City driving is obviously very different from highway, suburban or rural driving. Beyond the difference in gas mileage, urban driving presents a unique set of challenges around every street corner. New York City — specifically Manhattan — seems to intimidate more drivers than just about any other American city. Los Angeles might be more frustrating when you’re behind the wheel, but Manhattan is more terrifying to people. My mother — who grew up in Queens and lives on Long Island — practically refuses to drive in Manhattan. There’s really no need to be overwhelmed by driving here, however. It’s safer than being on the highway and with a few simple tips, you can easily get the hang of it.
First things first, there is no need to be stressed out about driving in Manhattan. Take a deep breath, don’t be intimidated and remember all of the things that you know about driving. Your car doesn’t morph into an alien craft once you enter the borough. Your gear shift will work exactly the same as it always has and your gas pedal won’t suddenly become the break. You already know how to drive.
2. Slow Down
The speed limit throughout New York City is 30 miles per hour. The city government has been heightening awareness of that lately and for good reason. City streets are congested with cars, pedestrians, cyclists and street vendors. Even if there’s no traffic, you won’t be driving very fast in the city. Or if you do, it’s for one block before you hit another light.
3. Use Your Mirrors
There’s probably a cab in your blind spot. That’s just a fact. There are lane markers painted on all of the avenues, major crosstown streets and highways in Manhattan, but people change lanes pretty fluidly and go wherever there is space to move. Make sure you know who is next to you before you try to go around that stopped taxi. Speaking of taxis…
4. Taxi Drivers Don’t Care
Taxi drivers will cross three lanes of traffic if they see a potential fare. That said, they don’t want to get in an accident anymore than you do. While they might swerve, accelerate violently and stop short, they typically are very aware of everything going on around them. You just need to share that awareness. Keep in mind that taxis might stop at anytime. Also, even though the law requires passengers to exit taxis on the street side of the car, the occasional idiot will swing his door open into traffic. Don’t assume anything when passing a stopped cab.
5. Bike Lanes
New York City has added miles of bike lanes over the past few years. Cyclists are everywhere in Manhattan and not all drivers are a fan of that. Regardless of your views on bike lanes, they’re here and you need to keep an eye out for them. When you park, don’t swing your door open into the street without looking for cyclists first. When turning, make sure that the intersection is clear, too. In general, respect cyclists and their right to the road.
It’s very important to remember that there’s no right on red anywhere in NYC. Wait for the light to turn green before you go anywhere. Pedestrians have the right of way in the intersection, so turning can be slow going. But remember rule #1: relax. A little patience goes a long way when you’re driving in the city.
Buses are annoying for drivers. They stop frequently, move slowly and weave in and out of traffic. If you want to avoid them, stay out of the right lane. Also, avoid driving in bus-only lanes. You could (and should) get a big ticket.
If you can find a spot on the street that doesn’t require paying at a meter, congratulations! There are plenty of them, but they fill up quickly. Be sure to check all of the signs on the block to avoid being ticketed. Street cleaning schedules are always posted, along with no standing zones, authorized vehicle only zones and loading zones. Blocks that require you to pay for parking will have signs instructing you to pay at the Muni Meter. Using coins or a credit card, you can add time in 15 minute increments (at a rate of 25 cents for every 15 minutes). The machine will print out a receipt that you must place on your dashboard with the printed side face up. You can also park in one of the many garages in Manhattan, but they will cost you significantly more than street parking. Rates vary, but you can often find deals if you arrive in Manhattan before 9am. You can also search the Icon or Central Parking websites to find the best prices.
Manhattan is completely congested from 7am-9am and 4:30pm to around 7pm on most weekdays. On the weekends, Saturday nights are the worst. The busiest areas, obviously, are close to the bridges and tunnels. If you need to drive during rush hour, expect congestion. If you can avoid driving during these times, you’ll be a lot happier. If you’re stuck in traffic, don’t “block the box.” In other words, don’t get caught in the middle of the intersection when the light changes. You’ll just be making traffic worse when you’re blocking everyone in all directions. If you can’t get yourself completely through the intersection, just wait for the traffic light to cycle through to you again.
Stop. Stop honking. It accomplishes nothing other than making people hate you with the force of a thousand suns.
If you have your own insider driving tips for Manhattan let us know. You can also download NYC Way where you’ll find live traffic cameras, detailed parking information by block and a complete list of garages to help make your next Manhattan driving experience that much easier.