Random Walk Rules for NYC

Rules for creating a random walk in New York City, using pedestrian signals to pick your path. An analog wristwatch with a second hand will help with intersections that lack traffic signals.

  • Start walking in whatever direction you like.
  • At each intersection, check the pedestrian signals.
  • White walk sign in either direction? Cross the street that way.
  • Blinking or steady red in both directions? Turn the corner to stay on your block.
  • No traffic signal? You can use a wristwatch with a second hand to select a direction.
    • If the second hand is pointing between the 10 and the 2, proceed straight.
    • If pointing between 2 and 6 go right.
    • If pointing between 6 and 10 go left.
  • For two-way intersections take the rightmost route when the second hand is on the right side of the dial, otherwise go towards the left.
  • If you come to a dead end, then turn around and continue back the way you came.
  • Any direction that is unsafe, unwise or illegal should be excluded.


  1. When it’s time to wrap up your walk, eliminate any direction that doesn’t take you closer to home. This is a good strategy to take a randomized path to a specific location.
  2. Want to go Northwest? Add a coin flip when the rules point you South or East and only go there when if coin comes up heads.
  3. A coin flip method that prefers North and South will avoid spending too much time at the rivers in Manhattan.
  4. A smartphone app that picks random numbers can replace the wristwatch method if you prefer.


  • Use your walk to look for things you haven’t seen before
  • Look for things you don’t understand and try to explain them
  • Try things on your walk that you might not normally do, such as visiting a new kind of restaurant, trying out a playground swing or shopping in a store you’d normally ignore.


drafted by Rob Faludi 10/2012

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