New York Underground

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.

Erling Kagge in Bronx Sewer (also present course of Tibbett's Brook), constructed 1899.
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.
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.
Erling Kagge in side street sewer leading to Canal Street sewer. ( Photograph by Steve Duncan )
Gear from a week underground.
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 Steve Duncan )
Steve Duncan climbing around in northern section of the West Side Railroad Tunnel.
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!
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 Andrew Wonder )
Amtrak Tunnel
Amtrak Tunnel ( Photograph by Steve Duncan )
Bronx Sewer - Tibbets Brook Underground
Bronx Sewer - Tibbets Brook Underground ( Photograph by Steve Duncan )
Steve Duncan in the Canal Street sewer, where trash and congested sewage had built up enough to block further progress.
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 Erling Kaage )
Sawmill River
Sawmill River ( Photograph by Steve Duncan )
Abandoned Subway Station
Abandoned Subway Station ( Photograph by Steve Duncan )
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