The most important thing for a tourist to know when riding the NYC subway system is to never, ever refer to a subway line by the color it is assigned on the maps. If you ask a New Yorker where to get the Red Line they’ll say “What red line?”
But if you ask where you can get the Broadway or 7th Avenue line they’ll know what you are talking about.
The first time a tourist asked me where to find the Green Line I thought they were talking about a tour bus company, since I knew about the Grey Line buses, which by the way are owned by Club Med.
“I know about the Circle Line, and I know about Grey Line, but I’ve never heard of a Green Line,” I said. They pointed out the Lexington Ave. line on their little out of town map made in France or somewhere like that which only imagines how the subway should look. If it were in Paris.
So here’s a quick rundown for tourists, and I’ll only mention Manhattan, because if you are a tourist and you are going anywhere in the outer boroughs besides Williamsburg, you are a brave soul indeed and you don’t need my advice.
The 1,2,and 3 trains are called the Broadway or 7th Avenue line, and they are all red on the map. These trains travel up the West side of Manhattan, and you can go from lower Manhattan all the way up to Inwood, the last neighborhood in Manhattan on this line.
The 4, 5, and 6 trains are known as the Lexington Avenue line, and they travel up the East side of the city, from Bowling Green to 125th Street, where Manhattan ends on the east side. Further than that you’re in the Bronx, and like I said, if you end up there you are a brave soul indeed. Depicted as green on the map.
The A, C, and E trains are called the 8th Ave. line, and this is the one you want to go to Central Park. Also takes you to Harlem in the north and Fulton Street in the south. It can also get you to Far Rockaway, if you are so inclined. Blue is the color of ACE.
The N, Q, and R trains run up the middle of Manhattan, good for getting to Broadway shows and Times Square, and SOHO. They all start in South Brooklyn and the N and R go to Astoria Queens. The Q ends on 57th Street near Central park. They are coded yellow.
The F train is the 6th Avenue line, and it is orange. The B and D trains run on 6th Avenue too, but they go up the west side to the Bronx after meeting up with the 8th Avenue line on 59th Street. They too are orange. Confusing, isn’t it? All three of these trains originate in South Brooklyn; Coney Island and Brighton Beach respectively. The F is officially called the Culver line, but I have yet to find out why.
The last orange train in Manhattan is the M train, it ends up on Metropolitan Avenue in Queens, and so M makes sense. This is my train; I take it to Flushing Avenue on the Williamsburg-Bushwick border where I live.
The J train outside my window.
Attention out of town hipsters looking to get Dirty in Bushwick: Get off the M and transfer to the J or you’ll end up in Maspeth, Queens. Or better yet, get on the hipster express, the famous L train. The L is grey on the map and only has seven stops in Manhattan, all on 14th Street. But it will get you to all the hip Hipster places, like the East Village (3rd Ave and 1st Ave stops), Greenpoint and Williamsburg (Bedford, Metropolitan, Graham Aves), and Bushwick and beyond (Montrose, Morgan, et al.) But unless you are really hip I recommend you get off before the train gets to East New York. You can connect to the L train from just about all the other trains since they all pass 14th Street.
I don’t know why they chose brown for the J and Z trains. But that is the brown line, the J and Z. Those travel through my neighborhood on the way to points east, like East New York (where the meet the L and A trains) and Jamaica Queens. These trains also run right by the Marcy Projects, where Jay-Z is from. Hmm… Again J makes sense for the Jamaica line.
Well there it is, I hope this was helpful.
A rare ride on an empty bus
I should mention buses, and the most important thing for a tourist to know besides the fare ($2.50) is that bus drivers do not make change, and they get annoyed when you ask them. So make sure you have a Metro Card or plenty of change. Also smile when you pay your fare, a smile goes a long way if you need help from a bus driver. It’s a job I wouldn’t do for all the money in the world in this city. The best thing I can say about buses is that they are slow, and they come in little packs of two or three buses at a time.
One more thing about buses, if you get on one of those SBS buses, (Select Bus Service) you have to buy a ticket at one of the machines at the bus stop. They don’t accept fares, and if an enforcement agent asks for you ticket and you don’t have one, they can have you arrested.
So if you are visiting from out of town, happy riding!