28 June 2006

Talk amongst yourselves: Kid-safe NYC?

From Matt:

My family is traveling to New York for a week this summer with the first 3 days in New York City. We have a 4 1/2 year old and a 1 year old. I'm looking for tips and suggestions on safely traveling in the city with the kids. None of us have ever been there and thinking about getting around with the kids is already stressing me out. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks a lot.

I'm no Big Apple expert (I wish I could say I was...I love New York), but we took the kids to Paris and London last summer when they were 5 and 2. We used public transport exclusively (as I imagine you will too), and it was all about the handholding and sticking together. I put velcro ID bracelets around their wrists and and ID stickers in their shoes (other ID-eas here). When walking on the street, we kept well away from the curb (especially in the UK). Pretty basic stuff, really. I have a feeling that, once you get there and your eyes and ears adjust to the amazing level of stimulation there, you'll feel fine. In my experience traveling with the kids, anticipation is always a killer.

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In terms of mass transit.....I live in New York with my 2.5 year old and a newborn. I take the subways every morning, and have seen a lot of tourists. I would recommend that the best defense is to try as hard as possible to just blend in. This means the following: always research the directions to your destination before getting on the train. Nearly no native will look at the subway map in the car. Dress in bland colors. I can't tell you how many tourists I've spotted based on their bright clothes and "I Love NY" hats alone. Consider that to get around in most subway stations, one of you will have to carry the stroller down the stairs while the other walks the 4 year old down them. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt this when a train has just arrived in a station. Greater chances of being separated.

Above-ground, nothing revolutionary to suggest. Most areas of the City are much safer than popular culture allows. As long as there are other people out on the streets you're probably ok. If you don't see any cabbies around, get out of there as quickly as possible.

Native New Yorker here, and one who looks at subway maps whenever I feel like it. Contra vdibart, I wouldn't worry especially about not fitting in. New Yorkers come in all shapes and sizes.

Do take the subway. One bit of advice: get up and head for the door well before you enter your desired station.

One thing about New York drivers -- most of them are professionals, and are very used to watching out constantly for stray pedestrians. (Not like Boston!) Essentially every corner has a walk sign, and the sidewalks you will encounter are quite wide.

New Yorkers are very willing to help tourists, as long as you simply *ask your question*. Do NOT NOT NOT start with "Excuse me... I was wondering... if I could ask you a question..." because these are sure signs that in fact you are asking for money. The New-York-polite thing to do is to simply say "Which way is Park Avenue?" Of course, you'll probably have to repeat the question, so no time is actually saved. Basically, New Yorkers just want assurance in advance that they know what sort of interaction they're getting into.

1. don't worry about taking short trips in cabs w/o a carseat. if you have bags or luggage it is so much easier than the subway.

2. don't use a stroller unless you have to.

3. take the subway, feel free to look at the maps, and people will probably offer to help you figure out where you're going. new yorkers are way more friendly to folks with kids on public transport than people in any other city I've been to (particularly where I live in San Francisco).

4. Go to Brooklyn too.

Seems Allen might have misunderstood or misinterpreted my comments. The question here isn't whether NY will welcome this family because they look different, it's how can a family who is not used to traveling the city be safe. I by no means said they shouldn't take the subway or that they should avoid conversations with others. My advice was to be prepared and be smart. If you don't want to leave yourself open to people who prey on tourists, your best defense is to not present yourself as a tourist.

If you know where you are going, www.hopstop.com might be a useful resource for planning how to get from one place to another. It suggests subway, walking and bus routes. Pretty handy, although I don't live in NYC and have never put it to the test.

I travelled with my 5 and 1.5 yr old daughters in the subways since they were born (and look at the maps on the lines I don't usually take!) and haven't had a bad experience yet.

Some thoughts:

1. Make a plan in case of separation that your older child can understand. Do it in a non-threatening way, but make sure they understand/can repeat it to you (our oldest didn't like to even think of separation at first, but we repeated it casually until she felt comfortable explaining what she'd do). Put your contact info (but not personal info) in something waterproof and attach it to your child's clothing. Explain to your eldest to look for a mom with children for help if needed, etc. Its probably that least likely thing to happen, but the

2. You should try to feel as comfortable as you can, and know where you're going to the extent you can. So study the maps to your destination well. The lines in Manhattan are relatively simple, but can seem confusing at some of the stops and transfers (such as the times square complex), so don't be afraid to ask, as others have pointed out. Observe the terms used (Uptown/downtown, Bronx-bound, Queens-bound, etc).

