New York City, Asleep at Last

A journey through the empty streets of New York City during the COVID-19 outbreak.


Aleksandra Pankratova

The Oculus, which draws in many viewers per day, is now a sterile-looking ghost town. (Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)

Aleksandra Pankratova, Contributing Photographer

It is Sunday, March 22, in one of the biggest cities in the world, through what used to be some of its most crowded neighborhoods, along some of the busiest streets.

A look down deserted Broadway at the Prince Street intersection. There are no cars on the once-busy inner-city street. (Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)
The intersection of Greene and Broome Streets in SoHo remains empty. Looking up the street, no cars or people pass as usual. (Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)
The empty Chinatown streets at sunset are eerily quiet. (Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)

Areas that were once bustling with racing taxis and bubbly tourists now sit in complete silence. I saw closed stores that would, no less than a month ago, be open until the late hours of the night, always filled with the buzz of a New Yorker ready to jump to the next adventure. Empty subway cars move in solitude under the streets. 

The Oculus, which draws in many viewers per day, is now a sterile-looking ghost town. (Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)

I took a ride from the Lower East Side all the way up to Central Park and back on March 22nd. On the following day, I biked again through the West Village. On this day I realized how different this city looks without its people. My journey is surreal. There’s a strange sort of gratitude that comes with seeing other people shuttering bar windows with plywood sheets.

Only a few civilians can be seen along the streets in the West Village during the pandemic.
(Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)

Everyone wears masks, people walk far away from others, the streets are silent, there are no ambulances and no honking.

Two men wearing masks play chess in Washington Square Park on a spring day, March 22, 2020 in the midst of the social distancing order in effect. (Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)
A biker in Times Square at night prepares to cross the street. They distance themselves from others on the ride. (Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)
A “man in the bubble” performs his routine show in Times Square, this time with new meaning. (Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)

The thing that surprised me most of all was how silent the city is.

A lonely biker rides the Brooklyn Bridge at night crossing from the Two Bridges area and DUMBO Park. (Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)
FDR Drive, the 9.6-mile limited-access highway on the east side of Manhattan, resembles a suburban road now. The familiar hum of traffic is almost nonexistent. (Photo by Aleksandra Pankratova)

It’s almost a miracle to hear only birds singing in Manhattan on a sunny afternoon. New York City is quiet for the first time in my memory. COVID-19 has placed the city in a forced standstill, placing uncertainty on when it will return to what it was.

Email Aleksandra at [email protected]