Getting Around and into NYC
GETTING AROUND AND INTO NYC
We recommend public over private transportation in the city. Leave the car at home if at all possible or at least park it in a garage near your egress point and get yourself a MetroCard, good on buses and subways. Taxis can be another good value alternative especially for a group of three but we caution you that Manhattan's cross-town traffic at midday with the meter running is so slow you can walk faster than you can drive. (Yes, we've timed it.)
New York City residents and commuters have the highest rate of public transportation use in the country with access to an extensive rail-subway-bus-ferry infrastructure. Unlike many other American cities there is no class stigma to using public transportation and, in fact, is considered to be the smartest way to move around the city quickly and efficiently. An ardent supporter of public transportation and himself a regular rider of the city's subways, NYC's Mayor Bloomberg has proposed severe driving restrictions to further reduce the Manhattan's gridlock and encourage more mass transit use. While this plan has been largely resisted, he remains a champion of increasing the city's energy efficiency and green profile. The MTA posts a calendar of events that you can get to by riding public transportation and often offers a discount of some kind. The MTA has several rail/event ticket deals for day trips to places like Madame Tussaud's, American Museum of Natural History and Top of the Rock. You must plan a week ahead and buy your tickets online. You will receive rail tickets and discount admission to the event by mail within 2-3 business days. LIRR rail/event tickets are also available.
With our advice and links, you too can walk and ride with the city's fast-moving elite and get to your destinations with minimal fuss. Yes, sometimes you'll experience delays but consider overhearing New Yorkers complain part of the NY experience. If a more serious delay occurs, you'll find your fellow commuters to be excellent problem solvers happy to apply their experience to your dilemma.
How the Fares Work
New York City's subway system is the largest in the world and is operated by the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority http://www.mta.info/) which also handles city buses and rail service connecting the city to Long Island, upstate New York and Connecticut.
The full fare is $2.25 for a bus or subway ride and most take advantage of MTA's MetroCards which apply a discount to that fare. Our favorite for visitors is the 1-Day Fun Pass that costs $8.25 and can be purchased at vending machines in subway stations and at some neighborhood stores. Select the unlimited choice on vending machines to access the 1-Day Fun Pass. It's good from the time of your first ride on both subways and buses (and the Roosevelt Island Tramway) until 3am the following morning. If you are planning to take at least 4 rides during the day, this is a good deal and it relieves you of thinking about how many more rides you have left on a regular MetroCard. You cannot share this card as it is programmed to 18-minute intervals. If you want to share a card among up to 4 people and don't think you'll use many rides, consider a Pay-Per-Ride card that earns a 15% discount on $8+ cards. The MTA figures your average cost per ride with the discount is $1.96. Two people taking 4 or more subway or bus rides in a day usually save more with two 1-Day Fun Passes since by the fifth ride your average cost is $1.65. Otherwise, share a card if you are planning under 4 rides each.
Last year the MTA introduced a pay-as-you-go EasyPay Xpress card that works much like the highway toll-booth EZ-Passes used in the northeast. This is primarily intended for regular commuters but if you are a frequent visitor and are comfortable with the method of credit card withdrawal then you may want to consider it. http://www.mta.info/metrocard/EasyPayXpress.htm
Be aware that city buses are not equipped to take dollar bills, only exact change. If you do not have exact change, you can purchase single- and multi-use MetroCards at many city locations from drug stores to news kiosks as well as inside subway stations.
New Yorkers are "map people." Everyone checks the maps posted in subway stations and along the tracks to contemplate a better route. It's a popular pastime while waiting for the next train. Do the same or get your own free map at any manned subway station. Ask at the booth. They also stock bus maps for the borough you are in. Maps can also be picked up at the New York City Transit Museum's satellite space in Grand Central Station. You can also plan ahead by downloading maps from the MTA at http://www.mta.info/mta/maps.htm. Lastly, maps can be picked up at the city tourism offices.
The city's subways have number or letter names. The origins of this system can be thoroughly explored at the New York City Transit Museum in Brooklyn and via MTA history sites but for practical purposes know that the system is well connected between numbered and lettered lines and you can move easily via underground walkways and connections among them. Whenever possible, take a direct rather than a multi-line or connecting route even if it means walking a few blocks to your final destination. Our experience is that you lose about 5-10 minutes with every connection you make. Since the subways and buses are nicely connected, you can luck out and catch a bus going your way once up on street level.
