Tips for Taxis!

While the subway remains the cheapest and most efficient way to get around this city, for many visitors, taxis feel like a more private and safer option. So here are our tips for navigating New York's taxi system.

  1. Know your taxis!
    There are many types of cabs available in New York City... including private towncars, livery cabs, ride-sharing apps like Uber or Lyft, and even dollar vans. But the classic yellow taxi remains the most ubiquitous. 

    But there are also now the green taxis. The difference? Yellow taxis can take you anywhere in New York City. The green taxis, designed to better serve the outer boroughs, however, have certain restrictions... they cannot accept pickups in Manhattan below 110th St. on the West Side, and below 96th St. on the East Side, or at either LaGuardia or JFK airports. If you hail one in an outer borough, they are allowed to make dropoffs, though, in those areas.

  2. Getting a taxi at the airport.
    The most important rule of getting a taxi at the airport is to never accept a ride from someone inside the terminal, or outside, offering you a ride. These solicited services are illegal. For a safe & legal ride, get in the official taxi queue outside the terminal. The line may seem long, but often they move quickly. Taking a cab back to the airport? Cabs provide a flat-rate for this service.

    (Side-note: Check traffic reports before you go. Public transit-- ie. the AirTrain-- may be the better option.)

  3. Know your rights!
    Passengers in NYC taxis have certain legal rights. Know yours, and you can protect yourself from unprofessional drivers. These include the ability to go anywhere in NYC that you request... a cab driver cannot legally refuse to take you to a destination once he has pulled over for you. You can also request a specific route or roads. You can also request the driver turn off a radio or turn on/off an AC, etc.

    For the full Taxicab Passenger Bill of Rights, or to file a complaint, see their official website.

  4. Tipping!
    Tipping your driver is customary in the United States. Your average tip ranges from 15-20% of the final fare, depending on your satisfaction. If paying by credit card, most cab credit machine screens have an option to automatically add on the tip % you decide on, and provide you with a complete receipt.

  5. How to hail a taxi!
    We often see tourists with their hands out on the curb, attempting to hail a taxi, growing frustrated as numerous taxis pass them by without stopping. That driver is (probably) not ignoring you... he likely is either off-duty or already has a passenger. There is a very simple way to tell if a taxi is available: look to see that their light (the four-digit identifier code on the roof) is on. If yes, hail away. If no, keep an eye out for the next available one.

    You are looking for this:

We hope this helps!

 

 

A Guide To NYC Public Transportation

I've been working on a series here for tips for common tourist concerns. I recently did a post on the most common street scams to avoid in NYC (hint: anyone tries to hand you anything? keep walking!). Today, I present my tips & guide to using public transportation in New York.

Public transportation is the best way to get around New York, and the best way to experience the city as the locals do (locals rarely take cabs). It can seem intimidating at first, but follow our guide, and you’ll be in the know in no time.

  1. Know the map.
    Download a copy of the NYC subway map to your smartphone (physical copies are available at most station booths, if you can find one). A PDF is here. Keep track of service changes on the MTA website. Weekend-specific changes (which occur every weekend, so be prepared!) are available here. Google Maps also now provides a public transit option, in addition to car and walking directions.

    Also note that some subway stations have separate entrances (and platforms) for uptown trains versus downtown trains. Check signs to make sure you are headed the right way.

  2. Metrocard.
    First thing you must know is that NYC has a flat-fare system. Unlike most cities where your fare is based on zones/distance traveled, there is one flat fare for NYC, no matter you destination. Simply swipe in to the system, and you are in at that one fare until you exit... transfers to other lines (through connected stations) have no additional cost. Within around 2 hours, you can also transfer to a bus with your Metrocard at no additional cost. The standard fare is now $2.75

    You can purchase Metrocards in every station at the vending machines, or from an attended booth. Some station entrances may not have a machine, if so, simply go back out and enter the station at the main entrance.

    There are a couple of different types of Metrocards available (info here). The first is the Pay-Per-Ride Metrocard, in which you put a certain amount of $$ on the card, and your fare total is deducted for every swipe. This is good for several people to share. The second type is an Unlimited Metrocard, in which you pay a flat fee and get unlimited swipes for a certain period... 7 days, or 30 days. These unlimited cards can not be shared as, after your swipe, the card will be locked out for about 15 minutes. If you will be in NYC for around a week, we highly recommend purchasing the 7-day Unlimited Metrocard for every member of your group or family.

