way around town and has learned the most efficient ways of getting to where he wants to go when he is out and about in the city.  Some of what he has mastered is merely common sense, but some of it is unique to living in New York City.  He is often surprised, and frequently exasperated, when he is confronted with people bumbling about town who are either not familiar with the basic rules for navigating one's way around the city or who choose to ignore them.

Today's essay is the first in a series I will be posting of Reggie's Rules For Navigating One's Way Around Manhattan Like a New Yorker.  My subject today is what I consider to be the rules for successfully navigating the sidewalks and streets of the city on foot, as a pedestrian.  I plan on following it with additional posts of Reggie's Rules for using taxis and public transportation in the city, when passing through doorways, and other miscellanea relevant to the subject.

Reggie's Rules for Walking Around Manhattan Like a New Yorker

New York is a city of walkers.  We use the sidewalks as our highways and our shoes as a form of transportation.  Walking is the most efficient and fastest way to get around many parts of Manhattan during the day, particularly Midtown, and it is a pleasant way to travel greater distances as well, at least when one has the time for it.  Furthermore, walking is good exercise, especially for those of us who spend much of our days sitting at desks high up in the city's office towers.

Reggie's Rules for Walking on Sidewalks:

1.  When walking on the sidewalks of New York, move it or get out of the way

New Yorkers use the city's sidewalks to actually go places.  When walking on busy sidewalks in Manhattan, either pick up the pace and walk like a New Yorker, or move to the side and let the city's on-the-go inhabitants pass you by, unimpeded by what they consider to be your dawdling.  This rule applies to everyone, including those slowpokes who live in New York and visitors from elsewhere who aren't accustomed to walking around in a busy city.

2.  Don't walk two and three abreast on a crowded sidewalk

It clogs up the sidewalk and annoys the people who are trying to get around you and go somewhere.  Be mindful of the other pedestrians who have places to go and a deadline for getting there.

3.  Just as when driving a car, stay to the right side of a busy sidewalk when heading in whichever direction you are walking

This is a particular problem in Midtown on Fifth Avenue on the blocks between the Trump Tower and the Apple store at the GM Building, where the sidewalks are clogged during daylight hours with out-of-towners gawking and milling about.  Stay to the right when walking on sidewalks—the traffic moves faster and more smoothly that way.

Reggie's Rules for Crossing the Street:

1.  When traversing a crosswalk at a busy intersection, do not walk out into approaching traffic when you don't have the light

If you do, do not then give the driver who honks at you while swerving to avoid hitting you a dirty look, or the finger, or shout obscenities at them.  It is okay for you to object to aggressive or thoughtless behavior from a driver when you have the right of way and they do not, but it is not acceptable for you to do so when you are the one who is ignoring the traffic light.

2.  Have your wits about you when jaywalking

New York is full of people who blithely jaywalk across traffic-filled streets mid-block, dodging cars with seemingly nary a care in the world.  Although Reggie considers jaywalking to be acceptable when the streets aren't busy, he does not recommend it when they are full of moving automobiles that could potentially mow you down.  Furthermore, he believes that you should never defiantly (or stupidly) jaywalk across a busy street with your back turned to the approaching traffic, as he sometimes is astonished to see idiots pedestrians doing from time to time.  If you do so you are sorely tempting fate.  You cannot count on the fact that the driver will see you, or will even care if he doesn't.  You are not immortal.

3.  When stepping between cars parallel parked on the side of a street, first check to see if someone is in one, and if so whether they are trying to park or get out of the space; do not walk between two cars when one of them is moving

That is, unless you don't care if your knee joints are crushed by the moving car when it accidentally pins you to the stationary one.  I know this seems like a highly obvious, common-sense rule, but you'd be surprised how many times Reggie has witnessed some numbskull pedestrian who is oblivious to it.

Reggie's Rules for Pedestrian General Good Behavior:

1.  Say "excuse me" when seeking to get around someone who is blocking your way, or when you have inadvertently bumped in to them

Your mother was right on that one.  Have some manners, please.

2.  Leave the golf umbrella at home

Only use regulation-sized umbrellas when walking on a crowded New York sidewalk in the rain.  It is piggy and thoughtless to use a huge golf umbrella, and possibly dangerous to the people around you who have to duck to get out of its way.

3.  Don't be embarrassed to ask for directions

Even born-and-bred New Yorkers get lost in Greenwich Village!

4. If you have time, stop and offer assistance to tourists who are obviously lost

They are an important part of the city's economy and should be welcomed by its citizens.  Consider it to be your good deed of the day.

