Navigating NYC Like a Pro

Essential Tips and Secrets for Getting Around the Five Boroughs

October 17, 2017 by SVA Viewbook
A festival.
Pedestrians walk past a mural on the side of an apartment complex.

Even if you're a native, New York City can be overwhelming. Knowing how to navigate the city streets is the first step toward never being mistaken for a tourist again. Below are essential tips for getting around—whether by subway, cab, bus, tram, bike or your own two feet.

EAST VS. WEST: Above 14th Street, east and west are divided by Fifth Avenue. Below 14th Street, they’re divided by Broadway.

GETTING ACROSS TOWN: Most of the time, it’s actually quicker to walk rather than take a crosstown bus in the city. Trust us.

HOW TO CROSS THE STREET: Perhaps it was the late George Carlin who compared New Yorkers crossing the street to a baseball player trying to steal a base. Generally New Yorkers inch out from the curb, darting back to the curb till the coast is clear. This takes time to master. And beware of bike lanes! Cyclists sometimes “salmon,” and you may not see them coming.

WALKING ON A BUSY STREET: Think of a crowded street like cars on the highway. Just as you would on the highway, if you need to stop, look to your left or right for a safe spot to pause. Then, without slowing down, walk swiftly.

step aside notice next to a yellow line

SUBWAYS: Do not block the doors. When waiting to get on a train, stand to the side and let people out first. If you’re on the train and stuck at the door, exit the car briefly to allow passengers to get out. Or get knocked down. Your call.

SUBWAY ESCALATORS: If you don’t want to walk, stay on the right side. If you want to walk and someone on the left side is blocking you, you may politely ask them to move to the right. This doesn’t mean they will.

HAILING A CAB: Look at the numbers on top of the cab. Are they illuminated? That taxi is available. Unavailable taxis’ numbers are dimmed. See an available taxi—raise your arm. (And wear your seatbelt.) Note: Several years ago, NYC put annoying TV monitors in all the cabs. You can mute these. Look for the mute button.

GREEN CABS: These new cabs serve the outer boroughs as well as northern Manhattan. You can only hail one of these north of 96th Street or in the outer boroughs, but they can drop you off anywhere. Pro tip: Uber, Lyft and others are sweet rides, but beware of surge pricing in bad weather or at rush hour. And leave a positive review for your drivers—they can rate you, too!

CORNERS/SIDES OF STREETS: Far corner, near corner, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, west side of the street, east side, north side, south side. In Manhattan, we like to specify on which corner we’re meeting a friend or which side and corner to get dropped off on by a cab.

A row of citi bikes in the city.

CITI BIKE: New York’s bike share is ever-expanding, now found in three boroughs. The bright blue bikes will get you around town in a jiff and you can get some exercise, too. Available to rent by the day, week or year. A great supplement to your MetroCard. Be careful and wear a helmet.

ROOSEVELT ISLAND TRAM: The tram actually shuttles you from the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island. But people just like to ride back and forth for the stunning city views. A swipe of your Metrocard is all it takes.

MTA BUS ETIQUETTE: If you’re lucky enough to snag one of the three solo seats (after the reserved seats) on the left-hand side of the bus, grab it. It’s choice real estate. If not, then move to the back of the bus, people. And New Yorkers do actually offer their seats to the disabled, the elderly and pregnant women, so use your good manners.

East to West shuttle bus number 621 for the NYC Airporter.

PEDICABS: This is more of a tourist thing, though we’ve seen harried commuters reluctantly hop in at Penn Station for an expensive ride when the taxi line is just too long. We think pedicabs look kind of silly and even a little dangerous, but who are we to judge.

STATEN ISLAND FERRY: More than just a way to get to and from Staten Island, the ferry provides a relaxing ride with magnificent Manhattan skyline views and Statue of Liberty photo ops. And best of all, it’s free!

SVA SHUTTLE: Our brightly colored bus gets you from the Gramercy campus to the Flatiron campus and back again, including stops at the Fine Arts building on West 16th Street, as well as the new 24th Street Residence, which includes Student Affairs and other administrative offices.

—Text excerpted from "SVA NYC Sites," School of Visual Arts Viewbook 2017-2018; Visual Arts Press.