    When swiping your Metrocard at a turnstile, a swift and straight swipe will avoid read errors.

  3. JFK AirTrain.
    The AirTrain monorail system provides a connection between JFK airport and two nearby transit hubs (check signs to make sure you are headed the right way)... Howard Beach (with access to the A train), and Jamaica (access to E and J lines, plus access to Long Island Railroad). Payment for the AirTrain is by Metrocard (pay-per-ride cards only). It is $5 each way.

    It also provides connections between terminals inside the airport at no cost.

  4. The different systems.
    The main NYC transit system-- ie. what your Metrocard will pay for-- consists of the following: the subways, city bus lines, and the Roosevelt Island tramway (info on the latter here). But there are several other transportation options in the city that your Metrocard will not cover, and will require separate fares. Here's a primer:

    A) NYC Ferry: NYC's new, official ferry service is a great way to travel between the city's waterfront areas. The fare is the same price as a subway ride-- $2.75-- but requires a separate ticket.

    There are also other ferry options, such as NY Waterway and NY Water Taxi.
    (not even including the many sightseeing boat/cruise companies)

    B) Long Island Rail Road: The LIRR is a commuter train system that connects NYC to the suburbs of Nassau and Suffolk Counties (collectively known as Long Island). To ride this system, a separate ticket must be purchased at stations. If you do wish to ride a LIRR train, please buy a ticket in advance, as purchasing tickets on board is almost double the cost of an advance ticket.

    C) Metro-North: Metro-North railroad connects NYC to its far outer suburbs of upstate New York and Connecticut. As with LIRR, tickets should be purchased before boarding.

    D) PATH: Path trains connect certain lower Manhattan neighborhoods to specific areas of New Jersey popular with cross-state commuters... Hoboken, Jersey City, and access to Newark Airport. The Path system does take Metrocards, but only pay-per-ride cards (unlimited Metrocards not accepted), though there is no free transfer between Path and the NYC transit system.

    E) NJ Transit: NJ Transit is a commuter rail system that connects NYC (via Penn Station) to cities all across New Jersey.

    F) Staten Island Ferry: The commuter boat between Manhattan and Staten Island. This one, as you may know, is free and requires no tickets.

  5. Getting help.
    Should you find yourself with questions during your travels, you have many options. First is to just ask! Contrary to stereotypes, most New Yorkers are very friendly and happy to assist (except maybe during rush hour). Second, check the web! All underground stations now have free wifi service. Finally, find an MTA employee! It is their job to help point you in the right direction.

We hope this helps, and safe travels!

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Prospect Park

Prospect Park turned 150 years old this year!

This Brooklyn park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted & Calvert Vaux after their completion of Central Park, in Manhattan. At the time, Brooklyn was still an independent city (the 3rd largest city in America). Olmsted was on the record of stating his preferred work was Prospect Park. He felt that the grid-system-mandated borders of Central Park were too creatively restrictive, that Manhattan politicians wanted too much say in his work there, and also felt his work on that park helped prepare him to better create his Brooklyn masterpiece. Wandering through Prospect Park today, you can see many similarities (in Vaux's beautiful arches & bridges, in Olmsted's layouts), but many differences. Prospect Park has more of a lived-in feel today, with weekend barbecues, picnics, music, and other activities not allowed in its Manhattan counterpart. One other difference... while tens of millions of NYC visitors each year visit Central Park, only a small fraction of that find their way to this area of Brooklyn. The Prospect Park Alliance is working to change that.

The park is also bordered by numerous historic, gorgeous neighborhoods such as Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Windsor Terrace, and Flatbush. Each worth a visit in their own right.

Interested in discovering more? Contact me for a custom tour!

The Thrill of the Chase

As I noted in a previous entry, I love a good challenge. Art events or promotions that get New Yorkers to go around and explore all corners of the city are a favorite of mine. In the past, New Yorkers have been asked to run around hunting for cows, baseball statues, and (appropriately) easter eggs.

