The key to grasping the unwritten rules of moving through New York City is to first understand that New Yorkers are not rude. In fact, we’re almost uniformly helpful and polite. If you’re lost or confused, ask directions or advice from strangers on the street; New Yorkers are proud to show off their mastery of navigating the town and happy to recommend interesting destinations not found in the guidebooks.
What confuses visitors is the fact that New Yorkers are in a hurry. It’s part of our cultural identity. Being in a hurry signifies that what we’re doing is important, even though it’s seldom true.
Once you understand that, it should be clear why New Yorkers are so exasperated with you on the sidewalk: You’re in our way.
How to Walk in New York City (Especially Manhattan)
Here’s the key: A New York City sidewalk (or stair or escalator) is a highway. Follow the same rules as driving and you’ll take care of almost all issues New Yorkers have with tourists. Thus:
- Keep to the right.
Just like the slow and passing lanes on the highway: the slower you walk, the further to the right. If you’re in the passing lane and you’re going the same speed as the person next to you, you’re blocking traffic. Just like on the highway: keep to the right except for passing.
The same rules apply to subway stairs and escalators.
- If you need to stop, pull over.
Never, ever stop in the middle of a sidewalk. Just like on the highway: if you stop, you’ll be rear-ended.
- Look both ways and merge.
Leaving any building is like getting on a highway entrance ramp.
- Other thoughts.
If you’re walking and looking at your phone, I guarantee you’re pissing people off.
If you and your friends are walking down the sidewalk three or four abreast, I guarantee you’re pissing people off.
- To Sum Up
There are people behind you who just want to get past. Always.