Inside the WTC Calatrava transit hub

By · Published in 2010

When all is said and done, the Santiago Calatrava-designed transit hub at the World Trade Center site will carry with it a $3.2 billion price tag, some garish architecture and a vast underground complex that connects the PATH stop with the 12 subway lines at Fulton St. The project should be completed by 2014, and yesterday, The Wall Street Journal’s Metropolis blog scored a short animated video of the future hub from Brookfield Properties, a development partner at the WTC site. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.

Categories : PANYNJ

48 Responses to “Inside the WTC Calatrava transit hub”

  1. Marc Shepherd says:

    Actually, the architecture of Calatrava’s original design was fairly widely praised. I don’t think it’s garish at all.

    Whether it was a good investment of $3.2 billion is a whole other question. There is civic value in grand public spaces, but this one always seemed too expensive, in relation to its purpose. After all, PATH is basically just a slightly glorified subway line. (I realize that PATH runs on FRA tracks, but operationally it resembles a subway more than it does a railroad.) No one would have countenanced $3.2 billion for the Stillwell Avenue Coney Island terminal or the Fulton Street Transit Center.

    • Jeremy says:

      Garish? This sounds like PATH envy to me, Ben.

      • Mabye garish was too strong a word, and it’s not really PATH envy. If the Feds feel that they have $3.2 billion in transportation spending to dole out, I know of a few projects more worthwhile than a porcupine near the World Trade Center site. That’s all.

        • Nathanael says:

          It still has no schedule for construction, right? If I’m not mistaken, it’s still unfunded. With the stimulus funding coming through, Fulton St. Transit Center will be done before they break ground….

  2. tacony palmyra says:

    It’s a waste of money when you consider that it’s only really well-used during traditional commuting hours. Downtown is such a ghost town on nights and weekends, and as we discussed in that earlier PATH post, PATH service is sorely lacking then too.

    • bob says:

      Downtown is far less of a ghost town than it used to be. And less so every year, so they are trying to push development along.

  3. Bill Reese says:

    Why not take some of that $3.2 billion and renovate the PATH station at Harrison that now handles 25,000 fans on game nights at the new Stadium for the NY Red Bulls?

  4. Boris says:

    Is there any hope the NJ Transit line now terminating at Hoboken will one day be tunneled into here (hopefully then continuing to Williamsburg and JFK on partially existing LIRR tracks)? Because this is more worthy of what Penn Station should be, rather than the dinky PATH.

    • Adam G says:

      I wouldn’t hold my breath.

      • Alon Levy says:

        Drop the “worthy” part. Good commuter rail stations are utilitarian spaces. When some starchitect hoodwinks the government into spending a few billion dollars on his ego, it’s just plain waste.

        Now, a Hoboken-Fulton-Flatbush tunnel would be a great idea. Alas, nobody in town is capable of executing it at reasonable price.

        • AK says:

          Because you put forth an anti-aesthetics argument, I feel compelled to put forth the other side, namely:

          I strongly disagree with the notion that we shouldn’t spend money (possibly even a lot of money) to make certain heavily trafficked/monumental train stations (of which the WTC Path Station clearly qualifies) beautiful.


          Public spaces are exceedingly rare in modern New York, and train stations which millions of people pass through every week shouldn’t be cast off as mere utilitarian requirements (like a water pipe or sewer system), but instead should be built to embody the spirit of a community. As the Second Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the bag-search case of MacWade v. Kelly,

          “The subway is an icon of the city’s culture and history, an engine of its colossal economy, a subterranean repository of its art and music, and, most often, the place where millions of diverse New Yorkers and visitors stand elbow to elbow as they traverse the metropolis.”

          Indeed, train/subway stations are incredibly meaningful to people (the very existence of this blog is a testament to their centrality in the lives of many).

          So, in short, I am quite pleased that the Fulton/WTC project has a significant aesthetic component. You realistically get one shot at doing these things right (in Fulton Street/WTC we have a “second chance” only through immeasurable tragedy), and spending additional money now that will reap enormous social benefit for a century seems like quite a reasonable thing to do.

