I’ve taken the subway for a very long time now and every time I get on it for the life of me, I don’t understand how people new to New York are thoroughly confused by how to read a NYC Subway map. There have been rants written about it by visitors from other cities. I’ve written posts about the horror of the subway in Summer here, and the 25 characters you’re likely to meet if you take the subway for an extended period, here. That being said getting around on a weekday (weekends are admittedly harder because that’s when construction takes place) is relatively simple.
Here are my tips for the most pleasant and efficient subway ride:
- Get a subway map! They’re free at every token booth and visitor’s center. Get multiple copies is you know you are going to lose it. They’re also posted on the wall of every car of the subway train near each end. Get accustomed to it without the pressure of having to get somewhere right at this moment. So look at it way before you decide to go somewhere. Or if you don’t live here do it at MTA.info
- You can also get apps for your phone, so you can act cool about being lost. I have the map downloaded onto my phone for new places I’ve never been, yes that does happen. Also, when the map is downloaded on your phone, you don’t have to worry about not having a signal. The apps I’ve found most useful are Hopstop (IOS only), Citymapper, Moovit, MyMTA, and MTA trip planner online. The MTA is always adding apps so look on Google Play and the App store regularly.
- It’s best to always plan an alternate route because there can be delays due to a sick passenger, weather, weekend construction, etc.
- I always carry my headphones and I’m not alone, it’s not sociable but when it comes to the train, I don’t care. Between the dance troupes yelling “Showtime!”, panhandling and inappropriate conversations, there is so much I want to block out, so I can successfully decompress from my day, on the ride home. A little anecdote to prove my point; recently on the train an R&B singer/Broadway actor was so excited to take the train and living in New York that she felt like giving an impromptu concert when she hopped on the train. Her feelings, I’m sure were hurt because New Yorker’s don’t like to be annoyed during the rush hour ride home, no matter how special you think that you are at the moment unless you are giving them money. No one paid any attention to her performance and there’s video to prove it.
Brandy sings in a New York Subway but no one… by MisterBuzz
- And on the Subway map, each subway line is designated by a color and a route is either a number or a letter, for example, the A, C, and E lines are colored blue on the map. The history behind the numbers and letters is too long and won’t really help you read the map better so let’s move on to how to read a NYC subway map.
- On the map, the train I ride is colored in blue which is the “A” line, it is also the longest train line. It starts at one end of the five boroughs and goes through all of them (except Staten Island and the Bronx). Each colored line on the map has an express line and a local line. So if you live near the “A” that’s how you’ll trace where you need to go next and pay attention to the transfer points. I’ll pick a popular station to state my point. The West 4th street station on the “A” line to use for this explanation. The A, B, C, E, D, F, M trains all stop here and the letters are written next to the station’s name on the map, this means it is a major transfer point. And Uptown and Downtown are orientations to know which direction you are heading, for instance, if I am at West 4th and I want to go to Central Park, “I need an Uptown train to Central Park.”. This terminology is used in the subway signage when standing on the platforms and on the display signage on the sides of the trains.
- The “A” is an express train, which means it has limited stops and the other blue line trains ( called local) that also run on the same line, which means they stop at the stations between the stops that the “A” doesn’t. This rule applies to each one of the colored lines on the map.
- And the darkened circle bullets, on the map, are served by local trains (C,& E) and open circle bullets along the line are major transfer points served by express and local trains (a transfer point are stations where you can access another train without leaving the subway system) to continue to your destination. Beside each bullet on the map, the map designates which train stops there, so you can tell which trains are available for transfer. Using the West 4th example again, if I start out on the A train and want to go to Bryant Park as my destination, I would ride the A train until West 4th and “transfer” to the F train going uptown in the direction to Bryant Park. Or maybe, I want to go to Grand Central Station…First, find that station on the map you want to travel to and see what trains service it (in this case it is the 4,5,6, and 7 trains). Then go to the train line you are beginning your travel on( in this case the A-line). Where do the A-line and the 4, 5, or 6 intersect on the map? There’s no rush. Hopefully, you’ve gotten the same answer I have, the Fulton Street station. That is where you would get off the A train and take the Uptown 4 or 5 train to Grand Central Station.
I think those are all the main points of traveling on the subway. It just takes practice. And don’t be afraid to ask questions of your fellow riders and token booth clerks, they are all happy to help you.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention don’t try to be so cool. And do yourself a favor, hold onto the metal poles on the subway car and not people who you are traveling with. You’ll look like a complete ass when you go flying when the train picks up speed. The poles are there for a reason.
Do you travel on the subway where you live? Do you have experience traveling on the subway in NYC? Were you confused? What confused you? Do you have any tips to make the ride easier? Let me know in the comments below.
Until our next rendezvous…