We list nearby travel options in the events calendar and the MTA has a planning tool on their website (http://tripplanner.mta.info/) to help you find the best subway/bus route to your destination. Many New Yorkers love HopStop for route planning http://www.hopstop.com/?city=newyork. We especially like the time/day element factored into both planning tools since we know that certain times of the day and days of the week affect travel time and route.
Once out of the subway, it's easy to get turned around. A map of the local neighborhood is generally posted by the stationmaster's booth and main exits that can help you orient yourself and identify major landmarks and tourist sites in the area. Also look at the exit signs which will indicate on which corner you will emerge by compass position (SW corner of ...). Especially downtown, its best to ask someone above ground which way is east and west, north and south since the grid system of numbered streets does not exist and it's easy to start walking in the wrong direction. Granted the streets are closer together in this part of town so you won't wander for long but you have places to go today and don't want to lose that precious commodity, time. TIP: Hikers and other outdoorsmen/women might want to bring a compass on their city trek. You will instantly know if you are heading uptown (northerly), downtown (southerly), east or west.
A word about buses: They can be slow in mid-town but they are a great way to get a cheapie tour of the city from ground level. The north-south ones run faster than the east-west ones (one the city's great mysteries). One of my favorites is the M103 going down Lexington (catch it east of Grand Central) to Chinatown and beyond. The ride takes about 35-40 minutes and you see the city change as you head downtown through Murray Hill, the East Village, Little Italy and Chinatown and finally to City Hall. People are more talkative on buses than subways so if you like a bit of a chat with the locals, use the bus.
Part of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Port Authority Trans Hudson Corporation (PATH) operates trains between key northern New Jersey hubs and Manhattan below 33rd Street. Newark, Hoboken and points in between have lines that run to the former World Trade Center area and through the Village and up to 33rd Street near Penn Station.
SmartLink cards can be purchased at station vending machines for as little as 10 rides ($13) or a one-day unlimited pass ($6). Undiscounted per ride fare is $1.75. For a list of card vendors and more SmartLink options and timetables, go to the PATH site
How to decide between driving into the city and taking the train? Suburbanites need to weigh the harsh realities of gas prices and low-mileage SUV's against the mobility of their clan and their alacrity with new experiences. If you are traveling with a large group and have very young or mobility-challenged members in your travel party, you may need to resort to the car. Your green stance, sense of adventure and desire for midtown speed may be outweighed by a straightforward cost comparison of gas, tolls and garage parking fees versus the cost of rail tickets, MetroCards, and an exhausted Aunt Milly. For some, especially the fit and those who don't relish a drive home on rush hour-congested highways, the opportunity to make more use of mass transit is worth the investment.
Outside of Manhattan, some venues are easier to reach by car and have on-site parking although in a city where fewer than half of the residents own a car, there is always a way to get to most places without one.
If you must bring your vehicle to midtown Manhattan, we suggest a compromise. Park the car in a garage as close as possible to your point of egress and use mass transit from there. If you are shopping and don't want to carry bags consider having the store mail your purchases to you and your gift recipients or talk to the garage about stopping back later to drop something off. (Note: charm and persuasion skills count here and garages will not take responsibility for lost or stolen items.) BestParking.com is a good link to search for a garage near your destination. We also realy like Park It! NYC: Complete Guide to Parking Garages. The author is as obsessive as we are about checking things out personally and has visited 1,100 garages and lots to check out hourly and special rates, extra charges for SUVs and oversized vehicles, clearance heights, credit cards taken, you name it. You can search for the closest garage to your event or a garage where you can park for $10 all day while you shop. The book is available online at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble and the book’s own website.
We can't tell you which is the right choice for you, merely lay out the questions you should ask yourself. We think about things like our license plate and the make/model of our vehicle when we consider this question. Also our tolerance for reading complicated no parking signs and the time required driving around a block eight times hoping for a space. If you have a New York license plate and on older, non-classic vehicle (or one that is not on the list of favorites among chop-shops), go ahead and street park. Visible locking devices and up-to-date insurance are recommended. If you drive a new Lexus with out of state plates, you may be broadcasting a "take advantage of this innocent tourist" message. Most on street parking is just fine, if severely limited. A handy link from NYC DOT on the ins and outs of parking in the city can be found at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/prkintro.shtml .
Should you park on the street?
