Destination guide: New York, United States
New York is one of the most important cities in the United States and one of the classiest and most glamourous cities in the world. Hundreds of people of different nationalities live there, giving the city a cosmopolitan and multicultural feel.
If you’re thinking of travelling to New York, you musn’t miss the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Ground Zero, Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Times Square, Broadway and the Empire State Building, as well as many other attractions.
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New York- Transportation
It’s not the most bike-friendly city, but New Yorkers are getting better at tolerating cyclists, thanks in part to improved road conditions, new bike paths and the efforts of bike clubs. In 2009, the city completed an ambitious three-year bike lane expansion program, which added over 200 miles of bike lanes, more than doubling its total network. Not surprisingly more and more New Yorkers have taken to the bike, with bicycle commuting up 45% since the project began.
For maps of bike paths and a clearinghouse of tips, check the website of Transportation Alternatives ([tel] 212-629-8080; www.transalt.org; Suite 1002, 127 W 26th St), which sponsors Bike Month NYC every May. Key Manhattan bike lanes are along Ninth Ave, Eighth Ave, Broadway, Grand and 20th, 21st, 9th and 10th Sts. Free NYC bike maps, updated annually, are available at most bike shops. You can also map a route using the website Ride the City (www.ridethecity.com).
If you get on a bike, always wear a helmet, choose a solid frame with wide tires to help you handle potholes and other bits of street debris and be alert so you don’t get ‘doored’ by a passenger exiting a taxi. Unless your urban skills are well honed, stick to the pastoral paths in Central and Prospect Parks and along the Hudson River. And don’t even think of pedaling on the sidewalks – it’s illegal. If you must lock a bike up somewhere in the city, forgo anything that’s not the most top-of-the-line U-lock you can find – or, better yet, stick to the $100 coated chains that weigh a ton.
You’re allowed to bring your bike onto the subway. Lettered subway lines (eg A, C, E, etc) have bigger stations and subway cars, and are thus easier to manage with a bike.
The zippy yellow boats that make up the fleet of New York Water Taxi ([tel] 212-742-1969; www.nywatertaxi.com; commuter 1-way tickets $3.50-6, 1-day pass adult/child $20/15, 2-day pass $25/15) provide an interesting, alternative way of getting around. Boats run along several different routes, including a hop-on, hop-off weekend service around Manhattan that starts at W 44th St on the Hudson River, with stops at W 26th St, Christopher St, World Financial Center, Battery Park, South Street Seaport, Fulton Ferry Landing (near Dumbo in Brooklyn) and E 34th St. This service runs from mid-April to mid-October.
NY Water Taxi also runs year-round commuter service connecting the following locations: Hunters Point (Long Island City, Queens), E 34th St (Manhattan), Schaefer Landing (Williamsburg, Brooklyn), Fulton Ferry Landing (Dumbo, Brooklyn) and Pier 11 (near Wall Street in Manhattan). There’s also year-round service between Pier 11 and the IKEA store in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
For a fairly quick beach getaway, riders can take the one-hour boat ride to Rockaway (running on weekends only from mid-April to mid-October). For more sand – if less salubrious waters – there are three ‘Water Taxi Beaches’, at Hunters Point, the South Street Seaport and Governor’s Island, all of which host weekend events in the summer months. A good trip to consider is from E 34th St to Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn ($4.50 one way).
There are also water taxis to Mets baseball games ($20 round trip), hour-long ‘Gateway to America’ tours around the harbor (adult/senior/child $20/18/12), and fall foliage tours up the Hudson ($35/25/15). Another bigger, brighter ferry (this one’s orange) is the commuter-oriented Staten Island Ferry, which makes constant free journeys across the New York Harbor.
Many New York buses aren’t too bad, and they’ve certainly improved in the past decade or so. They run 24 hours a day and the routes are easily navigable, going crosstown at all the major street byways – 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd and 72nd Sts, and all the others that are two-way roads – and uptown and downtown, depending on which avenue they serve. Stops, many with shelters, are every few blocks and all have maps and marked schedules, which are rough guides as to how often you can expect a bus to pass. That said, buses do get overcrowded at rush hour, and slow to a crawl in heavy traffic. So when you’re in a hurry, stay underground.
