Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Walking Up Madison

(not Charlton related)

"Walking down Madison, I swear I never had a gun." (K. MacColl, 1991)

One of the joys of having young kids, is witnessing the wonderment on their faces when they discover something new and exciting.

One of the miseries however, at least if you are trying to relive your childhood vicariously through them, is the realisation that very little in your own life is new and exciting anymore. Until tonight that was.

Having reached my mid-30s, I was increasingly convinced the only novelty in my life was likely to be discovering a new way to put my back out (ironically through constant lifting of aforementioned children).

Yet tonight for reasons unexplained, other than by the unusual mildness of the weather (in direct contrast to London's), I decided to walk home from my Midtown office.

The distance from my office to my apartment is only two miles, defined as 40 northbound city 'blocks' within the famous Manhattan grid system.

Given that walking in New York (weather permitting) is rarely less than enchanting, this would appear to be a much more attractive proposition than smelly subway trains, or taking the bus along traffic-clogged streets.

However I had always been put off by the stop-start nature of crossing those 40 blocks, and whilst a relatively short detour could take me through leafy Central Park, it was an option I had only taken on rare occasions.

With no nagging postpartum wife demanding I slowed down, I set off up Madison Avenue at a determined clip, wondering how soon I would get sick of the constant road-crossing and jump on an omnipresent bus in the same direction instead.

Within minutes and as if by miracle, I noticed a strange pattern emerging. So long as I maintained my pace (which I would define for a healthy adult as 'brisk, but comfortable'), then the traffic lights were always in my favour.

Before long I was almost in a trance, and with minutes going by like seconds, I reached my destination without once having to stop for traffic, an incredible achievement in New York.

Starting at say 60th Street, the lights would turn to 'WALK' just as I put my foot on the kerb, I would then comfortably cross 61st Street, before (only) just getting across 62nd Street as the lights turned back to 'DON'T WALK'.

Each city block is 264 feet or 1/20th of a mile. However they are designed with the careful 30mph driver in mind such that when motoring up one of the major avenues (such as Madison), each light will change to green just as it is approached, thus obviating the need for braking.

Any passengers in a New York taxi however will know this rarely adhered to, but at 30mph a car will travel 264 feet in exactly six seconds hence the sequencing.

I have also since discovered (although I was oblivious at the time), that the lights on the main avenues change every 90 seconds.

This implies that so long as you are walking in the direction of the traffic (Madison Avenue runs northbound), then a pace as follows will permit non-stop walking between two city blocks:

Distance to be walked: 264 feet x 2 = 528 feet
Time permitted: 90 seconds + 6 seconds + 6 seconds = 102 seconds
Pace required: 5.17 feet per second, or 3.52 miles per hour

Once I had stumbled across this life-changing ephiphany, I began to focus solely on maintaining the right pace. Walk too fast or too slow, and I would have been forced to wait for traffic, thus breaking up the hypnotic rhythm.

As I approached my home street, I was beginning to demonstrate a degree of arrogance, racing past fellow pedestrians patiently waiting for the lights, absolutely confident in the knowledge that I was 'in the zone'.

And as I did so, I began to recall all of those fellow city folk who would regale me with stories of how they always walk to and from work. And with a sense of acute embarrassment now, I would also recall my standard answer, "Don't you get fed up crossing all those roads?

Was I now the member of a select club, the likes of which status-obsessed New Yorkers love to join? A few searches of Google revealed nothing of the sort, perhaps merely adding to the intrigue.

Did they also know meanwhile, that it was vital to always be walking in the same direction of the traffic? If you try 'walking down Madison' then very soon the lights will catch up with you. No wonder Kirsty MacColl sang so wistfully about it.

Perhaps I had merely got lucky. It was getting late, the streets were empty and my pace was only interrupted briefly by an old lady and her ill-behaved dog. A few choice words soon gave Fido the message that I was a man on a life-changing mission, and I continued on my way.

I let myself into the apartment meanwhile, so eager to tell the wife my new discovery that I could barely get the words out with the excitement. She just rolled her eyes as if it was nothing. I wonder why I married her sometimes.


At 3:41 PM, Anonymous marc said...

there is a fine line between genius and madness and i think, somewhere on madison, you crossed it.

At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Tim said...

Marc put it very well! However, as someone who also lived there in the past, I am going to be looking forward to testing this approach on my next visit. Thanks for letting the cat out of the bag and sharing this discovery

At 4:06 PM, Blogger Chicago Addick said...

Love that last line.

I used to do this in Chicago, so glad it is not only me losing it. I blame Charlton.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to come back so long after the posting, but why do you have to be walking in the same direction as the traffic?. Isn't the timing just the same? Its not exactly keeping me awake at night, but it does stop me thinking about Charlton for a while.


At 6:20 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

It's because the lights are set to turn from red to green (on the avenue) in a sequence that rewards the careful 30mph driver.

In other words if you are stopped by a red lights at say 60th Street, then it will turn to green six seconds before 61st Street turns green, twelve seconds before 62nd Street turns green etc..

If you were walking in the wrong direction, you couldn't walk quick enough to counteract the fact that the lights were turning against you six seconds earlier rather than later.

At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see, you get -6 secs instead of +6 secs waliking in the other direction. I can now get back to worrying about Charlton - it should be a full-time job in any case.


At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your wife is a boot job.

Whilst you're wrestling with mind boggling advanced calculus, all she has to do is the look after the kids and keep house!

At 9:52 PM, Anonymous vancouveraddick said...

LOL - I do this all the time in Vancouver.


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