3. Getting on and off is in my opinion the place where something untoward is likely to happen, so get ready for them, trains arrive at stations faster than you expect. Well in advance of a stop, get your kids up and in their strollers or bjorns, hold hands, make sure you have everything, etc. You never want to have to fight the door, so if you've left something that's not a child, don't go back for it! :-)

4. Strollers can be a real pain in the subway: elevators are not always available, some exits are only by turnstile (which requires unpacking and folding), they can be a real pain on very crowded cars, operators may "not see you" buzzing the handicapped access door if they're busy. If you can use a bjorn or backback instead, I'd advise it. (Technically you're supposed to fold strollers while riding, but almost nobody does).

The subway is full of kids all the time. My daughters love riding it. Treat it like an adventure, and they'll have a blast. My kids love seeing the musicians that you often find at some of the larger stations and sometimes in the cars themselves. If some kids start doing breakdancing, however, keep your legs and your children well clear of the aisles!

Have fun,

--b

What fantastic tips! I forgot...in Europe, the stroller was such a pain! We got used to carrying it up and down stairs in metro stations, but it was always a hassle for the people around us. I also imagine NY sidewalks are crowded. I would highly recommend a carrier of some sort.

Forget the damn stroller at home. Sling the baby, carry the older kid if you have to - you do NOT want to be lugging a stroller in and out of trains and busses.

I live here, and I haven't used a stroller once with either baby or three year old. Can't stand the things.

Tell the four year old the rules:

If lost, the four year old is to STAND STILL.
If VERY lost, the four year old is to locate a shopkeeper or police officer (without wandering away at all, mind), tell them they're lost, and ask them to call their mom/dad's cell phone (which the four year old should have written down and pinned in a pocket)
If the four year old gets on a train, and nobody else does, then said child is to get off at the next stop and STAND STILL - Mom and dad will come.
If everybody gets on the train, and the four year old doesn't, said child is to STAND STILL - Mom and dad will come back and get him.

I had to recite these rules every time I got on a train until I was eight or so. Got embarrassing, but it would've come in handy had I ever gotten lost :)

With two adults, one should always enter the train/bus first, THEN the older child, then the other adult and baby. This seriously reduces the risk that the kid will be left stranded.

My nieces don't look especially like me (I watch them during the day, no kids of my own, and they're biracial), so I'd suggest a picture of the family with every mobile family member, pinned securely inside a pocket. Should the kid get lost, they can point to the picture and say "This is who I'm looking for, they're lost!"

Incidentally, I'd suggest, because of the four year old, that you make a special trip to a number of VERY COOL playgrounds. The Billy Johnson Playground (right by the Central Park Zoo, you can look it up online) is Not To Be Missed, neither is the Adventure Playground (right by the Met).

If I had a list of dates, I could come up with a list of fun activities the four year old would enjoy and the parents would as well.

hey, i'm another actual new yorker who looks at the subway map all the time! fwiw, we take our maclaren volo on the subway constantly--no probs. light enuf to carry up and down stairs solo -- but new yorkers DO love to help and someone almost always volunteers to share the burden. still, i'd be wary of taking a much heavier stroller on public transportation. ow. (oh, and bus drivers WILL make you fold up the stroller; on subways, no one ever ever does.) rule for the 4.5-yr-old: keep your hand on a parent or on the stroller at ALL TIMES. and: new yorkers LIKE to give directions! (we're not always RIGHT, but hey!) and please don't dress to "blend in" -- we love diversity; that's why we live here! cab tip: put kid in a bjorn, facing in (even tho at 1 he or she will hate that), pass seatbelt belt between your body and the child's, under the bjorn. this was recommended by the social worker/lifelong-new-yorker who ran my new moms' group.

i feel truly safe here. you hear about the few crazy things that happen, but it is SO uncommon. i LOVE raising my kids in the city.

and tho you did not ask...totally agree about the bllly johnson playground (and check out the delacorte clock at the zoo, with crazy musical bronze animals that dance around in a circle on the hr and half-hr). my 4.5-yr-old and 20-month-old also love rockefeller park in battery park city, with great playgrounds, toys, and magical teeny tom otterness sculptures. our other fave summer haunt is the water playground in hudson river park, pier 51, which has crazy rivers and squirters and shower thingies. (and sometimes you see sarah jessica parker and her kid.) there are free kids concerts in madison sq park every tues and thurs AM at 10:30--the schedule's online. great playground there too, plus danny meyer's shake shack (yummy, and the line might not be too hellish at 10:30!)