        • Woody says:

          Why blame Calatrava? When somebody says, “I need a nice tombstone for my late wife,” very rarely does the stonecutter surprise him with a Taj Mahal. More commonly, the client gets what he asks for.

          Seems the Port Authority has a decades-long history of projects that would please a Pharaoh. In this case, perhaps understandably, the order apparently was to create a station to serve in part as a Memorial, while uplifting the spirits of the users and visitors passing through.

          That the total cost presented now rivals that for a section of the Second Avenue Subway was probably not the fault of the starchitect.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Often, the starchitects spend a lot of effort convincing the public and the planners that their multibillion dollar projects are important for the community. It’s not just the government that wastes money; usually the people it wastes money on help.

  5. Larry Littlefield says:

    No doubt the PA overpaid, but I did read at one point that the tunnel under West Street accounted for a large share of the cost. And much of the underground work for the site was rolled into this project. So it isn’t just the terminal.

    Even so, I agree the terminal is way out of line with the ridership it serves. I would have gone for a rebuild of Hudson Terminal, with perhaps a taller building at the intersection of Vesey Street. Does anyone know of operational issues that make the use of the old Hudson Terminal tracks, in use today for the temporary terminal, a problem to be solved?

    • Brian says:

      The old Hudson Terminal isn’t there anymore. Everything was destroyed during the redevelopment of the World Trade Center. AFAIK, the permanent PATH station will be closer to street level than the original station.

  6. Andrew D. Smith says:

    It looks like a monstrous walk from the Path trains to any of the subway lines. Can anyone explain why they didn’t use all that money to move the tracks closer together for easy transfers rather than putting up two big stations within two blocks of one another?

    • Alon Levy says:

      It’s about conflicting fiefdoms. The different agencies in the region think it’s beneath their dignity to coordinate; spending money on making cross-systems transfers nice would just mean half as many politicians to participate in ribbon cuttings.

      • bob says:

        There’s actually a lot of coordination. Consider how the 1 line, after being rebuilt as a standard tunnel, was completely underpinned, and all the supporting earth removed from beneath, while maintaining all weekday service. (Lots of weekend outages, you’ll recall.) That doesn’t happen by luck. Effectively that section of the tunnel is now a bridge.

        If you were following the early discussions about the WTC site there was talk of moving the PATH station east, and even moving the 1 line to Battery Park City. But the priority set by civic leaders was to get stuff back running ASAP and it’s fastest and easiest to do that by keeping things where they were. So they even rebuilt the Cortlandt St platforms in the same place (currently walled up).

        While it may be a fairly long walk (although not by NYC standards in my opinion) it will be all indoors and with lots of retail to look at. And retail makes money, never far from the developer’s minds.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Lots of retail doesn’t improve stations. On the contrary, at very busy stations (e.g. People’s Square), it’s better to remove the retail to allocate more space to passengers.

          Nothing you’ve mentioned suggests any sort of coordination. It suggests haste. If this is getting things done as quickly as possible, I don’t want to think what getting things done slowly is in New York.

    • Brian says:

      They couldn’t do it because of all the nearby subway lines.

    • Andrew says:

      Right now it’s a long walk because the temporary PATH station exits onto Vesey Street.

      But when the old World Trade Center was still standing, it wasn’t a bad transfer to the subway lines in the area, aside from the vertical rise, which is of course unavoidable.

      Which tracks did you want to move closer to which other tracks? The PATH tracks are just west of the 1, which is just west of the R, which is just west of the 4/5, which is just west of the J, which is just west of the 2/3. Nothing can get any closer to anything else without putting tracks underneath buildings.

  7. JP says:

    All the extra money goes into making animations depicting clean train stations. You think it’s easy to imagine fulton street station spotless? You try it!

  8. Phil says:

    The WTC PATH station is used by more people than most subway stations. That and it looked a lot better before “security concerns” destroyed the original design (which looked pretty impressive as a bird emerging from the ground) into a piece of modern junk.

    • I believe the PATH train station at the World Trade Center would rank around 18-20 in terms of popularity if it were a subway stop. None of the other 18 that see more traffic cost anywhere close to $3.2 billion.