A note about asking for driving directions
Keep in mind that you are driving in a city where few do. New Yorkers can give you excellent advice on the best place to stand on a subway platform and how to get anywhere provided it involves walking, going underground or remaining in the borough you are in. If you are driving from New Jersey to Long Island and have printed out mapquest or google map directions indicating that the best route is on I-495 and then need to ask directions while crossing Manhattan, be prepared for terms like the Queens Mid-Town Tunnel and the LIE (Long Island Expressway) and a puzzled look when you ask about 495. Likewise for most routes identified by number on maps and websites. Below is a partial list to help you translate the natives' vocabulary and bridge the divide between drivers and riders.
||Roadways covered by highway number
||New Jersey Turnpike Extension into NYC via Holland Tunnel
||Cross Bronx Expressway heading west from the Bruckner Interchange, George Washington Bridge (the GW), New Jersey Turnpike
||Bruckner Expressway, Triborough Bridge, Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE, briefly before split with Grand Central Parkway including the Kosciusko Bridge), Grand Central Parkway, Gowanus Expressway (Brooklyn). Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Staten Island Expressway, Goethels Bridge (NJ-Staten Island)
||from Bruckner Interchange to Cross Bronx Expressway and Throgs Neck Bridge (aka 695), Clearview Expressway (Queens)
||Brooklyn Battery Tunnel
||Lincoln Tunnel, Queens Mid-Town Tunnel, Queens Mid-Town Expressway, Long Island Expresway (LIE)
||Hutchinson River Parkway (as it approaches Whitestone Bridge), Whitestone Bridge, Van Wyck Expressway
||connects I-95 (Bruckner) with 1-295 (Cross Bronx to Throgs Neck)
||Sheridan Expressway (Bronx) was once part of 278
||Henry Hudson Parkway, Westside Highway
This is a classic way to get into the city, used by sleepy commuters and excited visitors daily. The MTA oversees MetroNorth trains serving upstate New York (from both sides of the Hudson) and Connecticut and the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) services Long Island towns. NJ Transit oversees commuter rail into the New York City from New Jersey.
MetroNorth arrives at Grand Central Terminal with stops on some trains in Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil (for Wave Hill Estate) and other Bronx stations including the New York Botanical Gardens and Fordham University (which puts you within a few blocks of Bronx's Little Italy). Trains also stop at 125th Street in Harlem which is perfect for accessing uptown locations like The Apollo Theater and Museum Mile. Western lines run into New Jersey and Penn Station via Secaucus, NJ. The MTA website has a very good planning tool with fares, maps and schedules. http://www.mta.info/index.html. Trains on the west side of the Hudson coordinate with NJ Transit.
NJ Transit (http://www.njtransit.com/) is a little more complex to navigate. Their ticket vending machines even take longer. Happily you no longer have to know what corridor your starting or ending station is on to use the trip planner. Keep in mind that there are two Penn Stations—one in Newark and one in New York City. Know which one you want and you will have fewer problems.
Many visitors can take advantage of the lower-priced off-peak tickets or some combination of peak and off-peak to save money by avoiding peak rush hour commuter trains. If you are heading into Manhattan and then to an outer borough (e.g. one of the other four), we recommend an early start (peak ticket) that will allow you plenty of time to connect via subway or ferry to your destination and thus a full day to enjoy your itinerary. For single events and most things in Manhattan you can often ride on an off-peak ticket. Check the website or your local train station for peak and off-peak hours. (They differ according to how far you live from the city.) If you buy your train ticket with a credit card online from MetroNorth's WebTicket a few days ahead you can get a 5% discount. (Monthly commuters save 2%.) Postage is free and tickets arrive two to three business days after you place your order. LIRR WebTicket is also available from Long Island.
Peak- Off Peak
Don't forget about the MetroNorth rail/event ticket deals that can also be ordered up to one week ahead of the event online. LIRR rail/event tickets are also available.
Arriving at New York's Port Authority and often other strategic locations, buses carry commuters and visitors into the city form all surrounding points. Many have special Wednesday and Saturday fares (and travel hours) that are designed for Matinee theater-goers with a bit of shopping or sightseeing in mind. Many of these require ticket purchase ahead. Several large companies have arrivals at Port Authority and relationships with smaller lines. Greyhound http://www.greyhound.com/home/ gets visitors in from points around NY state and beyond. Peter Pan http://www.peterpanbus.com/ has bus service to New York from the New England states plus Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. New Jersey Transit Bus Service serves New Jersey locations and Martz connects northern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania to the city where train service is nil. Peter Pan is celebrating its 75th Anniversary and Martz it's 50th this year.
