Gaining Confidence with the New York Subway System

A friend is visiting New York next month, and I met with her regarding my favorite vacation city. Just like many who’ve never been to New York, she was surprised at its size. With just a 2 night visit, my friend’s time is limited, but she wanted no suggestions on using the subway. She’d rather eliminate a few stops from her plans via slower-moving cabs, than deal with a train system she considers intimidating.

Last night, two other pals indicated only one would be taking the subway when in New York. If these statistics hold true, 2 out of 3 people who visit Manhattan shy away from an authentic New York experience. It made me wonder if people are more afraid of taking the wrong train or of stories about subway dirt, smells, pickpockets, and vagrants.

Since the environmental issue is no longer as prevalent in today’s New York as years ago, and many folks are helpful, I’d like to put a visitor’s fears to rest. I’m by no means an expert, and my experience is limited to areas south of 80th street and north of Battery Park-but that is the main stomping grounds for tourists. My last visit was about 3 months ago, at which time my 13 year old daughter and I used the subway 3-4 times daily and covered a good deal of territory. If I had any fears, I would not have gone near a station, but years of New York trips have made me confident the subways are as safe as the streets, especially during daylight hours. (I personally have not ridden them past 11 PM., but not due to fearing for my safety.)

One of the best things a visitor can do to gain confidence regarding the New York subway is to study a subway map once their itinerary is somewhat firm. (It may change once the traveler locates stations and routes, and finds that logistics lend themselves to a slightly different agenda.) Anyway, the N.Y. subway map can be found in library books, bookstores, and on line at, or At first, the many colored lines are daunting, but the colors make it easier than if the map was in black and white. Most colored lines run north and south, and all have a unique identification by one letter or number. Placing a finger at one destination, and then finding the other, shows just how far apart they are, and what subway line can get a person from point A to point B. It also clearly states where the stops are along the way. Using a subway map in conjunction with a more detailed street map reflects the closest subway stops to every major tourist site, museum, famous structure, or designation of area (for example, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Soho, etc.)

The main problem is going “crosstown”, or across 5th Ave. Any street with an “east” before it would be on the right side of 5th Ave. when looking at a map and those with a “west” would be on the left side of 5th Ave. (Fifth Ave. is found on a map at the far right lower corner of Central Park.) However, between 14th and 42nd, streets, no lines cross 5th Ave. This makes subway travel a bit more complicated, so first time riders may prefer cabs over trying to find appropriate transfer points.

A creative traveler, or one that has some familiarity with the city, can also take advantage of transfers to or from a bus at no extra cost; it’s still only $2 a person for as long as one wishes to go in one direction. (Bus routes are also online.) In all of the midtown and downtown stations I passed through, machines doled out individual tickets as well as discount passes: With every $10 worth of tickets, a rider gets 2 free. These can be used by anyone, so $20 can provide 3 back and forth trips, or 6 rides, for 2 folks. There are also passes for unlimited riding during 1, 7, or 30 days.

New York subways are fast, efficient, clean, and comfortable-with obvious police presence-so a visitor just may find it a rather fun way to enjoy their New York adventure.

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