The cost of a bus ride is the same as the subway, $2.25, though express bus routes cost $5.50 (running during rush hours; best for long journeys from the boroughs). You can pay with a MetroCard or exact change but not dollar bills. Transfers from one line to another bus within two hours are free, as are transfers to or from the subway.
The Hampton Jitney ([tel] 212-362-8400; www.hamptonjitney.com) runs buses for Long Island beach towns from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Crazy and cheap, Chinatown buses depart from pushy ‘sidewalk terminals’ at various points around Chinatown to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and other areas on the East Coast. There are no seat reservations; often on weekends you may have to wait for the next bus, an hour later. Of the many choices around, Fung Wah ([tel] 212-925-8889; www.fungwahbus.com; 139 Canal St at Bowery) offers hourly departures to Boston ($15) from 7am to 10pm or 11pm and four daily departures to Providence, Rhode Island ($30). 2000 New Century ([tel] 215-627-2666; www.2000coach.com; 86 Allen St) goes almost half-hourly from 7am to 11pm to Philadelphia ($12) and a bit less often to DC ($20).
Car & Motorcycle
Driving is not recommended around Manhattan unless it’s absolutely necessary. There are always drivers who don’t want you hogging lanes, gas is pricey, car hire is expensive, the struggles for parking space can age even the eternally laid-back, and it’s a way bigger hassle than it’s worth, considering all the excellent mass-transit options.
If you’re planning to do much driving, pick up a Hagstrom five-borough map, available from the Hagstrom Map & Travel Center ([tel] 212-398-1222; 51 W 43rd St; [hrs] 8:30am-6pm Mon-Fri, 10:30am-4:30pm Sat; [metro] B, D, F, V to 42 St-Bryant Park, 7 to 5th Ave). Get traffic reports from 1010 WINS on the radio (AM), NY1 on the TV, or the fun streaming videos online at New York City Real Time Traffic Cameras (http://nyctmc.org).
Other than trying to park when and where you want, getting in and out of the city – and dealing with crosstown traffic – are the worst parts. Lanes are loosely adhered to – generally be more aware of what’s next to you and ahead you than what’s behind. Parallel parkers can back up traffic on some streets, so middle lanes go quicker on multi-laned avenues.
Remember that tunnels into the city (not out) want money, but that most bridges are your for-free friends both ways (the George Washington charges if coming in from Jersey). Note a few laws: no right turns on red lights and no talking on the cell phone while driving. You’ll quickly pick up on the fact that every other street alternates one-way direction.
Parking tickets and towing charges in New York probably equal some countries’ national budgets. And much swearing, sweating and effort is expended by locals to keep a step ahead of ticketers. In other words, parking is a big headache.
Many streets have parking meters with one- or two-hour limits. Neighborhood streets have free parking spots, with ‘no parking’ signs indicating times that cars must move for street-cleaners; veteran New Yorkers have mastered the knack of moving their cars back and forth to alternate sides of the street – sometimes double-parking with a note on their windshield for the hours in question. Sometimes it can feel hopeless – remember Diane Keaton’s surprise at finding a spot in Annie Hall – and other times it depends on timing: Chinatown is an impossibility during the day, but can empty out after 7pm or 8pm. If you’re lucky enough to find a spot, read and re-read every sign on the block.
Parking in lots and garages is usually what drivers must resort to. Prices average $25 a day but some have daily specials, which require early entrances and departures. Check the site of the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT; www.nyc.gov/html/dot/home.html) for traffic updates and alternate-side parking schedules. Many city hotels do have deals with local lots and garages, affording minor discounts.
Hiring a car in the city is mighty expensive, and though agencies advertise bargain rates for weekend or week-long rentals, these deals are almost always blacked out in New York. If you want to rent for a few days, perhaps for a road trip out of town,. Without a reservation, a midsize rental car will cost at least $100 per day once the extra charges – such as the 13.375% tax and various insurance costs – are factored in.
