Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fulton Center, 1WTC, and a Malfunctioning Scaffold

This past week was a busy one in Lower Manhattan. Fulton Center finally opened after years of delays and cost overruns. Parts of the station have been open for some time now, but the central feature - the oculus that lets light stream down into the heart of the station - is now revealed, and the escalators and other areas are now open. Upper floors, however, are still off limits as they wont open until businesses move into retail spaces on those upper floors.

The Fulton Center (previously called the Fulton Street Transit Hub), was meant to untangle and better connect a number of subway lines that were built at different times by different competing subway companies at the beginning of the 20th century. Some were built at different depths, and some cross over other lines in a tangle that would make Escher blush.

The MTA did manage to improve the flow between some of the key lines, including the A/C and the 4/5, so that's a big improvement.

What was left on the table is that while the oculus is already an architectural darling, the MTA could have used the space above the station to sell air rights that could help defray the costs for the station or permit construction of other capital projects elsewhere.

What follows is a series of photos taken around Fulton Center:

Interior as seen from Broadway and Fulton escalator bank

Arches and architectural detail of the Corbin building access to Fulton Center

Looking up at the Oculus

Retail space along the street level of the Fulton Center

Looking up and through the Oculus

Information bank at Fulton Center
After viewing Fulton Center, I walked over to the WTC memorial to shoot some more photos, and a dramatic sky didn't hurt either:

1WTC shrouded in breaking clouds. Note that scaffold on the south side. I'll come back to that later.

Yellow roses adorn the names of those who served in the military and died on 9/11 as part of Veterans' Day remembrances.

Looking towards the 9/11 Museum, the WTC transit hub, and 3WTC. Note that the spikes are nearly completely installed.

Still my favorite view of the WTC - looking up the South side of 1WTC. Note the window washing scaffold high up in the center of the photo. This photo was taken 12:41PM. I didn't know it at the time, but within minutes, that scaffold would suffer a major malfunction requiring a high level FDNY emergency rescue operation more than 600 feet in the air.

Scaffolds on the NW corner of 1WTC.

Scaffolds and a hatch to allow a scaffold to deploy for the lower floors.

The damaged scaffold dangling at a sharp angle; this was taken at 1:25PM, about an hour before the rescue was completed.
 The two men aboard the scaffold were rescued unharmed, and within 48 hours the window that had to be broken out to carry out the rescue had been replaced. The investigation into why the scaffold failed is underway.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Sandy Related Repairs to Affect LIRR and Amtrak Service for Years

New Yorkers have been trying to adjust to the new normal of MTA repairs to tunnels that were flooded by the storm surge from Superstorm Sandy. It included a 15-month closure of the Montague tunnel that affected many living in Brooklyn. There have been scattered closures to other tunnels and rerouted service elsewhere in the subway system, but now comes word that Amtrak is about to do its own remediation of the East River tunnels.

These tunnels service not only Amtrak, but LIRR and NJ Transit. They connect Penn Station with Long Island through the Sunnyside Yards and Harold Interlocking. Amtrak has to take two of the tunnels out of service for a year each. This will reduce the service capacity by 25% (1 out of four tunnels will be out of service at any time during the duration of the project that is expected to start next year).

The reconstruction will be similar to the work done on the Montague tunnels. It will include rebuilding the bench walls that include cable conduits for signals and power, plus railbed replacement and other work that can't be done while the tunnel is active.

The MTA and Amtrak were able to get service restored, but have been seeing an increased amount of service disruptions due to corrosion of equipment in the affected tunnels. That's why this full rehabilitation must get done.

But the East River tunnels are the easy part.

Amtrak has said that they must do the same with the Hudson River tunnels.

There are only two tunnels under the Hudson, and each are over 100 years old. They are functionally obsolete and need major rehabilitation, but that work can't be done until additional capacity is added.

After Gov. Christie cancelled the fully funded ARC tunnel project, that left a gaping hole in capacity expansion. Amtrak proposed a better project, Gateway, that would directly link in with NY Penn Station and allow through trains to run and high speed rail once service improvements elsewhere in the system are made.

