Driving In New York City
( Originally Published 1940 )
The system of traffic lights in New York is one of the worst I have yet seen in any major American city. On some streets the lights are at the corners and are easily distinguished, but on many of the major avenues they are hung out over the street blocks apart, and have to be hunted for amid a mass of electric signs. In these cases there will be no lights at the corners of the intervening side streets, and the unfortunate motorist must pull as far out toward the avenue as he dares, and then crane his neck up and down the street to try and find the light. Never cross an avenue without a light at the corner until you have stopped and looked.
When the light turns red, unless it is actually on the corner you are approaching, do not pull up to the light before stopping. Stop at the first corner when the traffic light turns red, no matter how far away that traffic light may be. If you are on a cross street without a traffic light at the corner, wait until the light shows red for traffic up and down the avenue.
There are exceptions to this rule sometimes legal, and some-times seemingly sanctioned by usage. But the rule is still a good one, especially on Manhattan Island, and in the rare event that you are driving on one of the streets where it is not enforced, be guided by the actions of the drivers ahead of you —and if you must stop anywhere, do so cautiously so as not to be bumped by the driver behind you.
Another important rule is, do not turn either right or left against a red light unless there is a sign definitely giving you permission to do so. You will have no trouble with right turns in following this rule, but you may have with left turns. If you wish to turn left from a crowded avenue, you will probably have to pull over to the center of the street and stop, being completely blocked by traffic going in the other direction.. In that case as you obviously cannot stay there forever, you will have to wait until the lights change, but then you should turn immediately before the cross traffic cuts you off.
Old New York, which is now the financial section, is the usual maze of crisscross streets seen in any old city. But when it became apparent that the city was going to grow, a plan was adopted for Manhattan Island which was so logical at the time that it still commands admiration. The city was plotted in rectangles, with avenues running north and south and numbered cross streets leading east and west. In those days almost all transportation into New York was by boat, and quite logically the planners decided that most of the traffic would be from river to river. Consequently they laid out only a few broad avenues, running (insofar as possible) from end to end of the island, and put in a mass of cross streets connecting the extra-wide avenues along the water fronts, where it was expected most of the traffic 'would be. It worked nicely in the horse and carriage days, when the average speed of traffic in New York was eleven miles an hour, but then came the automobile. The streets proved to be hopelessly narrow, and what with traffic jams and waiting for the lights to change, the average speed of traffic across town in central Manhattan is now six miles an hour.
The amount of space available for traffic movement has been badly cut down by parking along the curbs. The parking problem in New York is so acute that almost every vacant lot is a "parking lot." The costs vary according to the convenience of the locality, but can be said to average 50 cents for eight hours. Wherever you see so many cars parked along the street that you cannot find any room for your own, you are probably in an area where parking is permitted. If you see no cars (or few cars) parked, look for the sign "No Parking in This Block," and be governed accordingly. The police are strict on this point. Parking is also prohibited wherever you see a sign "Bus Stop," and of course by hydrants, fire houses, and so on. Where parking is permitted, the general rule is one hour, but that is more honored in the breach than in the observance.
As the cross streets are narrow, most of them have been made "one-way streets." The general rule is that on even-numbered streets the traffic runs from west to east, and on odd-numbered streets from east to west. There are a few exceptions on ac-count of some special traffic problems, and also in the case of some streets which are somewhat wider, notably 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, 59th, 72nd, 79th, 86th, 96th, '10th, 116th, and 125th Streets, on which two-way traffic is permitted. At each corner leading into a one-way street a white arrow is affixed to the corner lampost indicating the direction of the traffic.
The Street-numbering System
The avenues in New York are numbered from east to west, and the cross streets from south to north. Although South Ferry is the southernmost tip of Manhattan Island, the street-numbering system begins about two miles to the north, the reason being that the old city was already laid out, and the planners just had to do the best they could. Even after they reached land open enough to be laid out in rectangles, they had to take account of some old, established communities—and in Greenwich Village, 4th Street suddenly turns and crosses loth Street, a thing which to a New Yorker is the final absurdity. But all in all they did very well until they got to Harlem, when again an established community made it necessary to put a curve in 125th Street, so that the major thoroughfare crosses some streets to which it should logically be parallel.
They got along better with the avenues. The major longitudinal avenues south of 59th Street, from east to west, are First, Second, Third, Lexington, Fourth (which becomes Park Avenue at 32nd Street), Madison, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth, above which the West Side Highway now runs. None of these avenues crosses another one, and the only important north and south thorough-fare which refuses to conform to the plan is Broadway. The old street was there long before the plan was ever made, and the only thing to do was to ignore it. Wandering diagonally across New York it is near Fourth Avenue at Union Square (14th Street), crosses Fifth Avenue at Madison Square (23rd) before the idea of having definite numbers for each block had ever been thought of, and consequently the numbers on the avenues, or on interrupted side streets, all begin at the beginning of the street. As a result 366 Madison Avenue and 566 Fifth Avenue are both near 46th Street. New York is badly in need of renumbering, but the New Yorker is used to it; many of the older business houses feel quite rightly that they have a vested interest in their street numbers; and it may be a long time (if ever) before a new system can be adopted for the city as a whole.