I'm an occasional visitor to the city. We've found the Sit 'n' Stroll (combined stroller/carseat) very helpful, but we do lots of cabs and walking and very little public transportation. We're more comfortable with a full carseat than with chancing it.

Man, thanks for the great tips everybody. I'm already feeling a lot better about travelling on the subways. We've decided based on everybody's suggestions to only bring the small fold-up umbrella stroller and count on using the front carrier for the 1 year old instead. Thanks again!

Oooh, Rockerfeller park! I'm always there!

I should've mentioned that one in my list of playgrounds.

I should mention that if you have time to kill, and you're in Manhattan, it's just as much fun to take a bus. Sometimes.

'Nother native here:

This is nothing to be anxious about. NYC is a city full of children and we parents get around with them all the time.

I agree with the bjorn suggestion for the little one on the subway if, say, you're just going to dinner. If you're going to be walking around all day, a one year old can get a little heavy. So stick that bjorn under the stroller and then just pull it out for the transportation.

You can invest in a stroller that a lot of NYers like called a sit n stroll, which is a toddler car seat/stroller combo. While people do take cabs with kids in bjorns, it's potentially pretty dangerous. Depends on your comfort factor with that sort of thing. Check with the car seat lady (recently featured in the NYer - thecarseatladyt.com - who's insanely knowledgable about all the logistics.

Also, the busses suck. Don't take the bus. Subway or cab for sure.

Have a great trip! We're nice, I swear.

PS daddytypes has a fantastic list of changing tables in mens rooms around the city. And I'm with Allen. Dress how you want. It won't make a difference either way.

Okay, here's the link about taxis with kids:

http://www.thecarseatlady.com/taxis/using_taxis.html

Everybody is giving great tips!

We're fairly frequent visitors to the city . . . my primary advice is to take it easy. Focus on enjoying the City rather than seeing all the sights. Keep hold of the 4-year-old, but let him experience the City on his own terms--there's lots to look at and do, and it's probably a lot different than your hometown.

Don't forget to take frequent hot dog breaks!

Have fun, lisa

Been to NY with my kid when he was 3 months and then 18 months old. No stroller - used the Baby Trekker - the bjorn was diffult after he was 15 months. The Trekker works great and still use it occassionally now that he is a 2 yr old. We used the subways. Printed maps from http://www.nycsubway.org/maps/ so we could plan ahead. We kept the diaper bag to a minimum and dressed light with light jackets packed in (we visited in Fall). Had lots of water and snack-packets on hand.

We went to Coney Island Friday evening with our 4-year old and had a blast. If you go during the week it's quite serene. The beach is fairly clean. There's a playground with sprinklers. You can go to the Aquarium that's right on the beach and the kiddy rides open at noon. To go, take the N Train (the yellow train) to Coney Island/Stillwell Ave. Get off the train, cross the street and you're there. And yes do come to Brooklyn. BTW, did you know that NY was recently named the politest city? http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13452608/

Here's a good tip. Don't J-walk just because you see a bunch of other people doing it. New Yorkers can (usually) do this without getting killed because they've learned to look in 5 or 6 directions at once and anticipate 3 moves ahead (Looks simple, but it takes years to actually get this right. You're not going to learn during your visit). On a related note. When you're waiting to cross the street, if people step out don't automatically follow, always check the light, they may have stepped out with a cab speeding toward them, knowing that they had a razor thin margin ( during the holiday season when I worked near Rockefeller center where they have that ridiculous tree every year, I used to *stop* J-walking intentionally, fearing that I would dash across when I had an opening only for the tourist behind me to take it as a signal to stroll across without paying attention. I almost got a guy killed that way once).

Twice I've seen people hit by cars at intersections, both episodes were fatal to the pedestrian.

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