The current event is one is called the La Mer Wave Walk, sponsored by La Mer and Project Zero, to draw attention to ocean conservation efforts. 54 wave sculptures have been installed across all 5 NYC boroughs, in anticipation of United Nations Oceans Day on June 8. The wave sculptures will be removed and auctioned off after June 21. Some of the people who designed the sculptures include: Richard Branson, Bernard Fowler, Queen Noor of Jordan, Vivienne Westwood, Keith Richards, and many others. This page has a map where all the waves are placed.

I am attempting to photograph all 54 waves over the next week or so. As I find them, I will be uploading my photos to the Flickr account linked in the image below:

Exploring Lower Manhattan

While most days I am leading one of my set tours-- Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, Greenwich Village, etc-- I do leave many days free for custom requests. After all, we are Custom NYC Tours!

I've written on this blog previously about some past custom tours that I've designed (ie. a Neil Diamond-themed tour of Brooklyn, or a tour of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn). I recently got a custom request with a lot of interesting (and seemingly unconnected) elements: stops on the Underground Railroad, hidden little spots of the city, a look at the original/abandoned City Hall subway station, and street art. Luckily, lower Manhattan has all of this!

I started our tour outside the towering Manhattan Municipal Building, so that we can admire its numerous, and beautiful, architectural features. Then we headed behind the building for a peek at a little-known piece of Revolution-era New York history: the Sugar House Prison window. One block over, thousands of tourists a day enter the Brooklyn Bridge, but almost all miss this curious gem. Next, we headed down into the City Hall subway station. This is actually a replacement station, as the original City Hall station was closed in 1945.  But you can still see it, if you stay/get on a downtown 6 train as it terminates there... while the train loops back to the uptown track to start a new run, it passes through the old station. So stay on, head to the wall-facing windows/doors, and get your camera ready for a quick peek at some subway history!

Next, we headed west over to Church Street-- passing by the historic Tweed Courthouse on the way-- for an exploration of black history. While the original church is no longer there (way too much history downtown was not preserved), this block was the original home of Mother African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first black church in New York state, and a stop on the Underground Railroad. As we walked further, we took a moment to stare up at the newly developed "Jenga building" residential skyscraper. A few blocks away, we came to Manhattan's most-famous Underground Railroad stop... 36 Lispenard, where publisher & abolitionist David Ruggles once lived. It was here that Frederick Douglass passed through. A plague on Lispenard explains the history of Ruggles and his works.

Then, we passed through Chinatown, specifically the as-seen-on-TV Cortlandt Alley, to take a peek at Mmuseumm, the city's smallest museum (it is housed in an industrial elevator shaft, and can fit only a few people at a time). From there, we wandered right over to the Little Italy section of the Lower East Side, which has some of the best street art in Manhattan. Works by well-known street artists such as Space Invader, Ron English, D*Face, Jerkface, Tristan Eaton, Solus, and many more can be found in this area (I offer a street art-focused tour of this neighborhood). 

We ended the tour in trendy SoHo, with a look at two curious, little-known art projects. The first is on Greene Street. Literally. It is a piece called 'Subway Map Floating on a New York City Sidewalk' by Belgian artist Françoise Schein. It is a huge (and reasonably accurate) recreation of the subway lines built into the sidewalk. A really fun piece to explore. Finally, we headed up Wooster to see the New York Earth Room, one of the city's more curious art exhibits. It is a 3,600 square foot (335 square meters) loft space... filled with loose soil/earth. It has been on display there for nearly 40 years. It is a free exhibition, so if you are ever in SoHo, head up to 141 Wooster and buzz up to see it for yourself!

I love planning these custom tours, and I felt satisfied that this was most fun one yet... for both the customers and myself! There is no area of the city, no subject, that I cannot create a tour around. If you have an idea for a custom tour you'd like me to create for you, please contact me!

The Changing NYC Skyline: An Addendum

A month ago, I blogged about my day-long exploration of the changing New York skyline. The past decade has seen the greatest period of growth in the city, in every possible meaning, in over half a century. The skyline of NYC is iconic. But, for better or worse, in a decade you may no longer recognize it.

Time Out New York has a good article along this same line, specifically focused on the numerous towers in early stages that have not yet gone up... but will soon transform Manhattan. It's definitely worth a quick read.

Lower East Side Street Art Tour!

I post a lot about street art, as it is a passionate interest of mine. But many people are not familiar with it, outside a fleeting glimpse now and then. That is what my street art tours are designed for... to help those wishing to learn more discover this side of the art world, and see some amazing works.

