Home Abandoned Stations Video: Inside the Essex St. trolley terminal

Video: Inside the Essex St. trolley terminal

by Benjamin Kabak

A few months ago, as Jay Walder’s tenure at the MTA came to an end, word leaked out of an ambitious plan to turn some idle underground infrastructure owned by the MTA into a park. Called “Delancey Underground,” the plan involved bringing sunlight from above through fiber optic cables to create a park in the abandoned Essex St. Trolley Terminal. As New York City has seen the High Line take off on the West Side, the park proponents envision something similar for the Lower East Side.

As I understand it, the men behind this plan had a sympathetic ear in Jay Walder, and although press coverage of the Delancey Underground hasn’t died down, I’m not sure what their future holds. Even if the space isn’t turned into a park, the MTA, though, wants to see it redeveloped. Enter today’s video. In it, Peter Hine of the MTA takes us on a visual tour of the Essex St. Trolley Terminal, a mysterious space across from the J/M/Z platform that has been shuttered for decades. Sneak a peek:

I’m trying to arrange a tour of the space myself, but for now, Hine’s walk-through will have to do. While South 4th St., for example, remains sealed off seemingly forever, the Essex St. Trolley Terminal is firmly on the authority’s radar. As Hine says in the video, the MTA is looking for something to fill the space that “benefits both our transit system and its passengers.”

For Transit, converting these idle spaces into something useful is part of a new focus on “creative redevelopment and reuse.” If the authority can make money while turning parts of the system into spaces for urban creativity and exploration, even better. Still, the trolley terminal hasn’t been in use for sixty years. It could be a few more before anything lands there. For now, it’s still just a glimpse into the city’s transit past.

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The Cobalt Devil November 28, 2011 - 2:46 pm

How about making the abandoned trolley terminal into…A NEW TROLLEY TERMINAL! Seriously, how awesome would it be to run trolleys over the WB to Brooklyn and back? Not only would it provide other transit options for residents of both boroughs, but it could be a tourist attraction a la San Francisco’s cable cars and old-school PCC trolleys. Open up an annex of the Transit Museum inside the old terminal and ka’ching…Rake in the cash!

Benjamin Kabak November 28, 2011 - 2:59 pm

As much as I love the idea of trolleys making a comeback, I think it’s a bit of a non-starter. You’d have to re-track the Wiliamsburg Bridge and surface streets on the other side while building up the maintenance infrastructure and shops that could support trolleys. That would require too much space and money. Now, if you want to turn it into a Select Bus Service depot for cross-bridge service, I’m all ears on that one.

The Cobalt Devil November 28, 2011 - 3:04 pm

A SBS depot!? Ben, you just cut my heart out…

BrooklynBus November 28, 2011 - 8:22 pm

Actually, I was thinking the same thing. You could actually justify using two lanes on the Williamsburg Bridge for SBS provided several routes used it. You could have B44, B46, Q54, Q59 a branch of the M15, and maybe some others. The video said there were once 8 lines using that terminal. They don’t all have to operate like the current SBS lines. The Q54 and Q59 could operate from the Essex terminal non-stop to Middle Village and be made to connect with other bus lines there for transferring. However, that will never happen as long as the MTA only wants to cut service instead of trying to tap new markets.

Once it is redeveloped,it should not preclude using a portion of the space for transit in the future.

Jason November 28, 2011 - 9:30 pm

Are those buses rather large? I don’t think they could make the tight turns inside the terminal like the trolleys could and I don’t think those steel girders down there can be cut away to give more room

Bolwerk November 30, 2011 - 1:59 pm

For things like the Metropolitan and Grand Street buses, LRT seems perfect. I’m just not sure LRT would fit in that terminal – though it probably has a better shot than SBS.

Local planners need to drop this atavistic obsession with using buses for everything. Just set aside that rail is more comfortable, faster, and popular in general, it’s very often actually cheaper. It’s almost like they’re trying to spend more money by buying buses to make sure people have a crappier experience.

Bolwerk November 30, 2011 - 1:49 pm

That’s entirely backwards. It requires too much space and money not to build the surface rail infrastructure back up – buses can’t squeeze into subterranean tunnels mere inches wider than the vehicle itself, or through alleys, or through many other places. I don’t know about trolleys, but, if LRT is possible, it’s the obvious way to go. Sure, it may not be worth it just to use this terminal again, but it’s worth it for a good intermediate-capacity surface transit system.

It’s not that buses are bad. They’re good tools in some situations. Even better, LRT vehicles can probably be maintained in the same facilities as buses.

JB November 28, 2011 - 3:00 pm

Lol, I was coming here to post this exact message! I would also like to include one uptown a little ways (the Queensboro Bridge one). Take away the outer roadways from cars and bikes and use them for trolleys that would connect to QB Plaza (the elevated one). I’m pretty sure much of the elevate support is still there on the Queens side, and maybe the terminal underneath in Manhattan could be refurbished properly so people pop out at the old kiosk at the foot of the bridge.

*Giving up the bike/ped lane on the northside would suck, so i propose as an alternate to just have the trolley on the south side outer roadway….single track, only two stops much like the 42st shuttle)

petey November 28, 2011 - 3:59 pm

that guy’s tie.

Kai B November 28, 2011 - 11:59 pm

While we’re on the topic of strange things in the video… The first few seconds are creepy. The foreground (flashing light) moves and the background looks like a photo frozen in time.

Christopher November 28, 2011 - 4:22 pm

I wonder if eventually as surface trollies and light rail picks up on the East Coast if it will eventually start to look appealing to the powers that be on the East Coast.

That being said.

