Beyond several hidden entrances in Downtown Rochester lies an old abandoned subway tunnel, providing shelter for the homeless during the colder months and a canvas for illegal graffiti and mural artists year-round.
The Rochester Industrial and Rapid Transit Railway opened in 1927, running along the bones of the old Erie Canal. The canal was redirected some years earlier and the City of Rochester wanted to utilize the passage as a freight interchange between the many railroads in the area. The total length of the subway was less than 10 miles long and only serviced the city until 1956. Despite attempts by some city officials to expand the system, the subway was hampered from the beginning due to the Erie Canal route, which wasn’t exactly optimized for intracity transit.
Although mostly filled in, the segment of the subway in downtown is still accessible to the brave and intrigued. Most entrances are gated, but the gates are rarely locked and the tunnel is regularly visited by artists, hipsters, and the homeless. The tunnel walls are an ever-changing artistic palate. Even returning one month later will grant the viewer entirely new graffiti scenes. The active part of the subway is underneath the Broad Street Bridge over the Genesse River. One can glimpse the abandoned tunnel through the many arched windows of the bridge. Alternatively, the walk-up east entrance is behind Dinosaur BBQ. That is, when the gate isn’t locked.
The city has occasionally considered filling the entire tunnel in, converting it to a bike path, or showcasing it as an art venue. However, lack of funding and disinterest leaves the subway as it is, a strange little piece of Rochester history covered in modern art and shelter for the less fortunate.
Update July 2017: The abandoned subway site was recently demolished to make way for a new building.
Update April 2020: There are sections still open near the beginning of the tunnel, but there is construction farther down. Any journey there should be practiced with caution, and respect for all fences and signs.