      I understand the argument for aesthetics, but at some point, wise spending should trump a good look.

      • Don Anon says:

        Umm . . . let’s not cherry pick the numbers. The Port Authority estimates that the WTC transit hub will serve far more people than those who ride the PATH to the WTC, including pedestrians, visitors to the WTC memorial, and commuters connecting from the subway and other parts of the WTC and World Financial Center. It’s an extremely important connector for lower Manhattan. As an earlier comment above made clear, the $3.2 billion price tag isn’t just for the “garish” architecture but for the massive undertaking of creating what is, essentially, an underground city through half of lower Manhattan.

        • Nathanael says:

          Hrrrm? The transit center part of it serves *only* people taking PATH (whether they’re connecting to something else or not). People coming in on the numerous subway lines to the east find themselves in other stations constructed with other funding, and of course pedestrians can and do go at street level.

          Functionally, it’s for PATH.

  9. John Paul N. says:

    Am I interpreting the video correctly when it shows that there will be retail spaces similar to that of Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal in this transit hub’s passageways? If so, perhaps then the goal would be like a Grand Central Terminal for downtown, as if a significant portion of the pedestrian traffic will not be for the PATH.

  10. Scott E says:

    The problem with putting this type of extravagance in the PATH station is that is effectively a rapid-transit station, not a short- or long-haul rail station. You show up, go directly to the platform, and wait for your train. Nearly all are “regulars” looking for easy-in, easy-out. In contrast, a place like Penn or Grand Central has many more routes, schedules, and larger gaps between arrivals and departures. It’s perfectly conceivable for an Amtrak train to be delayed two hours, or for a non-train-savvy person to wait for a long time to meet their long-lost relative arriving from Virginia. Penn/GCT needs retail, restaurants, and “lounge”-like waiting areas. PATH does not.

    • Brian says:

      I beg to differ. The more shops and resturants there is within the WTC Transit Hub/Fulton St. Transit Senter, the more you are boosting up the economy in Lower Manhattan. Isn’t the goal supposed to be putting more people to work? I’d think so.

      • Boris says:

        I guess this all boils down to which of these spaces will require paying a fare to access. Will the thousands of tourists descending on the memorial from tour buses be able to easily access the non-utilitarian areas of the station and shop at the shops?

      • Andrew says:

        Have you ever walked around lower Manhattan? It’s full of shops and restaurants! There’s be even more shops and restaurants if a big chunk of real estate hadn’t been bought up a few years ago to build a “transit center.”

    • bob says:

      GCT has no Amtrak – it’s all commuters. But far more people use GCT than just for commuting by train or subway. That retail makes a lot of money, which is why MTA took control away from MNCR. They added a lot of space, including the fancy restaurants.

      The bulk of the people at PS are not on Amtrak, but its retail, although not as nice an environment as at GCT, does pretty well also. Not just commuter hours, but daytime and weekend. And a major part of the “Moynihan Station” expansion proposal is adding retail. Like it or not, retail is a big part of all of this.

    • Nathanael says:

      …or is it?

      PATH was originally built to interconnect the terminals of a (large) number of long-distance rail carriers, and to connect them to Manhattan. Now most of those terminals are gone, but it still connects Hoboken and Newark to downtown; is it possible that it’s still used for connections to the rail lines at those stations? (Is anyone clever enough to put an electronic schedule board up duplicating the one at Newark, with a sign saying “TAKE PATH X minutes before your train departs Newark”?)

      OK, probably this is an insignificant market now. Just a thought though.

  11. petey says:

    well, i like it.

  12. John says:

    Maybe it just shot past too fast on the video, but I’d like to have also seen how the new center plans to integrate the connections between PATH and the R at Cortlandt and Church; the E (and A/C) at Vesey and Church and the new Cortlandt Street station on the No. 1 line (which in the old WTC design didn’t even have a non-Metrocard entry from the main building, just an iron maiden gate — if you wanted on, you had to go out to Vesey and Greenwich, roughly at the same site the current PATH entrance is).

