Hundreds of miles of designated bike lanes have been added over the past decade. Add to this the excellent bike-sharing network Citi Bike (www.citibikenyc.com), and you have the makings for a surprisingly bike-friendly city. Hundreds of Citi Bike kiosks in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn house the iconic bright blue and very sturdy bicycles, which have reasonable rates for short-term users. Nearly 14 million City Bike 'trips' were taken in 2016 and there are there are an estimated 12,000 bikes in the system.
To use a Citi Bike, purchase a 24-hour or three-day access pass ($12 or $24 including tax) at any Citi Bike kiosk. You will then be given a five-digit code to unlock a bike. Return the bike to any station within 30 minutes to avoid incurring extra fees. Reinsert your credit card (you won’t be charged) and follow the prompts to check out a bike again. You can make an unlimited number of 30-minute checkouts during those 24 hours or three days.
Helmets aren't required by law, but strongly recommended. You'll need to bring your own. City parks like Central Park, the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway and Prospect Park in Brooklyn are good places to test out your comfort level on wheels in less stressful environments than the chaotic city streets. And most importantly, for your safety and that of others, obey traffic laws.
You’ll find routes and bike lanes for every borough on NYC Bike Maps (www.nycbikemaps.com). For downloadable maps and point-to-point route generator, visit NYC DOT (www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/bikemaps.shtml). Free bike maps are also available at most bike shops.
NYC Ferry Operating in the East River only since May 2017 (it replaced the former East River Ferry service), these boats link Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. At only $2.75 a ride ($1 more to bring a bicycle on board) and with charging stations and mini convenience stores on board, it's an altogether more pleasurable commute than being stuck underground on the subway. It is rapidly becoming a popular and scenic way to reach beach spots in Rockaway, Queens.
NY Water Taxi (www.nywatertaxi.com) Has a fleet of zippy yellow boats that provide hop-on, hop-off services with a few stops around Manhattan (Pier 79 at W 39th St; World Financial Center and Pier 11 near Wall St) and Brooklyn (Pier 1 in Dumbo), plus a ferry service between Pier 11 and the Ikea store in Red Hook, Brooklyn. At $35 for an all-day pass, though, it's priced more like a sightseeing cruise than practical transport.
Staten Island Ferry Bright orange and large, this free commuter-oriented ferry to Staten Island makes constant journeys across New York Harbor. Even if you simply turn around to reboard in Staten Island, the views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty make this a great sightseeing experience and one of the cheapest romantic dates in the city.
Part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (www.mta.info), buses can be a handy way to cross town or to cover short distances when you don't want to bother going underground. Rides cost the same as subway ($2.75 per ride), and you can use your metrocard or pay in cash (exact change required) when entering the bus. If you pay with a metrocard, you get one free transfer from bus to subway, bus to bus, or subway to bus. If you pay in cash, ask for a transfer (good only for a bus-to-bus transfer) from the bus driver when paying.
You'll find the route indicated on the small display box mounted on the pole of the bus stop.
Car & Motorcycle
Unless you plan to explore far-flung corners of the outer boroughs, it's a bad idea to have a car in NYC. Driving in this city can be challenging with lots of one-way streets and heavy traffic, plus plenty of aggressive taxi drivers, unmindful pedestrians and swerving bicyclists.
If this doesn't deter you, keep in mind that parking garages can be quite expensive, and finding street parking can be maddeningly difficult. If you drive in from New Jersey, you'll also have to contend with high tolls. Unlike in most other parts of the US, turning right on a red light is not legal here.
Hailing and riding in a cab, once rites of passage in New York, are being replaced by the ubiquity of ride-hailing app services like Lyft and Uber. In fact, those two alone have over 50,000 cars operating in the five boroughs compared to the 13,580 yellow cabs. Still, most taxis in NYC are clean and, compared to those in many international cities, pretty cheap. When you get a driver who's a neurotic speed demon, which is often, don't forget to buckle up.
Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC; www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/home/home.shtml) 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), 50¢ for 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 an MTA State surcharge of 50¢ per ride. Tips are expected to be 10% to 15%, but give less if you feel in any way mistreated; be sure to ask for a receipt and use it to note the driver’s license number.
Passenger rights 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 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. Tip: get in first, then say where you’re going.
Private car These 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. These ‘black cars’ are quite common in Brooklyn and Queens, but it’s illegal 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 (www.northsideservice.com, 718-387-2222) in Williamsburg and Arecibo (718-783-6465) in Park Slope.
