New York Underground

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Urban explorer, historian and photographer Steve Duncan talks about traversing the city underground with the polar explorer Erling Kagge. His travels have taken him from the sewers and subway tunnels, up the cables to the tops of bridges in an attempt to experience the complexities and dimensions of the city.

Photograph by Steve Duncan
Erling Kagge in Bronx Sewer (also present course of Tibbett's Brook), constructed 1899.
Photograph by Steve Duncan
Erling Kagge's light in distance in storm drains underneath central Queens. Possible former route of Horse Creek, tributary to Flushing River.
Photograph by Steve Duncan
Erling Kagge in side street sewer leading to Canal Street sewer.
Photograph by Steve Duncan
Gear from a week underground.

Manhole hooks, headlamps, chest-waders, air meters, gloves, boots, sleeping bags, and more—all still covered with dirt and sewage from multiple days and nights underground. The red sweater with the heart is Erling's, handmade for him by a family friend, and without a doubt the most charming clothing ever worn in a New York sewer.

Photograph by Andrew Wonder
Steve Duncan climbing around in northern section of the West Side Railroad Tunnel.

This rail line was originally an important freight train route dating from the 19th century; it was encased in a tunnel by Robert Moses in the 1930s, abandoned in the 1980s and is now used by Amtrak trains.


Photograph by Andrew Wonder
Erling Kagge and Steve Duncan near the end of the trip, in a maze of tunnels at the Jamaica Bay outlet of Queens storm drains. Finally, we can see a light at the end of the tunnel!



Photograph by Steve Duncan
Amtrak Tunnel
Photograph by Steve Duncan
Bronx Sewer - Tibbets Brook Underground
Photograph by Erling Kaage
Steve Duncan in the Canal Street sewer, where trash and congested sewage had built up enough to block further progress.

The Canal Street channel became New York City's first underground sewer when it was roofed over in about 1812; prior to that it had been an open ditch, the eponymous canal of Canal Street.

Photograph by Steve Duncan
Sawmill River
Photograph by Steve Duncan
Abandoned Subway Station


Steve Duncan

Comments [7]

ron from flushing

mr lopate a few years ago you had bob diamond on, he runs the atlantic ave tunnel, mr lopate great discovery. thanks, i gave bob a copy of the book mole people by jennifer tooth.

Jan. 06 2011 08:13 PM
Lawrence from New York City

@Robin. Call it Manhattan Myopia. On the news at noon today, I saw plenty of overhead lines and wooden utility poles behind reporters talking about the lingering impact of the snow storm and uncollected garbage. That was in Dyker Heights. But Sheepshead Bay is another Brooklyn neighborhood w/ above-ground utilities. The outer boroughs are still very much overlooked by NYC's opinion makers.

Jan. 06 2011 01:34 PM
Bob from Palham, NY

This guy is a little too coy -- the "few other people" who accompanied the pair included a NY Times reporter (story in lat Sunday's Metro section), an NPR reporter (whose report ran last Sunday evening), and a video crew. Can you say "publicity hound"?

Jan. 06 2011 01:20 PM
Mark from Brooklyn

You mentioned the Atlantic Avenue Subway Tunnel Tours. Unfortunately, after years of safe tours, the NYC Department of Transportation recently cancelled the tours inexplicably.

Visit the tour website for information and actions you can take to re-open the tunnel:

Jan. 06 2011 01:18 PM
Fawzia Khan from New York, NY

Amazing photos, as always, Steve!

Jan. 06 2011 01:17 PM
Mary Bullock from Staten Island

Leonard's never been to Staten Island? We are lousy with telephone poles. In fact there was a recent battle when Con Ed attempted to up even taller ones - -in an historic district.

Jan. 06 2011 01:17 PM
Robin Jacqueline Hardman from Ridgewood, Queens

Maybe I'm crazy, but I'm looking out the window of my Ridgewood, Queens, homes at the telephone pole right outside my house--and another several down the street. How did you ever get the idea telephone poles were a thing of the past?

Jan. 06 2011 01:13 PM

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