Every few years, some event, some stunt, some daredevil makes headlines that remind New Yorkers about the wealth of infrastructure, used or otherwise, that lies beneath the streets. No one knew about the South 4th Street subway shell until the Underbelly project came along, and few people remember various abandoned subway stations until they make the news.
The latest entry in this sporadic on abandoned infrastructure involves a topic near and dear to my heart: the Second Ave. Subway. At various stretches along the East Side, partially-built tunnel segments lie dormant beneath the streets. The sections north of 96th St. are due to become a part of Phase 2 of the project, but other portions built during the 1970s will remain forever devoid of trains. One such section spans a few blocks between Pell and Canal Sts. with an entrance portal just south of the Manhattan Bridge.
A gang of adventurers, explorers, trespassers — call them what you will — found the entrance and decided to host a party down there. Gothamist, in an intentionally meandering post, takes us along for the ride, and despite promises not to reveal the location and some sleight-of-hand attempts at misdirection, it’s clear that the party took place in the 1970s-era Second Ave. Subway tunnel.
No one, of course, is happy. The MTA has noted that trespassing is dangerous and illegal, and the NYPD are investigating. If the cops can’t keep limited-access abandoned infrastructure secure, one might wonder, how can they guard against attacks on the current subway system? Meanwhile, this isn’t the first time organizers thought they could publish photos of an illicit undertaking while keeping the location a secret, and this isn’t the first time it took Internet users a grand total of about 20 minutes to identify the location. Keeping a secret from those who enjoy and obsess over New York City’s infrastructure is all but impossible in an age of digital photography.
Many though are probably wondering about this stretch of subway tunnel. There are no tracks, and there are no stations. So what is it? For a video tour, check out Steve Duncan’s walk through the tunnel from early 2012. The tunnel itself was part of an $8.3 million (in 1973 money) contract for the lower portion of the Second Ave. Subway. At the time, before the city went broke, it tried to build the new route all at once, but this section was to run from Chatham Square to Canal Street. It’s unclear how much of the tunnel currently exists, but clearly enough is there to host around 150 people comfortably.
Interestingly, the tunnel itself won’t be a part of the current Second Ave. Subway project if it ever progresses to Phase 4. According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, because of the alignment choices through Lower Manhattan, “it would not be possible to use the existing length of tunnel near Chatham Square for the subway operation because of the shift in the horizontal and vertical alignment. The existing tunnel segment could instead be used for ancillary facilities, such as a power substation or ventilation facility, adjacent to (and higher than) the subway tunnel.” Ultimately, then, the only way to see this space is to sneak in, but I wouldn’t recommend it.