Getting Around Manhattan

In 1811, a grid system was imposed on the area of Manhattan north of Houston (pronounced HOW-ston) Street. The system consisted of 14 avenues, many of them numbered, running in a north-south direction, crossed by numbered streets running in an east-west direction. It makes finding your way around relatively simple. This street plan was established before the advent of the automobile and was not designed to accomodate drivers; as a result Manhattan suffers from a tremendous amount of traffic congestion. If you are traveling from east to west or west to east, it can be quicker to walk to your destination, rather than to drive.

Fifth Avenue serves as the dividing line between Manhattan’s East Side and it’s West Side. Street numbers begin at Fifth Avenue and grow higher in both directions. New Yorkers often give out addresss by listing the cross streets: “I’ll meet you at Forty-Third and Fifth” means I’ll meet you at the intersection of 43rd Street and Fifth Avenue.

The older part of New York City, from 14th Street to the southern tip of Manhattan, is much harder to navigate. These streets are set up along the lines of an old European city. Many streets began as cow paths or as small footpaths for merchants. Streets often change direction, and it is not hard to find yourself walking in circles.

In the 17th century, New Amsterdam’s Dutch residents erected a wooden wall at the northern border of the town to keep out the British as well as hostile Native Americans. Wall Street stands where this wall once existed.

Broadway is the only avenue that cuts diagonally across Manhattan. It was originally a woodland path used by Native Americans. It runs from the lower tip of Manhattan to Albany, 150 miles away.