The crosswalks of New York … and Boston

East side, west side, all around the town …

I’m always looking for ways to cut time from my commutes. I enter the optimal subway car so that I’m right by the exit when I get off. I remember that a certain light has a three-second delay before turning green. I figure out that an alley is quicker than a nearby bike lane.


Sign in Brookline.

Having become familiar with many tricks in New York, it for some reason surprises me when other cities operate with different standards. This was the case when I was walking and running in Boston. (I didn’t get a chance to ride Hubway, the city’s bikeshare system.)

Using an inappropriate framework for crosswalks resulted in a few near-collisions. And in the battle of Keith vs. car, my money’s on the 3,000-pound hunk of steel.

Here are a few things I learned.

Light timing

When running, I’m usually swift enough to beat the cars even when the red hand has already gone solid. I just turn a quick eye to the traffic light to make sure the traffic in my direction has a yellow light.

This habit could have caused problems in Boston. Once the hand stops flashing, in many places the cross-traffic will get a green light. I was fortunate that drivers saw me the first few times I pulled this stunt. (They were probably on high alert since it was Marathon weekend.)

Walk? Don’t Walk? Never Walk?

In New York, when the light turns green, the walking man usually illuminates as well. (Notable exceptions: intersections abutting parks or with left-turn signals. Peds will often cross anyway because of this norm.)

Many parts of Boston keep the hand up until a pedestrian presses a button saying he’d like to cross. I asked a few of my resident friends why this was, and they didn’t have a clue. If the button isn’t working, the wait could be interminable.

Showing patience

An amusing psychological difference between the two cities is how their pedestrians wait to cross. In New York, they usually spill over into the street. In Beantown, they stand on the sidewalk.

Is that because New Yorkers are more aggressive, or more trusting of drivers, or more careless? I’m going to go with #1, because we like to think we’re invincible.

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2 Responses to The crosswalks of New York … and Boston

  1. roberta4949 says:

    i want to commen on that sign, don’t you find it funny that they have to have a sign to remind people to do something they naturally already know they should be doing? and if they need signs to remind them to look where they are going and not run over anybody, then maybe they are not qualified to drive? you think?

    • Keith says:

      I wholeheartedly agree, Roberta! Sitting behind the wheel sends some people on power trips – it’s easy to be aggressive when you’re encased in metal and wearing a seat belt.

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