This story is part of our Orientation 2012 special issue. Check out our complete guide to life at Columbia here.
Scared of boarding the wrong train and winding up hours away from Columbia? New York’s subway system may look daunting, but it’s fairly simple once you get out on the rails. If you’ve made friends with any native New Yorkers, take the subway with them, but don’t let them tell you when you’re supposed to get off—you be the guide.
Columbia is most directly served by the 1 train, which makes all local stops from South Ferry (where you can board a boat to Staten, Ellis, or Liberty Islands) to 242nd Street-Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx (a beautiful and huge alternative to any of our local parks).
Running alongside the 1 for much of Manhattan are the 2 and 3 trains—also colored red—which make express stops from Chambers Street to 96th Street. The best way to learn the subway is from your mistakes. Most people unfamiliar with transferring to a train across the platform will wind up taking the 2 or 3 north of 96th, leaving them at the wrong 116th Street stop—at Lenox Avenue, about a 20-minute walk from campus. Once you’ve made that mistake once, you’ll never forget to get off the 2 and 3 at 96th and transfer to the 1 before continuing north.
If you’re waiting at 96th Street and it’s a while until the next 1 is scheduled to arrive (an all-too-common occurrence late at night), you can just walk the 20 blocks back to campus, which isn’t as long a trek as it seems. But another good method is to use your free subway-bus transfer to board the M104 at 97th Street and Broadway. It goes straight up to campus along Broadway and runs fairly frequently.
People often complain that the buses are slow, but two good ones to know are the crosstown M4 and M60. Both stop at 116th Street and Broadway, and the M4 goes across 110th Street and eventually turns down Fifth Avenue, making it a good means of accessing the East Side, with direct transportation to Museum Mile.
The M60 goes across 125th Street, which makes it an easy way to get across Harlem (and ideal for group outings to Sylvia’s or Red Rooster). It also takes you directly to LaGuardia Airport.
Unless you have an internship or another reason why you’d be on public transit more than twice a day, you should invest in a $50 MetroCard (as opposed to an unlimited one) and just keep refilling it. Unless you’re a Morningside Heights maniac, you’ll get out enough that you’ll use all those swipes. On a MetroCard, each swipe is $2.25.
The lesson from all of this? Taxis are generally not the way to go. If you’re going in a big group that will split the cab fare, or you want to get somewhere a little faster, maybe it’s worth it. But for the most part, it’ll wind up being too expensive, or you’ll get stuck in traffic.