1. I thought the reason it existed as a depot in the first place is because like other systems … the trolleys weren’t allowed to continue on the streets of Manhattan. Because of anti-competive agreements between different trolley companies or something similar. Logically it wouldn’t make sense to make a transfer.

2. The space should be the footings of something else. Underground shopping malls or recreation areas just don’t make a lot of sense. Witness Dupont Underground, a trolley terminal there that was turned into a mall. And eventually became sort of a glorified food court. People want to shop on the street. And getting foot traffic into a subterranean space is incredibly difficult. All those similar projects in the 1960s and 70s — Crystal City in Virginia and L’Enfant plaza in DC also died for similar reasons or have been redesigned to engage the street. Even the Mall of Manhattan is somewhat of a failure. As are all the malls built on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It would have to be incredibly unique to draw people off the street. I don’t think that’s very likely.

pete November 29, 2011 - 6:33 pm

Go look at Montreal or Toronto’s underground city. Those aren’t failures……

NYC Underground: Here Now, Delancey’s Abandoned Trolley Station on Video - The Broker Buddy November 28, 2011 - 5:08 pm

[…] blogosphere. Whether inventive or unviable, it’s certainly a long way off, though the MTA is actively considering a few ideas for the property. (Background: The Essex Street Station opened in 1903 at the same time […]

Kevin Walsh November 28, 2011 - 7:01 pm

Hine thinks a nightclub will go in there. Sheesh….

Scott E November 28, 2011 - 9:40 pm

This is MTA space, why not use it for MTA-related stuff? Maybe a workshop for the signals crews… an electric substation (if one can be used/is needed here)… an underground vault for cash-handling purposes… a subway trash-transfer station… an SBS depot. Anything of use that could, ideally, vacate valuable above-ground real-estate. But a park, one with daylight coming down through fiberoptic cables? That about as ridiculous an idea as I ever heard, not to mention it’s not a revenue-generator.

I suppose I could see a privately owned/operated nightclub going down there. Every time the guy in the video says “remarkable”, everyone has to take a drink.

Peter November 29, 2011 - 9:26 am

Touche’, Scott.
I figured I should remark upon it…..

Marvin February 7, 2012 - 2:34 am

I would go if it were at the Lynnwood Transit Center driung a weekday. The CT buses don't run at convenient times on the weekend or week nights.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines November 29, 2011 - 9:00 am

[…] Take a Video Tour of the Essex St. Trolley Terminal, Waiting to Be Reborn (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

dungone November 29, 2011 - 11:01 am

An underground park wouldn’t look half bad… as long as the rats can be kept in check I guess. It could help clean the smelly air underground for people waiting on the platforms. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.....statio.jpg

The back part of it could serve as a bicycle storage area and a bike sharing hub. People who live further out in Brooklyn could get off at this station and continue the rest of their commute on a bike.

normative November 29, 2011 - 12:56 pm

The same thing is happening in london. A guy left his banking job with an idea to lease abandoned stations from the transport for london. He already leased a few stations and was planning on building a club. I think it would be a dope spot for a rave. If I can find the link, I will post it.

It would be sad to see if it turns out to be an underground mall. Christopher was dead on as to why malls of this nature would be undesirable. Creative should be the key word. With the abandoned stations a unique opportunity, so follows the unique experience it should provide for new yawkers.

Adrianne November 29, 2011 - 1:59 pm

I think this is exciting news for our neighborhood. If they haven’t found a use for the space at this point why not repurpose it and make it more useful. It will attract more revenue to the Lower East Side. Especially, at this portion of the neighborhood where there are so many unsightly abandoned lots and many traffic issues.

tom November 29, 2011 - 5:18 pm


Tour the Abandoned Trolley Station Below Delancey Street; Get a Whiff of the … – The Lo | Accelerated Marketing Strategies November 29, 2011 - 7:27 pm

[…] Delancey Street, this video will put an end to that. Posted on YouTube about a week ago and by 2nd Ave. Sagas yesterday, the video is basically an advertisement for the 60,000 square foot subterranean […]

Tour the Abandoned Trolley Station Below Delancey Street; Get a Whiff of the … – The Lo - ONLINE TRENDS – ONLINE TRENDS November 29, 2011 - 8:53 pm

[…] Delancey Street, this video will put an finish to that. Posted on YouTube about a week ago and by 2nd Ave. Sagas yesterday, a video is fundamentally an announcement for a 60,000 block feet subterranean […]

Ashley November 30, 2011 - 7:59 pm

Canada has great underground lines, the cities that have them at least

LESter December 1, 2011 - 1:03 am

Underground Walmart! LOL!

Urban Omnibus » The Omnibus Roundup – Haiku Traffic Safety, Delancey Underground, Suburban Dunescapes, Dream Cities, Designer Scaffolding and the AIDS Memorial Competition December 2, 2011 - 5:08 pm

[…] a video tour led by Peter Hine of the MTA’s real estate office (blogged earlier this week by Second Avenue Sagas). While leading the tour, Hine offers up some suggestions of what kinds of retail or commercial […]

Weekend Videos : Essex St Trolley Terminal & Return to the City | City Atlas December 3, 2011 - 9:01 am

[…] out the Essex St Trolley Terminal which has been closed off for 60 years. There was a plan involved bringing sunlight from above […]

Akiva December 3, 2011 - 6:59 pm

why cant they use the space to at least create bypass tracks or at least widen the platforms. the subway station will never need to expand itself from being a tiny station it is now?

Forever losing the option for transit :: Second Ave. Sagas December 5, 2011 - 12:01 am

[…] looking for the next spot for the new High Line. Every few months, the Delancey Underground effort earns some press, and now an old initiative from Queens is gaining ink as well. On Friday, the Daily News explored […]


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