~ Allen Saunders
Saturday, August 17th was the final day of this year's Summer Streets, a program the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) has run for the past few years. Over three weekends each August, the DOT closes certain streets to cars and lets pedestrians and bike riders roam free.
For one of the early Summer Streets, the DOT set up giant dumpsters filled with water in a few places, allowing people to put a literal spin on dumpster-diving. This year the program extended from the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge at Foley Square and up Lafayette Street and Park Avenue to 72nd street and included everything from art to a zip line and a rock climbing wall.
One of the top attractions of 2013 was the Voice Tunnel, an installation by Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. The Voice Tunnel was installed in the underground roadway that allows cars to travel beneath Park Avenue between 32nd and 41st Streets. I'd been meaning to see it, and today was the last chance.
I made my way down to the entrance 32nd Street. At first I tried walking in the street, but found dodging the teeming masses of bike riders too aggravating and ended up on the sidewalk. More and more people are taking to bikes in this city. In theory, it's great; in practice, mobs of rude boneheads on bikes are making walking less and less fun.
When I got to the tunnel entrance I discovered that everybody else in the city was already there. The line was so long that they closed the entrance more than two hours early to allow the already assembled crowd to pass through by 1:00 p.m., when the street would reopen to cars. Here is a short video of what I did not get to see in the Voice Tunnel.
On to plan B, devised when I walked out onto the street and realized the elevated roadway that runs around Grand Central Terminal was also closed to cars. Until today, I'd only ever been through there in a cab. Now I had the chance to find out how things look from the pedestrian vantage point.
I also had a closer-than-normal view of the sculpture titled "The Glory of Commerce" by French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan. That's Hercules on the left, Minerva on the right and Mercury in the middle. Learn more about it in this post on the Untapped Cities website.
This is one of four employee entrances that stand, two per side, on the elevated roadway. A little note is posted on all four doors saying employee I.D. is required.
This is another employee door – better lit and possibly cleaned up a bit, but with the same note.
Old, ornate lanterns line the part of the roadway that runs under the Helmsley building.
This is the Yale Club - not my photo, one I found on Wikimedia Commons. The club is across Vanderbilt Avenue from Grand Central, and as I looked at it I thought about Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale. There's a plaque on the corner of the club saying Nathan Hale was hung here. But that's arguable — read this post in Ephemeral New York for an alternative claim.
It was a beautiful day, as this view looking West on 42nd Street makes clear.
The "Vanderbilt eagle" is a familiar site to anyone who walks along East 42nd Street. (This is another Wikimedia Commons photo, by the way.) What I discovered today is, the eagle's wings are supported by a beam and bolts.
And that is how I spent my Saturday morning. What did you do?
"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another..."
J. M. Barrie