Walking is New York -- a defining characteristic that has kept us a step ahead of other cities. Today, a century after the first subway trains rattled into Grand Central Station and the first automobiles puttered down Fifth Avenue, two-thirds of the journeys around downtown and midtown Manhattan are still made on foot.The article goes on to mention Rudy Guiliani'a silly war on jaywalkers, but what of that. It's not about the war. It's about the dance.
And at full charge. The heart-pumping, exhilarating pace of New York life is no mere metaphor: our purposeful, heel-lifting, almost-running street gait, which Dickens and Whitman noted 150 years ago, has been clocked by 20th-century researchers as ranging from three and a half to four miles an hour. (It zooms to five for passing.
What propels New Yorkers' high-speed feet? I think we rely on a kind of walker's high both to get through the day and to stay alert to the unfolding of our lives. Walking is certainly heart-healthy, so there may be a built-in endorphin reinforcement every time a New Yorker takes to the streets. It's also true that New York has always been a just-in-time city. People here leave themselves only the minimal number of minutes they've calculated as necessary for getting to work or running an errand.
This is not recklessness. People have learned that walking works. Walking in New York -- ''a great dance,'' as William H. Whyte, its greatest student, wrote -- is sustained by unending, intricately interwoven, tiny acts of cooperation: millions of ever-so-slight adjustments of tempo and direction that keep the flow on even the busiest sidewalks from grinding to a halt.
Such teamwork provides its own reward. It's a concrete reminder of all the human collaborations that endure in the city despite the worst disputes and the most bitter misunderstandings. A dash through New York is also like a fast-foward tour through much of the human condition. For 350 years, the city's streets have swarmed with people of every class and culture, and a New York-paced walk, as it scrolls rapidly past the changing scenery, can provide people with a bit of necessary perspective on their own lives.