Are you relatively new to this bustling metropolis? Don't be shy about it, everyone was new to New York once upon a time, except, of course, those battle-hardened residents who've lived here their whole lives and Know It All. One of these lifers works among us at Gothamist—publisher Jake Dobkin grew up in Park Slope and still resides there. He is now fielding questions—ask him anything by sending an email here, but be advised that Dobkin is "not sure you guys will be able to handle my realness." We can keep you anonymous if you prefer; just let us know what neighborhood you live in.

This week's question comes from someone who wants to ascend and descend the right way:


I've lived here 10 years, have yet to figure this out and can't reach a consensus with my friends. When there is a train in the station, and people rushing up stairs off the train and down stairs to get on the train, everyone knows you stay right. But which right, is right?

Are the entire stairs split, one side up—one side down? Or is each section of the stair one side up—one side down?

I made a drawing for you:


-Step Aside

Dear Step Aside,

Your first drawing shows the correct method of New York subway egress. On a wide, divided staircase, the entire right side is used by people going up. This prevents the collisions that the four lanes in the bottom diagram would inevitably produce.

I verified this with the MTA. Adam Lisberg, their Director of External Communications, emailed:

In your correspondent’s message, the proper way is the top diagram - all upward customers are on the right, all downward customers are on the left. It’s a little more smooth that way. Note that the only place where we have put up signs urging people to stay to the right is the Borough Hall station, where it has appeared to have a modest effect.

We walk on the right in New York City for three reasons. First, as a sign of continued spiritual connection to our Dutch ancestors, who adopted right side traffic rules after their conquest by Napoleon in 1806. Second, as a eternal sign of our antipathy towards England and its cruel occupation from 1665 to 1783. Third, because 90% of the New York population is right handed, it makes sense to walk on the right, so if you fall you can catch the bannister with your stronger hand.

Furthermore, while walking on the right side, we natives move quickly and efficiently in herds, which provides safety in numbers from subway stabbers and enables us to carry along any tourists who might otherwise interrupt the flow of traffic.

An interesting situation you might encounter is when the crush of the unloading trains overwhelms the entire right side of the divided staircase. What to do then? The answer is a "reversible contraflow lane", in which the mob commandeers one of the two lanes on the left for upward movement, forcing the people coming down over to a little sliver on the far left. You can see an example of this in the picture below, which I took at York Street this morning at the end of rush hour:

(Jake Dobkin / Gothamist)

This custom is just because it inconveniences the fewest people: except at the most crowded stations, like Union Square or 42nd Street, traffic in and out of the station follows an asynchronous pattern, so both sides of the staircase are never packed at once.

Jake Dobkin and one of his roommates during an epic subway adventure: The 2 to Atlantic, Q to Canal, J to Hewes, 3 block walk to G at Broadway and then to Hoyt-Schermahorn, and then A back to High Street (Courtesy Jake Dobkin Private Collection)

The MTA seems to agree, unofficially. Lisberg wrote:

Also note that if a fully-loaded train (or two!) pulls into the station at the same time, sometimes the most efficient way to get people off the platform is for them to swarm all sides of the staircase. It’s a little inconvenient for people trying to make it down and catch a train, but sometimes it works best overall. I’m not condoning that, just noting that it happens and it tends to work out.

This does not mean that the occasional surly New Yorker attempting to come down the stairs while ten thousand people are exiting will not use the opportunity to vent his rage. But getting yelled at it a small price to pay for commuting efficiency, and knowing how to get screamed at by strangers without getting upset is an important skill to have here.

While they are yelling at you, lessen the resentment you feel by meditating on the shared inconvenience experienced by all the commuters around you, and voice inwardly your desire that they and all sentient beings may experience happiness and the roots of happiness, as well as a subway system that isn't completely overcrowded and underfunded by our villainous state and city officials.

Email if you want to Ask A Native New Yorker a pressing question.