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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