Oh, behave! NYC Walking Customs

There are traffic problems that visitors present in big cities worldwide: pedestrian traffic problems! People from small towns or out in the country don’t have much of a concept of pedestrian traffic.

(Watch the fun video at the bottom of this post.)


Newcomers to the city get to the subway, fan out and take up all the turnstiles while they try to figure out how the fare cards work. Then they stand in groups at the tops or bottoms of the stairs, preventing others from using them. They cluster together on the escalators, not knowing that New York City etiquette is to stand on the right side or walk on the left but never to stand on the left. In the times of the year when there are lots of visitors, it’s difficult for residents to use the Subway stairs at all because visitors are at the tops and bottoms, trying to figure the trains out.

Groups of five people might walk five abreast on the sidewalk, slowly taking everything in. They don’t realize that residents who have to get places need that same sidewalk space. These tourists are seen as careless or even selfish. They aren’t, of course; they just don’t know how sidewalks are used in the city.

In fact, at Rockefeller Center in Christmastime, the crowds are very slow despite our 16-foot-wide sidewalks, because out-of-towners want to stop RIGHT HERE and take a photo. And of course, the whole family stops there as well.

So many people will be stopping right in the middle of the sidewalk that New Yorkers learn to avoid walking in that area during the holiday season. Of course, where the visitors live, there’s only one or two people on the sidewalk at any time. So stopping in the middle is natural, but it’s very annoying to city people.

Think of it in terms of driving. No one would stop in the middle lane on the highway, because another car will come from behind and hit them. So stopping in the middle of a crowded, fast-moving sidewalk to take a photo can be risky. We don’t expect them to stop, so we walk right into them. Please act as if the sidewalk is a highway, and pull over.

I’m from a small town but moved to New York City and became a sightseeing guide. I know how people think in small towns, so I take care to keep my groups to the sides of the sidewalk, or the path on the Brooklyn Bridge. Before we start, they get educated on the etiquette of sidewalk use in the big city. My groups have a good time and still have great views of everything.

My goal is to give a wonderful tour every time, with fantastic things to look at or marvel about, nearly every step of the way, while not infringing on the needs of local residents. Everybody’s happy!

Tourists visitors travel tourist New York City pedestrian traffic flow blockage block sightseeing guide tour tourguide sidewalk sidewalks path paths escalator elevator platform crowded crowd Manhattan Brooklyn Bridge towns suburbs