To rent a car, you need a valid driver’s license and a major credit card; international visitors are advised to have an International Driving Permit (IDP), a far more credible ID for New York traffic police. The law no longer decrees that you need to be over 25 to rent, but companies are still allowed to charge younger folks a higher rate, making it prohibitively expensive for all but trust-fund kids.
Driving Out of Manhattan?
If you’re going to Brooklyn, consider going over the Williamsburg Bridge on Delancey on the Lower East Side, or tempt fate with busy Canal St to cross the Manhattan Bridge. Most hours you can circle the southern tip of Manhattan via the West Side Hwy for an easy hook-up with the Brooklyn Bridge (or else from Centre St south of Chambers St).
The Queens-bound can either take the Queens-Midtown Tunnel (off 36th St between First and Second Aves) or the freebie Queensboro Bridge (from 59th St between First and Second Aves).
Beyond the metropolis, things are pretty easy (on paper, at least) : I-95, which runs from Maine to Florida, cuts east to west through the city as the Cross Bronx Expressway (another nightmare, recognized locally as the worst roadway around). Outside New York City, I-95 continues south as the New Jersey Turnpike and north as the Connecticut Turnpike. Via I-95, Boston is 194 miles to the north, Philadelphia 104 miles to the south and Washington, DC, 235 miles south.
A popular addition to New York’s crazed streets are bicycle taxis, often used for novelty rides by tourists. It’s goofy, but at least it’s green. Rides generally range from $15 to $30, depending on the distance and number of passengers (ask how much before getting in). For more information, contact Manhattan Rickshaw ([tel] 212-604-4729;www.manhattanrickshaw.com).
The New York subway’s 660-mile system, run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), is iconic, cheap ($2.25 per ride), round-the-clock and easily the fastest and most reliable way to get around the city. It’s also safer and (a bit) cleaner than it used to be (and now with overly cheerful automated announcements on some lines).
For subway updates and information, call [tel] 718-330-1234 or visit www.mta.info. It’s a good idea to grab a free map, available from any attendant. When in doubt, ask someone who looks like they know what they’re doing. They may not, but subway confusion (and consternation) is the great unifier in this diverse city. You’re sure to get help.
Subway Cheat Sheet
A few tips for understanding the madness of the New York underground follows:
Numbers, Letters, Colors
Color-coded subway lines are named by a letter or number, and most carry a collection of two to four trains on their tracks. For example, the red-colored line in Manhattan is the 1, 2, 3 line; these three separate trains follow roughly the same path in Manhattan, then branch out in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Express & Local Lines
A common mistake is accidentally boarding an ‘express train’ and passing by a local stop you want. Know that each color-coded line is shared by local trains and express trains; the latter make only select stops in Manhattan (indicated by a white circle on subway maps). For example, on the red line, the 2 and 3 are express, while the slower 1 makes local stops. If you’re covering a greater distance – say from the Upper West Side to Wall St – you’re better off transferring to the express train (usually just across the platform from the local) to save time.
Getting in the Right Station
Some stations – such as SoHo’s Spring St station on the 6 line – have separate entrances for downtown or uptown lines (read the sign carefully). If you swipe in at the wrong one – as even crusty locals and certain LP researchers do on occasion – you’ll either need to ride the subway to a station where you can transfer for free, or just lose the $2.25 and re-enter the station (usually across the street). Also look for the green and red lamps above the stairs at each station entrance; green means that it’s always open, while red means that particular entrance will be closed at certain hours, usually late at night.
All the rules switch on weekends, when some lines combine with others, some get suspended, some stations get passed, others get reached. Locals and tourists alike stand on platforms confused, sometimes irate. Check the www.mta.info website for weekend schedules. Sometimes posted signs aren’t visible until after you reach the platform.
Features: Metrocards for Travellers
New York’s classic subway tokens now belong to the ages: today all buses and subways use the yellow-and-blue MetroCard (www.mta.info/metrocard), which you can purchase or add value to at one of several easy-to-use automated machines at any station. You can use cash or an ATM or credit card. Just select ‘Get new card’ and follow the prompts.
