The best comparison I can come up with for how New Yorkers cross streets in the city is to the game Frogger. You know, the game we used to play back when we were kids? If you haven’t played, the goal is to get your frog safely to the other side of the river by dodging cars and semi-trucks crossing the street, hopping over the lily pads and into the safety zone. New Yorkers cross the streets much like that. It doesn’t matter if the little white man is lit up or if the hand is solid red. If they think there is enough time to cross the street before a mass of taxis rush through the street they go for it.
I’m still a little apprehensive about crossing the streets here even when the sign says walk. I’ve rode in too many taxis to realize that the rules of the road don’t seem to apply to them, or so they think. I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that my Mom was always so outspoken about crossing streets. Every time we were at a crosswalk she would make us stand no closer than 6 feet from the curb. I can’t tell you how many times I was told to stand back, even if I took even one step closer. To this day, my Mom still hassles me about crossing streets. I guess her words stuck because being in a culture that not only doesn’t wait for the walk sign, but that also basically stands in the street while waiting has been a little uncomfortable at first.
After being here for a couple of weeks it starts to make sense why they do this though. It’s not so much that they have death wishes, but rather that New Yorkers walk on a mission. Whether it’s to the subway, to work, to lunch, or to the grocery store there is an end mission and a plan to get there in as little time as possible. In my experience, even more so in the morning hours when everyone is trying to get to work. To outsiders, waiting an extra couple of minutes to cross the street doesn’t seem like a big deal, but here it seems to be a little different. That extra couple of minutes could be the difference between getting a seat or standing on the subway, making the 8:30 bus instead of the 8:40 or getting the last maple bar donut at the shop. Of course this is a generalization and not everyone is dodging cars for the last donut, but there is definitely a method of madness walking the streets here regardless of the specific reasoning.
All I can say is, I’m doing my best to “adapt” to this new way of crossing streets while (Yes, Mom!) still keeping my Mom’s words of being careful in the back of my mind.