Gateway is more than a decade away from seeing the light of day due to lack of funding. So New Jersey residents will be suffering with service delays for the foreseeable future.

Now some will point to Christie being short sighted in his cancellation of the project, but it was the right thing to do because NJ Transit has never met a capital project it couldn't complete overbudget and years after the scheduled deadlines. Cost overruns were likely to be in the $1-2 billion range, and even the FTA warned about the cost containment.

Gateway allows more capacity to the entire system - NJ Transit, Amtrak, and LIRR. ARC would have had limited capacity improvements for NJ Transit since the New York terminus was just that - a terminus. There was no place to store additional trains for rush hour, reducing actual customer capacity on the trains that would run to New Jersey.

The fact that we need to get additional capacity to allow for both growth in customer demand and to fix existing infrastructure is well established. What's missing is the lack of support in New York and New Jersey to find the funding for this critical work. That falls on both Gov. Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Both have shown indifference to mass transit and infrastructure beyond a few car-centric projects like the new Tappan Zee bridge in New York and the Pulaski Skyway rehabilitation and NJ Turnpike expansion projects in New Jersey.

This has to change in order to improve the economic competitiveness of the region against other world-class cities.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Failure of the WTC PATH Hub

Construction of the Port Authority's PATH Transit Hub is still underway and Santiago Calatrava's design shows its final form, even as the cost pushes past a staggering $4 billion. That's nearly $2 billion over the original budget estimate. These inflated costs have sapped the Port Authority's ability to build new infrastructure in the region, which is its core mission. Instead, the agency has poured billions into a project that doesn't add any cross-river capacity.

Set aside the architectural features of the exterior or the fact that the Port Authority is boasting about a transit hall that is larger than that of Grand Central Terminal in Midtown. I think that the design will ultimately be an iconic site in Lower Manhattan and become one of the more photographed sites in Manhattan, which is saying something.

But the visuals can't overcome the serious flaws to the project that will saddle future commuters for generations to come.

The view from Fulton Street.

This is first and foremost a transit hub. So, the first question to be asked is whether it does that job well.

I think I know the answer to this, even though the permanent design is still being unveiled in phases.

The design is a failure.

This week is proof of that.

The new terminal cannot handle counter-commutes. It just can't do it.

The new platforms are all shiny and clad in white marble and the steel ribs that peek out are also white, so you can be forgiven for the impression that you've walked into an Apple store with all the gleaming whiteness and sleek curves.

But getting to the platform itself is a comedy of bad design.

The mezzanine level for the PATH terminal; there is marble as far as the eye can see.

There is currently one platform open, and there are two elevators, which is a significant improvement over the original station or even the temporary station built after the attacks but that's the extent of the positive news. The problem is that the Port Authority decided in its infinite wisdom to build two escalators that funnel into the center of the future transit hall. There are three sets of stairs. During the past two days, it has been next to impossible to get up the stairs or on to the platform level because there simply isn't any room for people to go.

The escalators preclude any counter-commuting. You are forced to go to the stairs at the far ends of the platforms, but considering that we're talking about full trains, there's no extra room for people to squeeze through to get either up or down, so it takes extra time to navigate through the PATH platform level.

That's inexcusable. The Port Authority chose to install costly escalators that they don't even operate full time (they shut down during midday) because of the cost, rather than stairs that would be much more amenable to counter commuting. 

What's sad is that it's actually easier to get from the platform levels to the mezzanine level from the old temporary platforms than it is from the gleaming new platform A. 

It's part of the mindset about the Port Authority thinking only in one direction, and not realizing that there is a significant number of people who commute from Manhattan to New Jersey for their jobs. It's a serious oversight and one that should be corrected with the remaining platforms, but I doubt that they're going to make those changes, even though it would be the prudent thing to do. 

So, who to blame for this? I have to put the blame squarely on the Port Authority, which apparently never bothered to look at how people actually commute, and what can happen when there are service disruptions elsewhere in the system.

The Port Authority loves to claim that there's going to be 250,000 pedestrians using the PATH hub daily, and that there are 35,000 commuters. They can't handle those numbers, and this week shows that the new hub isn't quite up to the task either.


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