New Yorkers Rushing Everywhere — Explained

One of the first things one notices about New York City is that everyone is in a big hurry to get somewhere. This is not an illusion. People are literally rushing by walking very fast and often actually running. You get the impression that everyone is late for some important event, a meeting perhaps, though you have to wonder why so many are on the street during the work day. Locals might say these are all tourists, but the tourists do not seem to be in such a hurry. Why would they be? A good deal of the time, they have no idea where they are or where they are trying to go. And they are not dressed like most New Yorkers. That, however, is the topic of another blog post.

Someone once observed, more or less, that if everyone stands up to see the parade, no one will get to see it. Something analogous may apply to the people rushing through the streets of New York. There is an apparent level of feral aggression in the way New Yorkers navigate their city spaces. One interesting observation is that the “rapid ants” pace does not appear to result in actual collisions or angry exchanges. Everyone seems to understand that this is just how things are. If, like me, you always are moving more slowly than the vast majority, they simply swirl past you without a glance, like water around a boulder in the stream. They also cut in front of you, which raises the issue of “right of way” that I will also address later.

A friend who lived here once suggested that the rushing is a result of the vast distances involved, but that explanation doesn’t quite fit the facts. For one thing, the city is criss-crossed with a vast subway and bus system that runs 24 hours a day and can deliver you close to almost any destination you choose. Of course, there are many issues with the subway system, the subject of future posts, and that seems to contribute to the rushing. You slow down on the stairs into or out of the subway at your peril (yes, stairs mostly, with a few escalators and elevators that often stink so bad you cannot breathe in them, so, yes, stairs). Missing a train here is a major issue. You do not want to be the cause. So far, I have not been.

Also, the truth is that the distances are not that great. They only seem so. I believe the canyon-like quality created by New York’s skyscraper architecture enhances the feeling of long distances. Partly it is the adopted, and entrenched, terminology: there are “short blocks” (the distances along the major avenues between the east-west streets) and “long blocks” (the distances along the east-west streets between the major avenues). Right off, you are aware that some distances are “long” and so indeed they seem that way.

While the length of Manhattan Island from “northern to southern tip” is a considerable distance – 13.4 miles – the island is only 2.3 miles wide at the widest point (near 14th Street). The average walking speed for an adult is 3.1 miles per hour, so an “average” walker can traverse from one side of Manhattan to the other and be well on the way back in an hour. At a “brisk” pace of 4 mph, one can almost do a full roundtrip at the widest point. Brisk is what New Yorkers do most. And then some.

No, I believe the explanation for the omni-present sense of urgency lies in the population density that exceeds any other American city by a huge margin. People who perceive themselves as “hemmed in” or “blocked,” will usually respond by increasing their pace. It may be a fool’s errand in midtown at noon or at the end of the workday, but the effect is likely to be strongest when the crowding is the most extreme. And once one develops the mental set that the only way to get anywhere is to rush ahead of everyone else, it tends to show itself in all circumstances.

Therefore, you don’t see people slow down once they are “in the clear.” Indeed, at intersections, being in the clear often leads to pedestrians running into the traffic in an apparent effort to separate from the crowd encroaching from behind. By the way, the ubiquitous New York yellow taxis are the parallel universe for this phenomenon. This too will be discussed at length in a future post. There is so much to cover.

So, right or wrong, that’s my theory for now. To some extent, at least, the entire rushing thing is futile. About a month after moving here, when it was still very cold, I was walking home to Columbus Circle after returning an item at a store on Lexington Avenue. A group of young Asian tourists, poorly dressed for the weather, were moving ahead of me, talking animatedly. I caught up to them at every stoplight, then they surged ahead until I caught them again at the next major intersection. They, of course, never noticed me.

Here are some other interesting facts I have learned about the population in New York City:

  • With a July 2015 population of 8,550,405, New York (all five boroughs) is more than twice the size of the second largest city, Los Angeles.
  • About 1 in every 38 people living in the United States resides in New York City.
  • New York has the highest population density of any major city in the United States, with over 27,000 people per square mile.
  • Over 3 million of New York City’s residents are foreign-born; over one-quarter arrived in 2000 or later. More about these folks in a future post.
  • Nearly 2 million New Yorkers are under the age of 18.
  • New York City has more people than 40 of the 50 U.S. states.
  • New York City comprises over two-fifths of New York State’s entire population.
  • New York City has grown by over 1 million people since 1990. Make that 1,000,002.
  • The 2014 median age in New York City was 35.8 years, almost two years lower than the national median of 37.7 years. A city of youngsters, at least compared to me.
  • There are nearly 400,000 more women than men in New York. While this would seem to be great news for the men, apparently the social scene in New York City leaves much to be desired.
  • There is a birth in New York City every 4.4 minutes. That’s a lot of births and seems to run counter to the belief that the social life in The City stinks. Moreover, there is a death every 9.1 minutes. Population growth, therefore, comes from new people moving here. Like me.
  • The borough of Brooklyn on its own would be the 4th largest city in the United States; Queens would also rank 4th nationally.
  • Approximately two-thirds of dwelling units in New York are renter-occupied, over twice the national average. Easy to understand if you’ve looked at the price of ownership here.
  • New York City has the largest Chinese population of any city outside of Asia.
  • More persons of West Indian ancestry live in New York City than any city outside of the West Indies.
  • New York has the largest Puerto Rican population of any city in the world.
  • More Dominicans live in New York than any other city in the world, barring Santo Domingo.
  • Over 2.4 million Hispanics reside in New York City, more than any other city in the United States.
  • The Black non-Hispanic population of New York City numbered 1.89 million in 2014, more than double the count in any other U.S. city. All of these ethnicity facts make New York a polyglot of cultures unlike anything in the world.
  • Half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home.
  • Over 200 languages are spoken in New York City. None of these is English. Joke, joke. New Yorkers speak their own brand of English, but this is fine. So do most of the other people in the U.S.

We are in for an interesting time. This is only the beginning.

My next post will talk about the filth.

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