And there you have it—Reggie's Rules for walking around Manhattan like a New Yorker.  Follow them, and you will be assured of cruising along the city's sidewalks and crossing its streets with ease, and pleased with your agility and facility in doing so.  That is, until you bump headlong into some dunderhead who either isn't aware of such rules or who thinks they are above such things.  If that happens, and after you say "excuse me" to them (even though they should be the one begging your forgiveness), please direct them over here to Reggie, who will be more than happy to straighten them out in these matters.

Next: Reggie's Rules for Taking Taxis and Livery Cars In and Around Manhattan

Photographs courtesy of Life Images


  1. Splendid advice...for any city.
    As for offering assisitance, I cannot tell you how often I help toursts who are in Philadelphia and lost while looking for "Love" park (actually JFK plaza) right across from my office...or Reading Terminal Market or Liberty Bell...etc. It is a nice thing to do...
    But I am also reminded of the old joke: "A tourist in Manhattan approaches a man on the street and says: can you tell me where the Empire State Builing is...or should I just go fuck myself..."

    (I must admit, after being in NY for 20 years, I find myself saying things aloud like, "You have got to be kidding" when a 5 foot tall person has a 6 foot wide umbrella on a crowded sidewalk....)

  3. Hello:
    Such excellent advice here and, should we ever [and we do so hope that one day we may] walk the Manhattan pavements, then we shall certainly be armed with Reggie's Rule Book. Since perhaps one day such a title may be on the shelves of our local bookseller.

    But what should we do in case of falling stucco, pot holes, uneven paving slabs, and cyclists? All of which, and a great deal more, are to be found on the streets of Budapest!

  4. You can always tell a civilian.

    If you haven't already included it your next installment: the right side of the escalator is for standing, the left is for climbing!

  5. Reggie, I so agree!!! The three-abreast meanderers drive me to distraction!

  6. I love it all! Just on Monday I asked my sister when people stopped walking to their right. I was nearly mowed down by a woman who was zig-zagging all over the sidewalk, cutting people short and then stopping and standing still. And then giving everyone she cut off the nastiest looks! Sometimes I wonder if people listened at all when their mothers spoke. Thank you, though, for spelling it out for those that needed to read it. Have a wonderful weekend.

  7. Thanks, very timely series, as I am going over there in September. Can you do one on tipping? As a nonAmerican,and coming from a country that doesn't have tipping, I always get confused about what tips are expected in the USA.

  8. Please let Reggie know that I think his blog is really swell. I just surfed on & I am looking forward to poking around.
    I lived in NYC in the mid-1970s. It was quite a different town in that decade.
    Best wishes from Portland, Oregon- the Brooklyn of the PNW.

  9. Such a delight .... takes me back many, many a year.

  10. I used to visit NYC often, and despite the reputation that Reggie alludes to was only met with courtesy and friendliness. People always went out of their way to give directions and if necessary help me negotiate the complex transportation system.

    I recall one very ancient and very proper lady who told me stories of old New York, and also about "the first time she went up in a dirigible", I think the only time I ever heard that word used in ordinary conversation.

  11. Love this. My daughter lives in Manhattan.

  12. Oh so right about walking on the right, which I am afraid becomes the subject for contact sport with people who insist on clinging to the left, even as two people approach them with the pointed ends of umbrellas extended! It can be positively gladitorial at times!

  13. Oh, I could not agree more. It annoys me to no end when someone walks out into a crosswalk and then gives the finger to the driver of the car he has just blocked. It's simply bad form. In such situations, etiquette dictates that the jaywalker should first pound on the car's hood with both hands, then attempt to raise both his hands and his shoulders above his head (In the yoga world I believe this is called the Angry Guido Position), and finally scream at the driver,"YO, I'M WALKIN' HEAH!!!!!" Everyone knows the middle finger is only to be used by drivers and never by pedestrians.

    My security word was "barbill." Who blabbed?

  14. And don't forget to look out for the messengers on bicycles when you are crossing the street. They come out of nowhere cruising at 100 mph and abide by no rules, although I've yet to hear of anyone in the city who has been run over by one of them. I've had a few close calls when I have violated Reggie's rule #3 to hail a cab, or worse, jaywalk when no traffic was coming.

    The only consolation is they get as much of a shock as you do...a momentary "deer in the headlights" look overcomes both parties, disaster is avoided, and life goes on. Very civilized.

  15. I love your suggestions which go for any big city. If only people would pay attention to where they were we would all walk a bit happier.

