The Freedom Tunnel is the name given to the Amtrak tunnel under Riverside Park
, New York City
. It got its name because the graffiti artist Chris "Freedom" Pape used the tunnel walls to create some of his most notable artwork. The name may also be a reference to the former shantytowns built within the tunnel by homeless populations seeking shelter and freedom to live rent-free and unsupervised by law enforcement.
The tunnel was built by Robert Moses in the 1930s to expand park space for Upper West Side
residents – although Moses's expansion of freeways in the same area effectively blocked access to the river.
After it was completed, the train tunnel was not used for long. With the automobile and trucking taking over more of the city's transport needs, trains no longer ran along the West Side, and the giant, man-made caverns became a haven for homeless people. At its height, hundreds of people lived in the tunnel.
On April 4, 1991 the tunnel was reopened as the Amtrak Empire Connection for trains and a massive eviction followed. The shantytowns were bulldozed and the tunnel was chained off.To this day, however, graffiti artists and urban explorers continue to visit the tunnel, while the homeless population has dwindled to almost zero.
Over the tunnel's years of disuse, its isolated nature allowed graffiti artists and street artists to work without fear of arrest, leading to larger and more ambitious pieces. The tunnel has unique lighting provided by grates in the sidewalks of Riverside Park. The shafts of light allow graffiti art to be seen in the gloom, and artists would often center their projects under the light to take advantage of the spot-lighting effect, as if in a gallery.
Film: Dark Days
British filmmaker Marc Singer spent two years underground shooting the film Dark Days, a documentary about the inhabitants of the Amtrak tunnel network.