While in many places, the notions of "uptown" and "downtown" can be somewhat fuzzy and vague, in Manhattan, these two words have clear definitions - if you are standing on nth Street, then uptown is in the direction of n+1th Street, while downtown is in the direction of n-1th Street.

What do you call the directions orthogonal to that? That is, if you are standing on 8th Avenue, what do you call the direction you travel to get to 7th Avenue or 9th Avenue? (In particular, what do people who actually live in New York call these directions? It's not difficult to come up with reasonably clear ways of expressing these directions [see below], but I want to know what natives call it.)

Possible options (but I have no idea which of these, if any, are actually used by New York natives):

  • Just east / west (since Manhattan is sort-of-but-not-really oriented to the compass directions)
  • towards the Hudson River / towards the East River (but does anybody actually say this? Seems unlikely.)
  • something based on roads that run along the Manhattan coast, like towards the FDR / towards Henry Hudson Parkway (but again, does anybody say this? Doubt it.)
  • 1
    You can take the crosstown bus If it's raining or it's cold. That'll get you to the east side or the west side, or even the zoo. Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 11:51
  • @WayfaringStranger The animals will love it if you do.
    – choster
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 15:59

1 Answer 1


The orthogonal travel to uptown/downtown in Manhattan is crosstown.

Yes, I know that u/d is binary and crosstown is not. New Yorkers ususally know where they presently are. If they are West of Fifth Avenue and say they are going crosstown, they are going East. Ditto on East of Fifth.

When current location cannot serve as the indicator or more precision is sought, a New Yorker would probably say to the East Side or to the West Side. If you were on the West Side (say 9th Avenue) and were only going a few blocks east, (say to 7th), you might say go east to 7th. Probably the direction would not be mentioned, except to a non-native, since NYers know !st is east and 12th is west.

Perhaps more commonly, New Yorkers talk about the neighborhoods to which they are heading, rather than the direction itself. For example, in Manhattan alone we have

  • the East Village
  • the West Village
  • SoHo
  • NoHo
  • Tribeca
  • Midtown (sometimes Midtown East or Midtown West)
  • the Upper West Side
  • the Upper Upper West side
  • the Upper East Side
  • Turtle Bay
  • Chinatown
  • Little Italy
  • Harlem
  • East Harlem
  • Morningside Heights
  • Riverside
  • Yorkville
  • Sutton Place
  • Chelsea
  • the Flatiron District
  • the Garment District
  • the Theater District
  • Battery Park
  • Wall Street
  • South Ferry
  • [and many, many more]
  • It’s funny: outside of maps and such, you normally think of the up–down opposition in terms of the z-axis, unless perhaps you’ve gone hyperbolic and so it’s longitudinal as with maps. Not sure we have anything for latitudinal travel.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 13:49
  • @tchrist It is further complicated in cities where downtown means the central business district regardless of its compass orientation from the speaker. That is not the case in Manhattan. When you say downtown you mean south (roughly).
    – bib
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 13:56
  • Here people speak (rather oxymoronically, if you think about it) of “going up to Nederland” or “down to Boulder”, but that is z-axis talk, because we differ in elevation by almost 4 kilofeet. It’s actually an east–west relationship between the two burgs but everyone uses up–down because the altitude change is much more important here.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 14:01
  • @tchrist Your misspeaking is probably a function of a Rocky Mountain high.
    – bib
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 14:57
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    Evocative list. But, by staying within Manhattan, you missed out my favourite. Sorry, favorite: Dumbo. Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 19:15

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