Getting Around New York City from the Last Hope

I’ll be attending the Last Hope conference this weekend at the Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan this weekend. Here are my tips for out-of-towners trying to get around. The conference web site has ample instructions on getting to the conference, so this is an attempt to give fellow attendees some tips on getting around once they get to the convention.

Prepare to walk. New York City is a city of walkers and meant for walking. As walking is a primary mode of transportation, people get as fed up with inconsiderate walkers as drivers do with lousy drivers. Try not to get in people’s way or block up pedestrian traffic. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for directions, just don’t assume everyone is giving the right answer.

To get an idea of how far you need to walk, keep these rules of thumb in mind — each city block is about 1/20th of a mile North-to-South and 1/7th mile East-to-West. The “Streets” (e.g. 42 St.) go North to South and increase in number as you go North. The “Avenues” (e.g. 7 Ave.) go East to West and increase as you head West.

An important note on address numbers. Most address numbers on east-west are followed by an E (meaning East) or W (meaning West) as in 389 E 42 St. . All these address numbers start at the center of the island and increase as you go outwards, so if you are looking for 596 W 36 St., and you are heading East and you see the numbers going up, and the street signs say “E 36 St.”, you’re headed in the wrong direction. Avenue address numbers behave normally.

Like any good cartesian system, navigating Manhattan is best with two coordinates, so if you know the street something is on, ask for the nearest “cross street”. This should get you to the closest street corner to your destination. If your address is on a “street”, you want the nearest “avenue”, and vice versa.

New York is a terrible city to drive for yourself in, but a great city for getting driven around. Taxi cabs are plentiful and fairly inexpensive. If you share a cab with friends, then the divided fare is often less than the collective cost of the subway. I have found New York cab drivers to be honest and reliable. Sometimes they drive fast, so if it bothers you, tell ‘em to slow down. One of the most annoying behaviours I witness are people trying to befriend their cab driver. Keep the relationship professional and polite. They’re trying to make a buck, but they will be helpful if asked and they are able to help. Don’t forget to tip. Taxi cabs and their fares are strictly regulated. You should never be intimidated into paying more than the price showing on the automatic fare box. I’ll remind a driver to turn on the counter if he doesn’t do so at the start of a trip.

Keep in mind that it may be very hard to find a cab right at the Hotel Pennsylvania, as you are right across from Penn Station. Taxi cab stations are usually crowded and present a long wait. Your best bet is to walk a few blocks away from the busiest intersection and then to hail a cab. Just stick out your arm and wave to cabs that your see. All yellow cabs have dome lights on their roof to signal their availability. If the light is on, and it doesn’t say “off-duty”, then it’s available for a ride. When a cab stops, get in and then tell them where you’re going. They’re required to take you anywhere within city limits and can’t ask for the money up front.

I would advise most newcomers to avoid the subway system, especially during the late nights and weekends. Track maintenance and irregular schedules make the subways unreliable after midnight and during the weekends. North-South trips may be worthwhile if you’re not transferring, but as subway personnel are about as helpful as guards at Guantanamo Bay, you’re best going only if you’re with a native New Yorker. Anyway, if you take a cab, you’ll actually see the city.

As to city buses, I don’t use ‘em and they have a schedule and route system all their own, so ask someone to explain it to you if you get the inkling, but they’re mostly a slow waste of time except for some trips.

You’ll probably be sticking close to the Hotel Pennsylvania for the weekend, but if you get the urge to locomote, hopefully these tips will come in handy. New York City is a great city to explore, and some fresh air and a change of scenery will help clear the head.

Leave a Reply