Navigating NYC
June 12, 2004 8:53 AM   Subscribe

So - and this will out me as the newbie of newbies - how does one navigate New York City?
posted by casarkos to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (19 answers total)
is there a more specific question?
manhattan is a pretty straightforward grid for the most part, except a bit of the west village where things get silly (where W4th street crosses W10th) and down below houston where you have names instead of numbers, and some streets only last a few blocks. The subway runs 24 hours and the subway maps are pretty easy to read.

The only problem with getting around the city is that it gets pretty busy, though if you're going into the outer boroughs you risk running into some confusions. Still, I would say nyers are more friendly about giving directions than they may be reputed to be.
posted by mdn at 10:01 AM on June 12, 2004

Most of NYC is laid out on a very simple grid system. Running from downtown to updown, you have streets: ...30th, 31st, 32nd... Running across town, from east to west, you have avenues: 1st Ave, 2nd Ave, etc. So if someone says, "I'll meet you at 48th and 6th," they mean at the junction of 48th street and 6th avenue.

There are exceptions to this. The grid gets messed up in lower manhattan and in the village. In these cases, you just have to use a map until you learn your way around. It's much like learning the irregular verbs in a generally regular language, like spanish. You just have to learn them.

The NYC subway is an easy way to get around. You can find subway maps all over the place, and they are pretty self-explanatory. Sometimes one subway line will be down, so you'll have to pick an alternate subway route.

If you're in Manhattan, you can also just jump into a cab and say take me to _____." Fill in the blank with any street address. The cab driver will know how to get there. This is not true in the outer boroughs. If you ask a cab driver to take you to a particular street in Queens or Brooklyn, make sure he knows where that is before getting into the cab.
posted by grumblebee at 10:02 AM on June 12, 2004

Oh, also... Broadway is an odd street (notice it's called "Broadway," and is not numbered, like most of the other avenues.) If you look at a map of manhattan, you'll notice it wiggles a bit. Sometimes it's furthur west than others. This means you can't always say, "If I walk west from Broadway, I'll get to 5th Avenue." It depends where you are. Again, Broadway is an exception to a generally gridlike city.

You might also be confused because Manhattanites talk about neighborhoods a lot: "I live in Tribecca", "the shop you're looking for is in Hells Kitchen," "Meet me in Soho." A good Manhattan map will show you all these neighborhoods, but when in doubt, just ask what street and avenue to go to.

If you learn some major landmarks (which you probably already know) like the empire state building and the christler building, it can also be helpful. Sometimes I'm wondering how far uptown I am, or which direction I should walk to go uptown and which direction I walk to go downtown. Then I look up and see the empire state building, and that helps me orient myself.

Alas, the biggest help in lower manhattan used to be the twin towers. I always used to get lost down there, because the grid is irregular. But then I would look up, see the towers and know where I was. For obvious reasons, you can't rely on that anymore. Hopefully in as few years you'll be able to again.
posted by grumblebee at 10:12 AM on June 12, 2004

There are also E and W versions of all the streets, which only matters if you're looking for a building number. There is 12 E 34th and 12 W 34th.

I don't know why this is, and where it switches from one to the other. But if you only get a building number, you need the E or W. I guess this is why people tend to use cross streets instead of building numbers.
posted by smackfu at 10:21 AM on June 12, 2004

Let's Go Map Guide.
posted by pieoverdone at 10:38 AM on June 12, 2004

This is a useful little interactive map (doesn't have the subways though)

"I'm on First and First. How can the same street intersect with itself? I must be at the nexus of the universe!"
- Kramer

posted by milovoo at 11:09 AM on June 12, 2004

To answer the question implied in smakfu's post, generally the East-West division happens at 5th Avenue (except South of Washington Square, where there is no 5th).
posted by lackutrol at 11:39 AM on June 12, 2004

Flashmaps. This is a pretty small book, VERY portable, very readable and does a great job of helping you find everything without having to stand on a street corner holding up a huge 3 by 4 foot map. From one of the Amazon reviews, "I highly recommend that when you visit NYC you carry a copy of Flashmaps with you. It's a convenient subway and bus map, shows you all the neighborhoods, museums, post offices, etc. But the thing I use the most is the cross street lookup, which I relied on not just while new in NYC but also as a long-time resident.
I discovered the NYC Flashmaps many years ago when I asked a limo driver exactly where a business address was. He pulled out his Flashmaps, turned to the cross street page and told me the exact cross street in well... a flash. He told me no professional driver and no New Yorker should be without it. I bought my first copy that day and have been telling residents and vistors alike for years. "
I wholeheartedly agree.
posted by marsha56 at 1:16 PM on June 12, 2004

Also note that Broadway, East Broadway, and West Broadway are three totally different streets in Manhattan -- not various sections of the same street. There's also a Broadway in Brooklyn and one in Queens, no relation.

Most people here are presuming that by "New York City" you mean Manhattan. The other four boroughs (all of which have worthwhile sights, restaurants & etc.) have grids to an extent, but are a bit more freeform. The only way to start understanding their geography is to pick a location in a borough to visit (use a guidebook, or ask friends for recommendations), figure out how to get there on the subway, check the neighborhod map posted in the subway station once you're there, and walk out of the station like you know what you're doing. Repeat until it starts making more sense in your head. (It took me a while, but I eventually could easily navigate most parts of the boroughs.)
posted by lisa g at 1:17 PM on June 12, 2004

Yeah, the east/ west break is fifth Ave, which is generally considered the center vein, although it runs up the east side of central park, not the middle. Broadway doesn't exactly zig zag; it runs in a pretty neat diagonal, from 10th street, where it's blocked by Grace Church & veers off, (it is straight from 10th street down) starting about equivalent to fourth ave and ending up all the way on the west side (by the time you get to 42nd st and "broadway" as in theatre, it's over around 7th ave). If you look at the subway map, the yellow and red lines show you the arc of broadway proper.