There are two types of MetroCard. The ‘pay-per-ride’ is $2.25 per ride, though the MTA tacks on an extra 15% value on MetroCards $8 and over. (If you buy a $20 card, you’ll receive $23 worth of credit). If you plan to use the subway quite a bit, you can also buy an ‘unlimited ride’ card (it’s $8.25 for a one-day ‘fun pass’ or $27 for a seven-day pass). These cards are handy for travelers – particularly if you’re jumping around town to a few different places in one day. Note that the MetroCard works for buses as well as subways (and offers free transfers between them).
Hailing and riding in a cab are rites of passage in New York – especially when you get a driver who’s a neurotic speed demon, which is often. (A word of advice: don’t forget to buckle your seatbelt.) Still, most taxis in NYC are clean and, compared to those in many international cities, pretty cheap.
The Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC; [tel] 311), the taxis’ governing body, has set fares for rides (which can be paid with credit or debit card). It’s $2.50 for the initial charge (first one-fifth of a mile), 40¢ each additional one-fifth mile as well as per 60 seconds of being stopped in traffic, $1 peak surcharge (weekdays 4pm to 8pm), and a 50¢ night surcharge (8pm to 6am), plus a new NY State surcharge of 50¢ per ride. Tips are expected to be 10% to 15%, but give less if you feel in any way mistreated – and be sure to ask for a receipt and use it to note the driver’s license number.
The TLC keeps a Passenger’s Bill of Rights, which gives you the right to tell the driver which route you’d like to take, or ask your driver to stop smoking or turn off an annoying radio station. Also, the driver does not have the right to refuse you a ride based on where you are going. To hail a cab, look for one with a lit (center) light on its roof. It’s particularly difficult to score a taxi in the rain, at rush hour and around 4pm, when many drivers end their shifts.
Private car services are a common taxi alternative in the outer boroughs. Fares differ depending on the neighborhood and length of ride, and must be determined beforehand, as they have no meters. Though these ‘black cars’ are quite common in Brooklyn and Queens, never get into one if a driver simply stops to offer you a ride – no matter what borough you’re in. A couple of car services in Brooklyn include Northside ([tel] 718-387-2222; 207 Bedford Ave) in Williamsburg and Arecibo ([tel] 718-783-6465; 170 Fifth Ave at Degraw St) in Park Slope.
Long Island Rail Road ([tel] 718-217-5477; www.mta.nyc.ny.us/lirr/) serves some 280,000 commuters each day, with services from Penn Station to points in Brooklyn, Queens and to Long Island. Prices are broken down by zones. A peak-hour ride from Penn Station to Jamaica Station (en route to JFK via AirTrain) costs $7.60 if you buy it online (or a whopping $14 on board!).
New Jersey Transit ([tel] 800-772-2287; www.njtransit.com) also operates trains from Penn Station, with services to the suburbs and the Jersey Shore.
Another option for getting into NJ’s northern points, such as Hoboken and Newark, is the New Jersey PATH ([tel] 800-234-7284; www.panynj.gov/path), which runs trains ($1.75) along the length of Sixth Ave, with stops at 33rd, 23rd, 14th, 9th and Christopher Sts, as well as at the reopened World Trade Center site.
The last line departing from Grand Central Terminal (42nd St at Park Ave), the Metro-North Railroad ([tel] 212-532-4900; www.mta.info/mnr) serves Connecticut, Westchester County and the Hudson Valley.
Screw the subway and the cabs and buses, the personal jet-pack and the hot-air balloon you packed in your bag – get on your feet and go green. New York, down deep, can’t be seen until you’ve taken the time to hit the sidewalks: the whole thing, like Nancy Sinatra’s boots, is made for pedestrian transport. Broadway runs the length of Manhattan, about 13.5 miles. Crossing the East River on the pedestrian planks of the Brooklyn Bridge is a New York classic. Central Park trails can get you to wooded pockets where you can’t even see or hear the city.