On Thursday March 23 at 10am, I am doing a street art tour of the Lower East Side, in Manhattan. This area has one of the most vibrant scenes in the city, and I cannot wait to show it off to visitors.  If you, or anyone you know, is interested, tickets can be purchased by clicking the image below!

My Favorite Views!

This weekend, I braved the cold to take a trip to Roosevelt Island. The island sits in the middle of the East River, between Manhattan and Queens (though is legally part of the borough of Manhattan). It is becoming popular with some tourists because of its unique public transportation... the Roosevelt Island Tramway. But its best asset is at its southern tip: the FDR Four Freedoms Park.

This park has some of the most panoramic views of the city, outside of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade (and as it lies farther north, its views are far different). To its east, the great views of the Queens waterfront:

And to the west... this stunning view of Midtown East:

Some of the skyscrapers visible here (from left to right): theUnited Nations, Empire State Building, ONE UN New York, ChryslerBuilding, 50 United Nations Plaza, the Met Life Building, Bank of Tower,  Trump World Tower, 860 UN Plaza, 599 Lexington Avenue, CitigroupCenter, & 432 Park Avenue. 

Some of the skyscrapers visible here (from left to right): theUnited Nations, Empire State Building, ONE UN New York, ChryslerBuilding, 50 United Nations Plaza, the Met Life Building, Bank of Tower,  Trump World Tower, 860 UN Plaza, 599 Lexington Avenue, CitigroupCenter, & 432 Park Avenue. 

And, of course, if you're interested in seeing it for yourself, custom tours can always be arranged.

Covering Queens in Art, Top to Bottom

More and more people are discovering that the city's fastest growing art scene isn't in Manhattan... it's in Queens. The waterfront neighborhoods around Long Island City have a growing number of art galleries and co-working spaces. They also an impressive collection of museums: MoMA PS1, the Sculpture Center, The Noguchi Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, & more. And in the warmer months, you can also stop by the popular LIC Food & Flea festival, and catch the views from the waterfront parks.

But Long Island City (or, LIC) has always been synonymous with street art. The neighborhood once housed the the world's premiere “graffiti Mecca”: 5Pointz... aka, The Institute of Higher Burnin', aka 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center. Artists from all over the world would apply for a chance to paint on this site. The building itself, while huge (200,000-sq-ft/19,000-m2!), was not itself otherwise remarkable. It was simply a privately-owned factory building that the owner had converted inside to rented artist studios, and turned on the outside to a heavily-curated graffiti gallery. (And curated it was: artists would have to submit portfolios/samples for a chance to make their mark on its walls)

Most New Yorkers became familiar with it while riding the 7 train, as the massive complex, and its painted walls, was the first thing one would see as the train came above ground in Queens.

The building in its prime.

The building in its prime.

The building was even featured in TV & movies, such as the climax of the 2013 film, "Now You See Me".

The building was even featured in TV & movies, such as the climax of the 2013 film, "Now You See Me".

Alas, the growing popularity of Long Island City ultimately sealed 5Pointz's fate. The building's owner was made a generous offer for the land by developers, and he sold. After a failed effort by artists to have the building landmarked, it was demolished. A large, luxury residential complex is currently going up where it once stood. Some 5Pointz-era street art on the other end of Davis St is all that remains of the former mecca.

RIP.

RIP.

Today, the NYC street art community has largely splintered, with efforts centered around new areas like Bushwick or the Lower East Side or Welling Court in Astoria.

But one organization is looking to create a new mecca nearby in LIC. Arts Org NYC is a group that has worked on numerous projects. Their main project now is called "Top to Bottom", centered at a huge building at the intersection of 21st St & 43rd Ave, just a 10-minute walk from where 5Pointz once stood. The project was recently spotlighted on The Huffington Post.  They have gathered some very popular street artists to cover their building from, you guessed it, top to bottom with gorgeous and fun murals. “It’s just a beginning,” creative director James P. Quinn said.

I visited the site today, and was so happy to see that street art in LIC is still thriving. It inspired me to do something I've been thinking about for a while... create a tour of Long Island City, focused around its street art scene. That will be added to this site very soon. I love this neighborhood in general, and think it's a great way to introduce people to the very underrated borough of Queens.

Here is a slideshow of some of my photos from today's exploration.

Know anyone interested in this type of tour? Please spread the word!