West Broadway is in soho and tribeca, about 10 blocks long I'd guess. East Broadway is in chinatown/LES and goes at an extreme angle. There's a F stop named for it, last one in manhattan. Brooklyn's Broadway is deserving of the name, at least - it is a long, wide street with the J train running above it much of the way.
posted by mdn at 2:11 PM on June 12, 2004

Downtown it switches from east to west at Broadway.

Beware on neighborhood names as sometimes up and coming neighborhoods have real names and pretentious names (Clinton v. Hells Kitchen/ East Williamsbug v. Bushwick [yes that's simplistic and there is an East Williamsburg, but you know...])

Also, in the outer boroughs nothing will get your geography down like some bike riding. Brooklyn is only 11 miles north to south (at least that's what PBS told me) and riding around here can make for some great adventure. That also gets you out of the whole "I know the neigborhood around subway stops x, y, and z, but not how they fit together" thing.

But Manhattan or the better parts of New York, the easiest advice is the same: explore, get lost on purpose, find your way back and do it again. Just wear good shoes.
posted by dame at 3:00 PM on June 12, 2004

Broadway is indeed the key to figuring out Manhattan. Starting at Battery Park, it passes City Hall at Chambers Street, divides Tribeca from Chinatown till Canal St, divides Soho from Nolita till Houston St, and divides the Village and East Village till it hits Union Square at 14th St. Then it becomes extra-useful because it hits another "Square" as it intersects each avenue: Madison at 5th and 23d, Herald at 6th and 34th, Times at 7th and 42nd, Columbus Circle at 8th and 57th, Lincoln Center at 9th (known as Columbus up there) and 65th, Sherman Square at 10th (aka Amsterdam) and 72nd.

After that, of course, you're way too far uptown and should be looking for a cab. Many - well, some - of the cab drivers already know how to navigate the city.
posted by nicwolff at 3:21 PM on June 12, 2004

Most of NYC is laid out on a very simple grid system. Running from downtown to updown, you have streets: ...30th, 31st, 32nd... Running across town, from east to west, you have avenues: 1st Ave, 2nd Ave, etc. So if someone says, "I'll meet you at 48th and 6th," they mean at the junction of 48th street and 6th avenue.

Actually, you have it backwards. Streets run east-west, avenues run north south. Or, at least relative to the island, which is offset by a bit from actual north.
posted by bshort at 10:12 PM on June 12, 2004

If you're driving, in Manhattan, most even-numbered streets run east, most odd ones west. The exceptions tend to be around the entrances to the bridges and tunnels.

If you're looking for a numbered avenue address, like 235 6th Avenue, then numbers increase as you go uptown. There's no real logic for figuring out the nearest cross street from an address, although there's a complicated table that allows you to calculate it in the Yellow Pages. Numbers on streets increase from Fifth Avenue outward towards the rivers.
posted by fuzz at 3:16 AM on June 13, 2004

I second marsha56 about Flashmaps. Every page has a different map theme; like uptown streets, or downtown buses, or neighborhood boundaries, or embassies and consulates, or the street-grid house-number plan; and since the scale and even orientation of these pages varies depending on the content, every page has a small navigation pic in the corner so you can see where you are looking at in respect to a silhouette of NYC.

I am terrible with navigation and I get incredibly excited about these map-books. I wish they would make one for my home town, London.
posted by suleikacasilda at 4:31 AM on June 13, 2004

There are some great recommendations in here, but I'd also recommend that you memorize the big East-West through streets, mainly because they are good markers, often have subway stops and cross-town buses as well (i.e. 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 59th, 68th, 72nd, 79th, 86th, 96th, etc.)
posted by gen at 6:35 AM on June 13, 2004

have real names and pretentious names (Clinton v. Hells Kitchen/ East Williamsbug v. Bushwick

This is one of those enduring issues in NY - for some reason we all seem to become quite attached to neighborhood names; to some it becomes a point of pride to know the "right" name of an area, while for others it's a point of pride that they don't use the recent "trendy" names... eg, for some older NYers, there is no "east village" - that's just a trendy name for a section of the lower east side. But for people who got to new york in the last twenty years or so, it's useful to distinguish between the east side below houston vs. above to 14th street. "soho" & "tribeca" were also newly baptized neighborhoods when I was growing up. "west village" vs. "the village" seems to be another generational thing. Noho, Nolita, Lolita are all recently named areas that some people will roll their eyes at. "Hudson Square" I have only ever seen in print - never heard someone actually call the area that...
posted by mdn at 4:52 PM on June 13, 2004

Everyone above said the same things I was going to say.

But I think DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is the best neighborhood name I've heard. That, and DUBuQUE (Down Under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.)
posted by Vidiot at 5:16 PM on June 13, 2004

Hudson Square?! Ah, I was wondering when the realtors (oops, "Realtors®") would get around to giving the UPS distribution center and environs a name. I've been calling it "Tunnel Town" and, I guess foolishly, hoping it would stick.
posted by nicwolff at 10:29 PM on June 13, 2004

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