Street & Subway Etiquette For The Considerate NYC Tourist

by Deb Sperling · July 6, 2011

Summer has arrived, and the calls and Facebook messages have started to roll in. Everyone and their mother wants to visit you in New York.  Beyond the mild annoyances that come with any house-guest scenario, you’re saddled with the extra-special burden of traveling around the city. This year, instead of letting “little” things go until you lose patience, help your friends and loved ones prepare with this guide to appropriate New York travel etiquette.

Basic: Pedestrian Travel

Since you weren’t born and raised in New York, you probably have a driver’s license, so try to think about pedestrian traffic in New York like highway traffic anywhere else.

1. The Law of Inertia


First and foremost, once you’ve started moving, don’t stop suddenly. Unless there’s a sign in front of you telling you not to walk, and the oncoming traffic to back it up, or you physically cannot continue to move forward (like if you accidentally walk into a traffic light pole), keep going until you have a chance to move over to the right and slow down.

In general, slow pedestrian traffic should move to the right; the left is for passing only. We’ve been over this before.

2. Crossfire

Likewise, treat every building exit like a highway on-ramp: you wouldn’t merge without looking over into the next lane, and you certainly wouldn’t drive perpendicular to the road. Scan the sidewalk before you walk out. If I had a nickel for every time some clueless person stepped into the light and stopped dead in my path, there would be a lot of tourists walking around with nickel-shaped imprints on their foreheads, and I wouldn’t live in my mom’s apartment anymore.

Advanced: Subway Travel

OK, so you’ve figured out the walking stuff, and now you’re ready to take advantage of our city’s efficient (albeit fragrant) public transit system.

3. Enter the Fold

Again, start by sticking to the right as you walk down the stairs, unless you need to pass someone. If you’re lugging a big suitcase, it belongs with you on the right, not crushing the toes of the person to your left. What’s that you say? Your rolling suitcase has a retractable handle, and you’d like to stop right at the foot of the stairs to push it in or pull it out? Sounds like a great idea, if you want to wind up having that retractable handle removed from your you-know-what by an ER doctor.


4. Pay Up

Now it’s time to purchase a MetroCard. First off, check the electronic display at the very top of the machine. Does it say Cash Only? Credit Only? Coins Only? Are you already holding the appropriate method of payment in your hand? No? Take a cab back to the airport and go home.

5. Bon Voyage

Oh look, the train is arriving. Don’t get on. There are other people in the world, and they need to get off the train first. There are also people who got to the platform before you. Let them get on.

OK, now it’s your turn. Step on to the train and move as far into the car as possible without crushing anyone. Wearing a backpack? Take it off and put it between your feet, or angle your body so that it’s not preventing anyone else from standing near or getting past you. Thinking of leaning your whole body against that pole you’re holding on to? Think again. Other people need to hold on, too. Also, it’s probably covered in saliva.

Finally, I’m going to say this one time, and one time only: my shoulder is not an acceptable place to rest your Kindle, Nook, or other costly non-paper reading device. If you like reading so much, read my lips: at the next stop, you’re about to watch $189 worth of electronic douche-bag cred get deep-fried by the third rail.