Last Saturday, I got up early and headed into Manhattan to play on Park Avenue as part of Summer Streets, three consecutive Saturdays when the city shuts down motor vehicle traffic on nearly 7 miles of Park Avenue from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park. Instead of the whir of engines and the smell of exhaust, the streets are full of the sounds of bicycle bells and feet on the pavement.
I joined the pedestrian traffic heading north at 23rd Street. There was a steady stream of people, even at about 7:30 am, and many organizations were present to teach people about bike safety, give out samples of food and energy drinks, and help out with our new bikeshare program, Citi Bike. There were many bicyclists, runners, and training teams, as well as a fair number of people just out to enjoy the morning with a leisurely walk, like me.
One of the major draws for me was the Voice Tunnel, an interactive art installation in the Park Avenue Tunnel. Running from 33rd to 40th Streets, the tunnel is usually closed to pedestrians. For Summer Streets, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer created a light and sound installation where visitors record messages at the center of the tunnel that are then played on speakers synchronized with spotlights at about 10 foot intervals throughout the tunnel. It’s loud in the tunnel, with variable lighting conditions and moments of total darkness that can be very disorienting. However, the chance to walk through the tunnel was enough of a draw for me, and the artwork was an interesting bonus.
The Park Avenue Tunnel was originally built to carry the New York and Harlem Railroad, and then a streetcar line. Originally an open channel, the tunnel was roofed over in the 1850s with granite from the original railroad track below 14th Street. Now, it carries one lane of northbound automobile traffic.
Emerging from the tunnel at 40th Street, I continued on the elevated roadway up to and around Grand Central Terminal. The facade of Grand Central is lovely and detailed, but because of the elevated roadway it’s usually impossible to really get a good look at it. Luckily, during Summer Streets, you can.
I walked up to 60th Street, where I got on the subway back out to Queens. Summer Streets will be happening again tomorrow and next Saturday, with 7 miles of streets to explore, rest stops with activities for kids and adults alike, and a great opportunity to have enjoy a new perspective on familiar New York City streets. The event runs from 7 am to 1 pm, and you can get more info at the NYC website.