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“The Longest Pedestrian Subway Underpass in the History of Pedestrian Subway Underpasses”


We recently came across an entertaining New Yorker article from 1940 about the opening of the Sixth Avenue passageway (you can see our previous posts about the closed passageway here and here. “Anticipating by some months the happy day when the Sixth Avenue subway opens, we toured one of its interesting appurtenances this week, the longest pedestrian subway underpass in the history of pedestrian subway underpasses,” said the reporter. Here are a few excerpts:

It’s a passageway running from Thirty-fifth Street to Fortieth, connecting with both the Thirty-fourth and Forty-second Street stations. The idea is that it will relieve congestion at these points by distributing passengers over a greater area. If you add the length of the station platforms to the length of the underpass, you have something impressive – a stretch of more than nine blocks, from Thirty-third Street to north of Forty-second. There will be a catch to using this as a summer promenade, however. There will be turnstiles at the ends of both station platforms, so it will cost ten cents to make the entire distance. The arrangement should nevertheless be a boon to adventurous strollers in the summer of 1941…At the south end, once you’re through the turnstile, you will be able to wander on indefinitely underground: through territory of the BMT, the Hudson & Manhattan terminal, Saks-Thirty-fourth Street, Gimbel’s, the Pennsylvania Station – a whole world in itself.

We set off through the tunnel with the blessing of the Board of Transportation; Mr. Herman Birman, a guide supplied by that body (who is tired of having Booth Tarkington fans kid him about his name); and a flashlight. Mr. Birman led us into the tunnel by way of an unfinished entrance to the Forty-second Street station. The passageway was dark and gloomy…The underpass is thirty feet across at its widest point; south of Thirty-eighth, it narrows to twenty-four feet. It is eight feet high all the way…There are no decorative effects whatsoever now, but the amateur subway artists, afforded such a golden opportunity, will probably take care of that soon enough.

South of Thirty-eighth, the underpass dips and Mr. Birman remarked that that stretch would be nice for roller-skating. The place will undoubtedly have to be policed to keep down sports activities…At the south end, we peered up through the scaffolding in a partly finished entrance and chuckled quietly at the pedestrians dodging traffic in the old-fashioned way. We then started on the return trip, which was completely uneventful.