The Staten Island Ferry is so much fun we list it as an attraction on this site. Movie fans of Working Girl will recall that it is also a commuter ferry transporting over 60,000 New Yorkers to work every weekday. There is no charge to ride the ferry which travels between Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan and St. George on the northeast tip of State Island. Travel time is about 1/2 hour and the ferries leave just about every half hour. Click here for more info http://www.siferry.com/ and to check specific schedules for the day you are traveling. Cars are no longer permitted on the ferry but you'll notice plenty of spots to park a bike. While onboard you can call up an audio-tour (718-297-8687) on your cell phone to hear actor Paul Sorvino provide commentary on the sights you'll see from the harbor including the Statue of Liberty.
Even in the winter, some people like to be out on the water (us included). This is a unique way to use mass transit into Manhattan from New Jersey and several boroughs. If you live near Weehawken, Hoboken, Highlands or Jersey City, New Jersey check out this link to schedule an Manhattan island visit. This site also links to the borough ferry connections. http://www.panynj.gov/COMMUTINGTRAVEL/ferry/html/nyh.html
Other Ferries and Water Taxis
New York City's favorite mode of transportation
"10 long, 20 short" is the rough scale New Yorkers use to measure walking distance. 10 long blocks (east-west between the avenues) or 20 short blocks (north south between numbered streets) each measure approximately 1 mile. And you will find yourself putting in some real mileage in the city. Now you have a way to estimate whether you should walk or grab public transportation between your destinations.
Many exceptions to the rule as the grid system was imposed after many original streets and their names were entrenched but with this basic information you can find your way to most places. Ask a pedestrian for help, the locals know where they are (generally) and are actually quite friendly. Even sophisticated Manhattan-ites who spend most of their time uptown will tell you that when they head downtown, they usually ask which way is up/down or east/west before wasting their time wandering in the wrong direction. Downtown is colonial, the buildings are close to one another, streets are at an angle and it's easier to get turned around. People are used to being asked, so go ahead.
How to read the streets of NYC
Avenues run north-south and streets run east-west. Remember "East is Even, West is Odd" meaning that vehicular traffic flows east or west depending on whether you are on an even or odd numbered street. This is key when jumping into cabs since time and money go down the drain if your cabbie needs to turn around. Try to hail a cab going in the direction you are going.
Fifth Avenue divides the city into its east and west sides and building numbers emanate from Fifth Avenue. Avenues run north-south (uptown-downtown). Get to know the order of the avenues and the rest is easy. The pattern starts to break up in Greenwich Village (the Village) so look at a neighborhood map in any subway station or ask someone. Our favorite street address finder site is http://www.ny.com/locator/ which lets you plug in a street address and calculates what blocks you find that address between. A huge time saver.
Avenues run north-south (uptown-downtown). Get to know the order of the avenues (below) and the rest is easy. Understand that Broadway runs diagonally from northwest (on the Upper West Side) to southeast (downtown). It crosses midtown at Times Square, the village at Union Square and so on. Where Broadway falls between avenues depends on where you are-- uptown, midotwn or downtown.
From east to west, the avenues are:
- York Avenue (bumps out between 56th and 93rd streets)
- 1st Avenue
- 2nd Avenue
- 3rd Avenue
- Lexington Avenue
- Park Avenue
- Madison Avenue
- Fifth Avenue
- 6th Avenue (aka Avenue of the Americas)
- 7th Avenue (becomes Varick below West Houston Sreet)
- 8th Avenue (becomes Central Park West above 59th Street and Hudson below Bank Street)
- 9th Avenue (becomes Columbus Avenue above 59th Street and merges into Hudson below 14th Street or becomes Greenwich Street below 13th Street)
- 10th Avenue (becomes Amsterdam Avenue above 59th Street)
- 11th Avenue (becomes West End Avenue at about 59thth Street)
- 12th Avenue (becomes West Side Highway above 57th Street)
Note: Greenwich Avenue vs Greenwich St. Learn the difference if you like the Village
Another semi-grid system with most Streets running north-south (number 1 in the west) and Avenues running east-west (number 1 in the north). Many larger named streets, so don't despair. Named boulevards (like Northern Blvd, Queens Blvd) run east-west.
Rockaway and Ridgewood—are exceptions to the Queens grid system so bring a map.
In the Bronx you can determine your rough location by looking for horizontal streets. Lower numbers are further south and higher numbers put you farther north. Numbers start at 132nd Street and go as high as 263rd Street.
Street names are interspersed with the numbers (especially north of Van Courtland Park) and things get a bit twisty in certain parts so use this as a rule of thumb to orient yourself rather than hard and fast directions.
Brooklyn has street names. Arm yourself with a map.
Like Brooklyn, Staten Island uses street names primarily so bring a map.