Long Island City Zen 2 -The Empty Corridor
Know this spot?
50th avenue and 25th street – photo by Mitch Waxman
This is 50th avenue and 25th street, and here’s a google map (I suggest hitting street view and exploring an area via the google service, it’s really helpful to get an idea of what’s “there”). Which, in this case is a whole lot of infrastructure. The elevated LIE allows vehicular traffic to hurtle along on a sloping ascent, reaching as high as 106 feet in some places. The fuligin shadow cast by the steel aqueduct falls on an area of Long Island City I like to call “the empty corridor”.
The expressway begins at the Queens-Midtown Tunnel in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan. Upon emerging from the tunnel in Queens, it is formally subdivided by name into three sections: the Queens-Midtown Expressway from the tunnel toll plaza to Queens Boulevard, the Horace Harding Expressway from said intersection to the Nassau County line, and the Long Island Expressway in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, though almost all locals and most signage use “the Long Island Expressway” or “the L.I.E.” to refer the entire length of I-495. A mile after entering Queens, the LIE meets Interstate 278 (The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) at interchange 16. Not long after Queens Boulevard, the LIE meets the Grand Central Parkway, then immediately after, the Van Wyck Expressway (I-678).
stitch panorama, looking southeast – photo by Mitch Waxman
Its an inaccurate pun, of course, as there are gargantuan municipal (New York City Housing Authority – although their front door is on 49th ave.) warehouses, truck yards, and active masonry mills operating all along the pocket street of 50th avenue. Enclosed on one side by 27th street, which follows the course of the nearby Dutch Kills, 50th is also abruptly severed by first the rear entrance, trackbeds, and associated workhouses of the Long Island City station of the 800 pound gorilla, then by the highway complex that feeds traffic to Manhattan via the Midtown Tunnel. It resumes its course to the river near 11th place, but is aborted in its aim by the Gantry Plaza Queenswest development at Center Blvd.
stitch panorama, looking southwest- photo by Mitch Waxman
The train station was destroyed a few times, especially in 1892, when a conflagration broke out at its coal dock on nearby Newtown Creek. The LIRR lost the dock itself and its stored fuel, part of the coal chute, and the locomotive repair shop. Spontaneous combustion in a cotton storage shed was blamed. Another fire in 1902 (there were lots of huge fires around the area in this time period, oddly enough) consumed the rebuilt station and an adjacent office building. It was rebuilt in 1903, electrified in 1910, and has been completely ignored since. It is the end of the (main) line.
A block to the south is Borden Avenue, to the north is 49th avenue.
east – photo by Mitch Waxman
The spire of St. Raphael’s on Greenpoint Avenue, sentinel church to Old Calvary- can be glimpsed through the steel. That is also where the highway returns to earth before beginning the ascent to the Kosciuszko Bridge spanning the Newtown Creek. That’s 27th street where the fences are. Normally, one can reach Borden Avenue and cross the Dutch Kills via this garbage strewn lane, but the Borden Avenue Bridge is still undergoing emergency repairs.
50th and 27th- photo by Mitch Waxman
I find strange things down here, in this place where cobblestones have never known asphalt. Until just a few months ago, a group of men lived in a broken down car on this corner. They had modern conveniences, electrical power generously supplied by serpentine orange extension cords that ran up and into the bushes by the railroad tracks. I observed them over a couple of years, and then found their car burnt, them missing, and this bird in their place. After a month, even the car was gone.
west – photo by Mitch Waxman
The empty corridor (or as I’ve called it in the past- Down under the LIE- DULIE) makes a sound. A constant droning pitch produced by approximately 84,000 quartets of automobile tires a day drawing across the steel and cement at controlled speeds. The sound of racing engines create doppler waves as their sounds ripple against the warehouse buildings. You are surrounded by this sound, enveloped in its chordal structure. All of New York’s bridges and elevated arteries have a distinctive sound, I have noticed. I have failed in my attempts to record these sounds due to wind, street noise, and inappropriate or amateurish equipment.
The folks who are into this sort of sonic thing are onto some revolutionary ideas, human perception wise. Check out these Hearing Perspective kids, and then stop off at wikipedia to learn the deep secrets of harmonic resonances and the hidden existence of Tuned Mass Dampers, and of the only man who ever truly mastered their manipulation mechanically- Nikola Tesla.
Dutch Kills – photo by Mitch Waxman
The elevated LIE spans over the Dutch Kills on its heading eastward, and the structure continues along Borden Avenue until it passes under Greenpoint avenue and returns to grade. As I mentioned earlier, its primary function is carrying city vehicles from the tunnel out to the Long Island highway system.
from nycroads.com, which has a must read post on the building of the tunnel and the politics surrounding it
No sooner had Moses learned that Mayor LaGuardia was considering establishing an authority to build a $58,000,000 Queens-Midtown Tunnel that he began hinting, none too subtly, that he would like to be on it, if not in charge of it.
In 1936, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia created the New York City Tunnel Authority to construct a twin-tube tunnel that had been proposed six years earlier between the East Side of Manhattan and Long Island City, Queens. The East River Tunnel, along with the Hudson River (Lincoln) Tunnel then under construction, was to form a continuous route from Long Island to New Jersey.
Citing the deep divisions between New York City Arterial Coordinator Robert Moses and President Franklin D. Roosevelt (who approved the $58 million Public Works Administration loan for the tunnel), LaGuardia specifically left Moses out of the Tunnel Authority by stating in legislation that “an unsalaried state official shall not be eligible” for appointment. LaGuardia sought engineers outside of Moses’ Triborough Bridge Authority, most notably famed tunnel engineer Ole Singstad, to construct the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. Meanwhile, Moses tried to influence upstate politicians to kill the Authority, but was unsuccessful when Governor Herbert Lehman sided with LaGuardia.
Borden avenue- photo by Mitch Waxman
Technically, this is the Queens Midtown Expressway, but this is a subdivision of the larger expressway.