When I first moved here, I flat out refused to drive in the city – I took the train instead. However, eventually the transit authority (in its infinite wisdom) raised the prices on commuter rail tickets such that it just was plain cheaper to drive in, even allowing for the fairly hefty tolls at the tunnels and bridges into the city.
At first, New York City driving scared me. I’d lived in Massachusetts previously, and I’d driven as a courier in Boston, so I was no stranger to city driving, but New York City was city driving on a whole other level – a scale of traffic and speed and volume I’d never seen or experienced before.
But there was no avoiding it anymore – I needed to get used to driving in the city, and it wasn’t something I could learn except by doing it.
Thankfully, I’m a pretty fast learner, and I quickly picked up on the style of driving from paying attention to all the other cars on the road.
Basically, the key to driving in New York City can be summed up as: just go.
No, really – aside from stopping at traffic lights, driving in New York City is basically just going along with the flow of traffic, and when you need to turn or change lanes or do anything against that flow, you just need to have confidence in yourself – and in the fact that other people will get out of your way (within reason). Other drivers don’t want to hit you any more than you want to hit them. Once you accept this, everything else just falls into place.
This isn’t to say that driving in the city is easy – far from it. Driving in New York City is demanding; it requires a fair bit of concentration and constant awareness of your surroundings. You can’t be a lazy or inattentive driver in New York City.
This isn’t also to say that you have to be an aggressive driver in the city – but you do have to be an assertive driver. If you need to change lanes or make a turn, no one’s going to slow down & wave you out – you have to make room for yourself (to a certain extent). It’s not unlike getting on a crowded subway train – you just have to kind of push your way through if you want to get on.
The city does have its own unique challenges, of course, such as the frequent lack of lane markers, the masses of pedestrians, and let’s not forget the cab drivers – but these are relatively minor issues compared to just getting the hang of the pace & feel & flow of driving in the city.
It did take me a little while to get fully comfortable with it, but though I was terrified of New York City driving at first, nowadays I don’t even give it a second thought.