If you’re trying to figure out the distance in NYC from one place to another, the subway map can present you with a very distorted and misleading image. Brooklyn and Queens seem far-far away from Manhattan, when in fact, many neighborhoods in those boroughs are closer via subway than Inwood at the Northern tip of Manhattan or Battery Park City at the Southern tip.

But what about Google Maps, you might ask? As helpful as that app is calculating times and finding directions while you are on the fly, using Google Maps for a full picture of NYC on a phone or laptop screen does not obviate the issue of scale. I’ve never been able to use Google Maps to get a holistic spatial sense from place-to-place within the context of the five boroughs.

This post will help you to seek out and find information about real-time distance, travel time, and other ideas for deciphering distances/calculating travel time in NYC. And, this knowledge might make the difference in where you decide to look for your next coop, condo or apartment and may serve to assist you in broadening your real estate search to neighborhoods (or even boroughs) you might not have previously considered.

Since the island of Manhattan is only 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide, you’d think getting from one place to another would be easy. But sometimes, public transit can be a, well, train wreck.

The MTA’s Subway Map is deceiving because it makes many locations look farther away than they are while other spots may seem closer than they are. Let’s pick, for example, Times Square as a destination. The Q train from Ditmas Park in Brooklyn (the Church Avenue stop) is an approximately 32-minute direct ride to Times Square whereas, from Battery Park in Manhattan, the subway ride is 25 minutes. However, you must change from the subway to the Grand Central Shuttle train or walk about 4 minutes to get to Times Square. It’s six of one, a half dozen of another as the saying goes. So, Ditmas Park in Brooklyn is as close to Times Square as Battery Park City in travel terms.

It sounds old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like securing a to-scale map and spreading it out on your kitchen table to take a look at what distances – walking, commuting and otherwise – look like.

Do you want to live close to a specific train line? In proximity to any subway? Maybe you have a car and don’t care for the subway, but need to ensure that there is easy parking at your new place, or that your morning and evening commute aren’t so long and hectic that you are frazzled by the time you arrive at work and home.

With a scaled map, you can see how far from or near to one place is to another. To-scale maps have a legend on them, which indicates, for example, a ¼ inch on the map is an actual mile, or similar. You can use a ruler (again old-fashioned, but oh-so-useful) and lay it down on the map to measure distances in real miles. You can find these types of maps at Barnes & Noble, other bookstores or order them online.

Another good example of misperceptions of distance on the NYC subway map is the L train. It looks as though if you lived in, say; the Jefferson stop on the L train, you’d be a long way from Union Square – nine stops! Seems like a lot of stops, right? And, really far into Brooklyn. Wrong! The L train stops are so close together that you can walk from the Jefferson Street stop over to the previous stop, Morgan Avenue, in 10 minutes or less. From Morgan Avenue, you can walk to Montrose Avenue in less than10 minutes…and so on. You get the idea. It’s a 20-minute ride from Jefferson Street to Union Square, but you’d never know it based on looking at the MTA’s subway map.

If you want to live further out in Brooklyn where prices are lower, and there is often more space, you might consider choosing a place near an express train. Then, it’s no big deal getting into Manhattan for work – or play. Check out this geographically accurate NYC subway map for comparison.

If you’ve found a new tool or application that helps to understand distance in NYC, please write and let us know!


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