Remember when your parents taught you how to cross the street on your own? What were the rules? Stop, look, and listen? I'm not sure if it's the pace of life in New York City, or a feeling that pedestrians have the advantage of numbers, but I'm often struck by the way pedestrian traffic in New York City is more aggressive than motor vehicle traffic. If you're looking for a free activity to do when you're in the city, find a corner Starbucks (THAT won't be hard at all), grab a caffeinated beverage or a snack, find a window seat, and then watch.
There is a palpable sense of impatience apparent during rush hour and in areas with high foot traffic. And a curious pattern emerges at crosswalks where pedestrians are waiting for the signal: As the wait for the light wears on, pedestrians tend to stack up in rows, but after the third row forms anyone who approaches the waiting group bypasses the waiting lines and joins the first row. Then the stack grows in the front. I've watched this happen on the intersection of Water and Wall Streets many times. I've also participated in the stacking—as a smaller person, I tend to get through the crowd to the front fairly easily. And there are advantages to being out front: I don't have to wait for the people in front of me to start moving and I don't have to deal with impatient drivers who try to cut through the swarm of pedestrians. I also get to bypass any confused tourists who will stop in middle of the crosswalk to get their bearings. Sure there's a chance that I'll encounter a driver who's trying to beat the light, but there's no way the driver will hit me. The driver will stop short, and the other pedestrians will give him dirty looks, and flood into the intersection, stranding him in the box. If there's a cop handy, the driver may even get a ticket. (Yes, the hive mind can be that calculating.)
But is it any surprise that we cross the streets this way? New Yorkers don't do waiting well. That's one of the reasons we have so many types of 24-hour businesses. The mind-set here is constant motion, and it manifests in all aspects of our behavior.