  16. Looking forwared to your bit about cab etiquette -especially after this past weekend in NY when a man getting out of a cab went balistic on me for 'rushing him'.

  17. Great post! I have one little request though. Reggie I would love to hear your take on double-wide strollers.


  18. Dearest Reggie
    I just had the pleasure of spending the week in NYC and I am pleased to report that I minded all my P's & Q's and didn't break a single one of your rules :)


  19. MLS: A most amusing and colorful joke, which I was not familiar with before you shared it. Thank you.

    Mr. Bluehaunt: Why, thank you!

    Jan and Lance Hattat: As far as falling debris, pot-holes, and errant cyclists, all of which NYC has, too, I suppose the rule is a rather mundane "keep your wits about you." I long to visit Budapest one day.

    Patsy: A most excellent suggestion, indeed!

    Stephanie: Yes, I am afraid that since New York emptied its lunatic asylums several decades ago, its streets have become the playground for such as those you describe...

    Anon 7:38: An excellent suggestion, I shall do so with pleasure (a most nettlesome topic, indeed!).

    Stephen: Thank you, and welcome.

    Parnassus: I find most New Yorkers to be genuinely welcoming and courteous, and many visitors charming. However, I find too many people (in general) to be oblivious to anything other than their own little worlds as well as to those that share the larger one with them, hence these rules. What a delightful story of the dowager!

  20. Anon 5:34: You capture it, exactly! Thank you for your amusing comment.

    Lindaraxa: Thank you. Fortunately there are far fewer bicycle messengers dangerously whizzing around the city today than in year's past. Other forms of even faster delivery have since largely obsoleted them.

    ArchitectDesign: It sounds as if that fellow got out of the wrong side of bed that morning, or perhaps he does so every morning?

    Jonathan Says: Thank you. Reggie believes that strollers of any kind, whether single or double, should be left at home along with their inhabitants and the nanny charged with their care. He prefers the use of perambulators for those that actually need them (i.e., infants), as opposed to molly-coddling strollers for children who are well able to walk and should be required to do so, rather than being pushed around like so many little princes and princesses.

    Slim Paley: Thank you for your comment. Reggie did read your delightful account of your trip, and enjoyed the photographs you showed immensely (as he always does). He is not one bit surprised that you observed such rules as he is wont to share here, as he believes you are a lady of uncommonly good, common sense.

  21. Love this! Can't wait to hear what you have to say about the subway.

    When I first moved to the city I always kept a map hidden in a book (especially when going downtown) and if lost I would get out of the way and pretend to read my book. When I had been there a while I enjoyed asking tourists (especially the ones studying a map) if they needed directions, partially because they always seemed so surprised by the offer of help. However, I never helped people shuffling three abreast while looking up with their mouths open.

  22. I have come across far too many people who walk backwards without looking, either returning to the curb when they have first ventured inappropriately into traffic or just plain taking a few steps backward to have a look at something. I have cheerfully told these people (who have stepped on my foot on numerous occasions), "There is no walking backwards in New York City!"

  23. Excellent advice!!! Can the "no walking two and three abreast" also apply to the bridges? Such as the Brooklyn Bridge? And no texting nonstop as you stroll casually down the bridge, pausing occasionally to snap a phone picture. Believe it or not, some people actually use those bridges to get from one point to another or to get their lunchtime exercise in? Argh, that used to drive me crazy!

  24. Just one more to add, it is my peeve when walking in the city. I hate it when all of a sudden I get a huge drift of smoke in my face. Especially from the three walking abreast in the middle of the sidewalk. I know smoking while walking is not banned but maybe soon?????

  25. You know that thing that happens when two people are coming straight at each other on the sidewalk and neither knows whether to go left or right to get around? Here's a tip: Don't look at the person. Fix your gaze in the direction you're going (either way) and that will signal the other person which way you intend to go. They'll go the other way. It works!

  26. Shanti Chowdary PendurthiMay 16, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    Reggie- As I am planning to visit my son in NYC in July, he is studying at Columbia-Econ & Hist. Your article on city rules was really useful, will be thinking of you when i`m there, we will be staying in Soho with cousins for a week. I visit every year and I love the city, more than London and I grew up there. I Would love to let you know how i came across your blog- was googling Margaret Sullivan- the actress after having just watched one of her films with James Stewart- loved it! Slim Keith`s name cropped up in her biography and googling Slim`s name - your blog came up, very much enjoyed the article on the socialite, she was beautiful in her heyday. What a charmed life you have to meet people like her and others- it all sounds so dreamy .


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