Boro Taxis Green Boro Taxis operate in the outer boroughs and Upper Manhattan. These allow folks to hail a taxi on the street in neighborhoods where yellow taxis rarely roam. They have the same fares and features as yellow cabs, and are a good way to get around the outer boroughs (from, say, Astoria to Williamsburg, or Park Slope to Red Hook). Drivers are reluctant (but legally obligated) to take passengers into Manhattan as they aren’t legally allowed to take fares going out of Manhattan south of 96th St.
Ride-sharing App-based car-hailing services have taken over the streets of the five boroughs. Now, with nearly five times as many cars as yellow cabs and growing, they're both convenient, indispensable for some, and of course adding to the already terrible traffic problem. Tipping is highly encouraged; drivers may give you a low rating if you stiff them.
Tickets & Passes
- The yellow-and-blue MetroCards (www.mta.info/metrocard) are the swipe cards used for all of NYC’s public transportation. You can purchase or add value at one of several easy-to-use automated machines at any station. Each ride on the subway or bus (except for express buses) deducts $2.75 from the card.
- Purchase the MetroCard itself for $1 at kiosks in subway stations, and load it with credit ($21, which will give you eight rides, is a good start). If you plan to ride a lot, buy a 7-Day Unlimited Pass ($32). These cards are handy for visitors – particularly if you’re jumping around town to a few different places in one day.
- The subway kiosks take credit or ATM cards (larger machines also take cash). When you need to add more credit, just insert your card and follow the prompts (tip: when it asks for your ZIP, input ‘99999’ if you’re not from the USA).
- Transfers from subway to bus, or bus to subway, are free. Just swipe/insert your card, and no extra charge will be deducted.
Long Island Rail Road (www.mta.info/lirr), NJ Transit (www.njtransit.com), New Jersey PATH (www.panynj.gov/path) and Metro-North Railroad (www.mta.info/mnr) all offer useful services for getting around NYC and surrounds.
The New York subway system, run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (www.mta.info), is iconic, cheap ($2.75 per ride, regardless of the distance traveled), round-the-clock and often the fastest and most reliable way to get around the city. It’s also safer and (a bit) cleaner than it used to be. Free wi-fi is available in all underground stations.
It’s a good idea to grab a free map from a station attendant. If you have a smartphone, download a useful app (like the free Citymapper), with subway map and alerts of service outages. When in doubt, ask someone who looks like they know what they’re doing. They may not, but subway confusion (and frustration) is the great unifier in this diverse city. And if you’re new to the underground, never wear headphones when you’re riding, as you might miss an important announcement about track changes or skipped stops.
Subway Cheat Sheet
A few tips for understanding the madness of the New York subway:
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.
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 locals do on occasion – you’ll either need to ride the subway to a station where you can transfer for free, or just lose the $2.75 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.
Weekends 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 www.mta.info for weekend schedules. Sometimes posted signs aren’t visible until after you reach the platform.
Screw the subway, 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.
Scenic views Take the J, M or Z line over the Williamsburg Bridge or the B, D, N or Q line over the Manhattan Bridge for great views of Manhattan. There’s also the Roosevelt Island Tramway.
Uptown bound The 4, 5 and 6 lines go to the Upper East Side, as does the new Second Ave Q line. For the Upper West Side take the B, C, 1, 2 or 3 trains.
How to Hail a Taxi
- To hail a yellow cab, look for one with its roof light lit (if it’s not lit, the cab is taken).
- Stand in a prominent place on the side of the road and stick out your arm.
- Once inside the cab, tell them your destination (it’s illegal for drivers to refuse you a ride).
- Pay your fare at the end, either with cash or credit card (via the touch screen in back). Don’t forget to tip 10% to 15%.
- Pay attention to ‘Downtown’ vs ‘Uptown’ subway station entrances. Sometimes there are separate entrances (usually across the street from one another) depending on which direction the train is going.
- Plan your route carefully. Sometimes walking a few blocks can get you to a faster or more direct subway line, thereby saving you time in the end.
When to Travel
- Rush hour is never just an hour! On weekdays, from 8am to 9:30am and 4:30pm to 6:30pm, trains and buses are frustratingly packed.
- If it’s not possible to avoid traveling at these peak times, allow extra time to get places (particularly to/from the airport).
- Hailing a cab can be difficult on weekdays from 4pm to 5pm when many drivers change shifts. And when it’s raining, finding an available taxi can seem a monumental challenge.
- Have your MetroCard ready before you go through the gate. New Yorkers are skilled at moving through the ticket barriers without breaking stride.
- On subway platforms, stand to the side of the train doors and wait for passengers to exit before boarding.
- On escalators, stand on the right hand side or use the left if you want to walk down/up.
- When walking on the sidewalk, think of yourself as a car on the street: don’t stop short, pay attention to the speed limit, and pull off to the side if you need to look at a map or dig through your bag for an umbrella.