The native New Yorker speaks of "uptown" and "down-town" glibly, but would be at a loss to tell you where uptown left off and downtown began. If there is a dividing line, it is probably in the neighborhood of 42nd Street, but that is very vague. In general, the terms mean north and south. All transportation northbound is uptown, and all transportation south-bound is downtown. This is not too important for the visitor unless he is taking the subway or the elevated, when he will find platforms marked uptown and downtown, instead of the more logical northbound and southbound.
The Transportation System of the City
The streetcar has generally given way to buses on Manhattan Island. Except for some lines on and above 125th Street, the only ones remaining are the Third Avenue Line, the 42nd Street Crosstown Line, and the Broadway and Tenth Avenue Lines north of 42nd Street.
There are buses running the length of all major avenues except Third, Park, Tenth, Eleventh, and West End Avenues, and the No. r Madison Avenue buses operate over Park Avenue from 42nd Street south. The Fifth Avenue buses operate not only on Fifth Avenue, but on Riverside Drive and several other avenues north of Central Park as well. These Fifth Avenue buses are the only public vehicles in New York charging Street, Sixth Avenue at Herald Square (34th Street), Seventh Avenue at Times Square (44th Street), and Eighth Avenue at Columbus Circle (59th Street).
North of 59th Street several avenues change their names, and the widening of New York necessitated building another avenue on the extreme east. This was true also in the wide, eastern bulge of the island to the south, where in addition to the long-numbered avenues, the city planners added the short avenues A, B, and C. If you pass across town at 79th Street, your main avenues will be: York (Avenue A),* First, Second, Third, Lexington, Park (Fourth), Madison, Fifth, Central Park, which blocks Sixth and Seventh Avenues, Central Park West (Eighth), Columbus (Ninth), Amsterdam (Tenth), West End (Eleventh), and Riverside Drive.
Madison and Lexington, which break-the orderly procession of numbered avenues, are shorter thoroughfares, beginning at Madison Square and at Gramercy Park, respectively. In Harlem there are other changes. Sixth Avenue becomes Lenox, and several new avenues, such as Convent, Manhattan, and St. Nicholas, come into being. These are not important to you, as you will only be on these streets while sightseeing on your way somewhere else.
East Side and West Side, and Uptown and Downtown
Fifth Avenue divides New York into east and west sides. The numbering on the cross streets begins at Fifth Avenue. Even numbers are on the south sides of the streets, and odd numbers on the north side. On the east side of Fifth Avenue numbers run from west to east, and on the west side, from east to west. Where Central Park interrupts the street system, the west side numbers begin at Central Park West. Thus 300 West 58th Street and 2 West 60th Street are in about the same relative position to Eighth Avenue. The city was numbered long a 10-cent fare, except for a few special services over bridges, or to points far out, which you will not be likely to use. Other-wise, all transportation, whether by subway, elevated, bus, or streetcar, operates on a five-cent fare.
It is hoped that the elevated railway structures which have so long disfigured many avenues will soon be a memory. The Sixth Avenue Line has already disappeared, and the Second Avenue and Ninth Avenue Lines will soon follow it into limbo —we hope.
In any case, there are few points reached by the elevated which cannot be reached with equal ease by subway, and this is the preferred form of rapid transit for all true New Yorkers. There are three great subway systems in New York, about to be unified under city management. But old habits die hard, and for many years they will continue to be known as the I.R.T., the B.M.T., and the Independent. The system is complicated beyond any logical description. The I.R.T. in Manhattan operates the West Side Subway (7th Avenue and Broadway Lines) and the East Side Subway (Fourth and Lexington Avenue Lines). The B.M.T. operates the Broadway Line from 42nd Street to City Hall Park. The Independent Subway operates the 8th Avenue Line. There arc various extensions to the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. (There is an excellent map of the subway systems in all classified telephone directories.)
There are free transfers from one subway train to another of the same system, but if you wish to transfer from, let us say, I.R.T. to the B.M.T. or to the Independent, you will have to drop another nickel in the turnstile. The Third Avenue Street Railway System gives a single free transfer within the system. So does the Fifth Avenue Bus Company, but on other buses a transfer costs an additional two cents.
During rush hours, generally 8:00 to 9:30 in the morning, and 5:00to 6:30 in the evening, all public conveyances (except those of the Fifth Avenue Bus Company, where standing is not permitted) are crowded beyond belief, and the subways in particular are crowded, not only beyond belief but beyond all decency. Visitors should try to avoid all public conveyances at these times.