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Monday, August 16, 2010

Riverside Park Tunnel - 2010

As I've mentioned previously, I'll head into the Amtrak Tunnel underneath Riverside Park once or twice a year, just to see what's changed. And this year things have indeed changed, and unfortunately not for the better.

Third of May Mural, 2009.

Photo from

Third of May Mural, 2010.

Photo by Logan Hicks

Sometime in the last year or two a hole has eroded in the top of the tunnel directly over the mural, leading to the water damage you can see accumulating. I'd imagine the entire middle portion is washed away by now. Sad, but not too sad - an 18-year run (in a medium where 18 days is sometimes considered a long time), a mention in Wikipedia and a former bestselling book, and status as perhaps the most famous piece of unsanctioned art in New York City isn't too bad for what was originally conceived of as an ephemeral piece in an abandoned train tunnel.

The second change is that there are a lot less people living in the tunnel. Rumor (which is really all there is to go on) is that there was an accident not too long ago where one of the residents got hit by a train, leading to Amtrak doing a no-nonsense sweep of the people living in the tunnel.

Still, less residents doesn't mean less people. As I've also mentioned before, this is probably the most trafficked "off-limits" place in New York City. I've gone twice so far this year - and I'm far from the only one. The total count of people I've run into down there over my last two trips (one in January, one in April) is - I kid you not - 22. That's not even counting the people I went with or the people who live there.

First time I went this year was during the winter - probably the coldest day of the year. Immediately upon entry we encounter 6 teenagers, with their own group they call Urban Odysseys. Their attitude is pretty endearing - it reminds me of being young and following rumor and mystery for adventure.

Halfway down the tunnel the kids head into the upper area where people live and start taking pictures without announcing themselves. Brooklyn (a lady who's been there forever) yells at them and they book it out of there. I apologize and smooth things over. Brooklyn introduces herself, tells the kids just to announce themselves next time, and proudly states that she's been in "mad documentaries" (which she has - you can see her both in "Dark Days" and the more recent "Tunnel Dwellers of New York"). I find it hilarious that the most famous person I've run into so far in 2010 lives in a train tunnel.

Three-Quarters of the way down we see flashlights, which turns out to be a couple of other guys who pass by without saying anything. Then coming out we run into 4 graffiti kids hanging out on the lawn over the entrance. They tell me they went in the tunnel but thought we were VS (Vandal Squad) and bailed. If there was VS in there - man, they must have done something bad to get stuck hanging out in a train tunnel during the coldest day of the year.

The second time in April we ran into 4 people about halfway down. After a short conversation, I realized that I had actually run into one of the people I was talking with in this very same tunnel about a year ago. Continuing on, we passed another couple of people, and then exiting we walked by a group of four. At first I thought them rude when they ignored our greetings, until I realized that they were very obviously foreign tourists who didn't speak English. Not really that surprising - after all this in a town where Europeans still come, sneak in the subway tunnels, and graffiti whole subway trains. A few curious urbanists from abroad is pretty standard.

Neighborhoods: Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, West Harlem.
Tracts Walked: M315


  1. Three times there and I've never seen anyone else in the tunnel. Well, except for a cop.

  2. I almost always go weekend afternoons, which I'm guessing is probably a pretty popular time. But I never saw anyone else other than people who lived there before 2009.