Walking is the best way to get around the city. You can see more of it, and you’ll experience the city like a true New Yorker. Though there are some times that it’ll be easier or necessary to take the subway, a cab, or ride a bike or ferry, walking should be the number one mode of transport for you in the city.
The grid system is the intricate maze of avenues that run north and south and streets that run east and west. This system is what makes walking so enjoyable (and driving such a nightmare!) in NYC.
If you can understand the grid, you can get around the city pretty easily without getting lost.
The grid begins at Houston Street in Lower Manhattan and runs up through the northernmost parts of the city. Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island have their own grid systems too.
The avenues begin on the east side of Manhattan with 1st Avenue and end on the west side of the city with 10th Avenue.
You’ll notice some of the avenues are named and numbered, like Avenue of the Americas (also 6th Avenue). These were simply names awarded to certain streets to commemorate a historic part of the city.
Broadway runs up the center of the city and cuts to the west side of central park and is not attributed to a numerical avenue.
Numbered streets begin north of Houston Street (and begin with 1st Street). Each block north of 1st Street follows in ascending order (for the most part). Some streets are named instead of numbered and don’t follow the grid.
East and West
Numbered streets east of 5th Avenue are denoted with an E. before the street (as in E. 34th Street), and streets west of 5th Avenue are denoted with a W.
Parts of Manhattan north of Houston don’t follow the grid system. Some of the streets in SoHo, Little Italy, the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village, and the West Village are named. Some of the numbered streets in Greenwich Village don’t follow the grid either. For example, W. 4th Street intersects with W. 10th Street (and both are above W. 11th).
Long Blocks and Short Blocks
When walking north or south, the blocks are about 1/20th of a mile. When walking east or west, the blocks are about three times the size of the north or southbound blocks. New Yorkers refer to these as long and short blocks.
Though the grid system allows you to find your way around, it’s not always foolproof. Getting out of the subway can feel a little disorienting if you don’t know which way is north. Sometimes I have no idea if I’m walking east or west until I’ve walked a block (or more) out of the way. To avoid these hassles, I use a few apps.
Some of the apps I use in the city include:
- iMaps or Google Maps
- Compass app (no joke!)
The compass app in particular can be super helpful to figure out which way is east or west without walking in either direction and keeping an eye on my iMaps “dot” to see which way it moves.
Sometimes I note if an avenue I’m standing near is one way. I look to see which way the cars are driving before checking out if the one-way traffic flows north or south on iMaps.
I also use the tall buildings to navigate my way around the city. If I’m north of 34th Street, I can find out which direction is south by locating the Empire State Building. I often use One World Trade Center, the Chrysler Building, and other tall buildings to navigate my way around the city.
It generally takes one minute to walk a short block and about three minutes to walk a long block. Simply count the number of blocks you need to walk to estimate the time it will take you to walk there—don’t forget to add a few minutes for wait times at crosswalks!
Walk Signals and Crosswalks
You’ll notice that most New Yorkers ignore crossing signals and crossing guards. You can always tell who isn’t from New York by the way they cross the street.
New York is one of the safest cities in the world, but traffic can be hazardous sometimes. Even though car traffic can be dangerous, bike traffic can be even more dangerous for pedestrians. Cyclists often ride on sidewalks and don’t pay attention to traffic lights or other laws.
Look both ways when stepping off the sidewalk and into the street, and be aware of bikers and cars nearby.
Walk Like a New Yorker
Recently, a guest and I were talking about why New Yorkers are perceived as “unlikeable”. The man told me that New Yorkers are generally nice—as long as you don’t get in their way when they’re walking.
This is the truest narrative on New Yorkers that I have heart in a long time.
New Yorkers generally walk very fast, don’t pay attention to crosswalk signals, and despise when other pedestrians get in their way.
Don’t ever (ever!) stop in the middle of the sidewalk to look at your map, take a photo, tie your shoe, look up at a building, or look at your phone. Always pull over to the side if you need to stop walking for any reason.
Walking the streets of New York can sometimes feel like swimming upstream. The cardinal rule is to simply stay out of the way of other pedestrians. If you need to walk slower than the other pedestrians around you, stick to the right side of the sidewalk to allow others to pass on your left.