    A quick glance at the video seemed to indicate the designers/CGI artists seem to think there’s nothing between the 4/5 platform at Fulton and the future main PATH concourse (or that there are no important lines/stations between the 4/5 serving the Lex corridor and the PATH concourse).

    • bob says:

      Take a look at the documents on the MTA website and you should find better representations of what is planned. For example:


      On an early page shows a sketch that the R and E are included. The corridor in the video goes under the R – there ought to be stairs/escalators up.

      The 1 is on the other side of the PATH station so I don’t think that is included as a free subway transfer.

    • Andrew says:

      There weren’t turnstiles leading to the uptown 1? (Of course there weren’t turnstiles leading to the downtown 1 – not many people board downtown trains that close to the end of the line.)

      • John says:

        None inside the original WTC layout I ever found — to board the 1, either Chambers-bound or South Ferry-bound without having a token (or, in its final years, a Metrocard), you had to go outside the complex to Vesey and Greenwich, at the far north end of the IRT station where the entrance for both directions for the 1 were located, which I believe was created in the early 1970s. Inside the complex, there were just tiny exits/iron maiden entrances located just to the south of the main escalator bank down to the PATH concourse that had replaced the original main entrances and exits to the IRT station (as designed the PATH escalator bank started off above and to the east of the Cortlandt Street station, then descended underneath it, before ending below and to the west of the station at the PATH concourse).

        While I know the Cortlandt Street Station, as it was after 1968, no longer could connect to Cordlandt Street, since it was obliterated west of Church, the station access for the No. 1 was possibly the most counter-intuitive of any station in the entire system, pre-9/11 — the least accessible entrances were placed where the most people were passing through, while the 24/7 staffed entrance was placed in one of the least-accessible sites for anyone inside the WTC complex to find. Surely they can’t make the same mistake twice (but we are talking the MTA and the Port Authority here…)

        • Andrew says:

          Interesting. I never used that station regularly, but I could have sworn that, when I did, I entered the uptown 1 from inside the WTC.

          • John says:

            I never found a regular turnstile/booth entrance there — if you had a token/Metrocard, you could get it; if not, you had to go out onto Vesey Street, and the slope of the land along Vescy meant direct access from the WTC concourse was difficult and the street saw very little pedestrian traffic, even compared with Liberty Street on the south side of the complex.

            My guess is the MTA and/or Port Authority did it the way they did it because with Greenwich Street blocked off, sticking the 24/7 entrance on the south side of the street basically created a street-level headhouse like at Bowling Green or 72nd Street — albeit one built into the side of the WTC complex wall — that could span the tracks and allow one booth and one set of turnstiles to serve both the uptown and downtown trains.

            I’m just not sure why they didn’t do the same thing inside the complex (though when it was originally built, there really wasn’t much nighttime activity in the area west of the PATH escalators where any entrance/exit would have been, and the thinking might have been putting it on the street would make it easier to get to from other area buildings). And even if they’re going to have the PATH escalator bank slightly to the east of where it formerly was, there’s no reason for the money they’re spending not to make sure the new site has easy access between the new Cortlandt Street station, PATH and the other lines further to the east.

        • Brian says:

          I always thought the WTC PATH station had an odd layout. I recall the PATH station to be dimly lit and it wasn’t bright.

  13. Deny says:

    I have always found it interesting when people freak out about the cost of projects. Where do you think the money goes to? It doesn’t miraculously disappear into the pocket of some random coroporation. It is invested in the citizens of NY, whether it is the welder, the engineer, the security guard, or the crane operator. We should be encouraging a higher level of design and architecture, as these become the monuments of the future.

    The Empire State Building was originally thought to be ridiculous in scale, too costly, and nick-named “The Empty State Building” because no one could comprehend having office space so high up. And yet 80 years later, it is one of America’s most discernible and loved piece of architecture.

    Spend the money now on an architectural monument for generations to come. If you don’t care about architecture, view the price tag as yet another economic stimulus package, caring for the citizens of NY.

    “Dissatisfaction and discouragement are not caused by the absence of things but the absence of vision.”


  1. […] Tour the $3.2B WTC Transit Hub, Virtually (WSJ via 2nd Ave Sagas) […]

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