Optimal Walking in New York City, a How-To

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Walking in the city is a full contact sport. From one professional city walker to another, here’s how I do things.

Please note: this guide is intended for solo walkers. For couples and groups, many of these tactics are sub-optimal; however, they may prove useful for those serving as group leader in the mama duck role. If demand exists, I will expand and modify this guide to include optimal-walking recommendations for dates, business conversations, threesomes, and for groups four and larger. Please enjoy.

Principles

  1. Use the road.
    Don’t be afraid to walk in the street. Sidewalks, particularly downtown, weren’t built with a bustling metropolis in mind and are narrow in many places. If you’re stuck behind a slow-moving tourist, check for motor vehicle traffic, and walk in the street. The lights in NYC are pretty predictable, and likewise the traffic (when it’s not at a standstill). Take advantage.
  2. City blocks are not one-dimensional: cut corners wherever possible.
    If we take a city block and take a look at the cross-section, you’ll notice that streets have dimensions. That is, they have sidewalks, and road, parked cars, and traffic lights.


    Look at all that space between buildings!

    When walking down the street, look for opportunities to cross the street before an intersection or cross walk. But, don’t walk in a straight line across, perpendicular to traffic… cross at an angle.

    The Blue Line is how you’ve likely been doing things. Follow the red line next time… but watch for traffic!

    The other clear advantage to cutting the corner is that you often avoid most of the pedestrian traffic on both the sidewalk and the crosswalk. As discussed with principle #1, use the road. Don’t let dumplings* slow you down.

  3. When aggressively cutting corners and crossing blocks, prioritize avenues over streets.
    Avenues run along Manhattan top-to-bottom whereas streets run cross-town. In general, avenues are wider and are much harder to cross because city engineers prioritize uptown/downtown traffic flow over cross-town traffic. So, cross them when you can, and use the entire road (as in the red-line above.)

    Cross-town traffic tends to be at a standstill. Coupled with a narrower road, they’re much easier to cross.

  4. Avoid corners of immobility.
    On many street corners, particularly in midtown, some lights block you from crossing the street in either direction. Avoid these where possible.
  5. Show preference towards how the crow flies.
    Usually, walkers travel up/down-town and cross-town. If you max out your amount of up-/down- or left-/right-ness, you’ll be subject to the lights in one direction only– meaning, there’s a lot of waiting around. Sometimes, this is unavoidable, but keep it in mind.
  6. Cut through parks and building tunnels whenever possible.
    This should be obvious but for one caveat: sometimes those tunnels are filled with people. Often not, so check foot traffic density before committing, because they’re no way out.
  7. Avoid touristy areas, unless you don’t mind walking in the street.
    They’re full of dumplings… and for you tourists out there, the streets are where all the celebrity’s walk. They have about as much tolerance for tourists as I do.

  8. Avoid Construction Sidewalks
    You’re much more┬ásusceptible┬áto being caught behind a dumpling. And, to boot, the area is often filthy with small ponds forming when it rains. Just walk around, in the street if possible.

I hope this has been helpful.

*Term coined by Oz Sultan

5 comments
Grace Piper
Grace Piper

A classic New York post. Nicely done.

-Grace

Kath
Kath

You're so helpful. How very Gruen of you!

John C.
John C.

Eye contact with palms outstretched

5 words!

Matt
Matt

I live in Denver. For whatever reason, I have a lot of friends who are from NYC. And I can always tell. Because when we walk through the city, they cross against lights, weave through traffic, and cut through building lobbies. Meanwhile, there I am, a native, dutifully waiting for the walk signal to change.