Jul
05

The billion-dollar transit hub, from above

By

A view of the Fulton Street Transit Hub from 19 stories up. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy)

Before the long weekend, SAS reader Jeremy sent me the above picture via his Twitter account. It is, as the caption says, a view into the Fulton Street Transit Center from 19 stories above, and it reminds me of the numerous photos of sports stadium construction that dot the Internet. Clearly, work has a long way to go, but the future $1.4 billion hub is quickly taking shape.

In its most recent update, the MTA still says the transit center will wrap in mid-2014, and the budget is still set for $1.4 billion. Even as the MTA struggles to keep the East Side Access project on schedule, it’s hard to believe it could miss the Fulton St. revenue date. After all, this is a project that was supposed to be completed years ago for $700 million, and it’s now talking twice as long and twice as much money to realize a glorified subway station amidst the streets of Lower Manhattan.

Every time, then, that I see images of this structure, I’m both impressed and disappointed. The Fulton St. hub will certainly be a pleasing addition to the downtown landscape, and the station rehabilitation at that location is a badly needed one. Yet, it’s a money sink. At a time when the MTA has to fight for dollars from Albany for capital projects that keep the trains moving, the feds are lavishing over a billion dollars on a glorified subway stop. This isn’t some regional hub that connects passengers entering and leaving New York; it’s a subway stop.

So what would I do with $1.4 billion? Adding a PA/CIS system along the B Division lines would greatly improve the rider experience. Pushing the CBTC program with more funding would allow for more trains at peak hours. Think about what $1.4 billion could do for the next phase of the Second Ave. Subway or how many basic station rehabs it could fund. The possibilities are endless.

Ultimately, the Fulton Street expenditure is a problem I’ve often highlighted. Politicians like to spend money on things that are living examples to their generosity. A Senator can’t point to a specific piece of equipment with pride when he or she starts to cull votes, but that same representative can discuss his or her efforts at securing federal dollars for a gleaming new downtown transit hub. The problem is that New Yorkers need more of those behind-the-scenes improvements that make the subways more pleasant or easier to ride. We don’t need a $1.4 billion subway stop at Fulton St.



Categories : Fulton Street

73 Responses to “The billion-dollar transit hub, from above”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    One thing that could be done with $1.4 billion that would make for a great ribbon cutting ceremony is a subway station at 10th and 41st.

  2. Wow…and to think, that plot could have been a net revenue generator for the MTA had they gotten it rezoned for high-density, parking-less development and then just auctioned it off under the condition that the buyer build a slightly less extravagant hub at the bottom of the skyscraper.

  3. Ray says:

    Great post. Same could be said of the new PATH station only a few blocks west. Billion(s) and its still just PATH yet improved with Gap, Forever XXI, Abercrombie, Jamba Juice and Starbucks… No new services… No LIRR, no AirTrain, No NJT, No Amtrak… And like Fulton, the main structure will be separate and apart from the commercial office buildings going up around it (at the same time).

  4. Nathanael says:

    Ignorant, poorly though out post.

    The majority of the money at Fulton St. is going for the ADA-accessibility of all of the interconnected stations. As well as general rehabs of those stations.

    This had to be done. And it can’t be done cheaply. And it’s not easy to predict how much it will cost.

    The building should indeed have been built as an air-rights skyscraper with the MTA controlling, say, the first 10 feet above ground level and the basement.

    But frankly, it’s stupid to call it a 1.4 billion dollar building. It’s a 1.4 billion dollar ADA accessibility project, with a building thrown in.

    • R. Graham says:

      I fully agree with the ADA side of this. Even without that argument I still feel that this project is justified just for the sheer fact that it’s all being paid for by the feds. This is all grant money. Unlike SAS and ESA where the Feds are only giving out portions of the money for a section the Feds actually dug up the cash for downtown.

      With the opening of the memorial coming this September, downtown needs to shine. If you work down here like I do then you know how much some of these projects were needed from the new South Ferry 1 station to the South Ferry boat terminal itself. A majority of these buildings down here have no way of competing with what Midtown can offer yet downtown is supposed to be the capital of the business world. Downtown has a lot of catching up to do.

  5. Scott E says:

    Is that big “hole” in the middle how daylight is supposed to make its way down to the platforms? I always wondered how a multi-story building suitable for offices would allow subterranean passengers to see the sky. They should be able to see some daylight from about 11:50am to 1:15pm on a clear day (especially without the light-focusing Dixie-cup dome). What a waste of valuable NYC square-footage.

    • pete says:

      15 or 20 years from now the MTA will tear it down and sell air rights for a 1 time fix to the annual budget crisis.

    • R. Graham says:

      It’s not supposed to filter down to all platforms. The marquis platform in this entire project is supposed to be the 4/5 platform on the northbound side. Natural light will filter well to the front portions of that side of the platform.

    • Bolwerk says:

      It’s not like people want to stay on their subway platform and enjoy the view, nor should be encouraged to do so at a station prone to almost dangerous crowding.

  6. Nathanael says:

    In fact, this post makes me really angry.

    You don’t actually understand the importance of wheelchair-accessibility, do you? You are explicitly proposing diverting funds from a wheelchair-access project — which handles, IIRC, three of the “key stations” which NYC Subway is legally mandated to provide access to — into projects which would not provide any wheelchair access at all.

    Offensive and ignorant.

    Please amend your post to retract your offensive and ignorant comments.

    • Nathanael says:

      I should add that NYC Subway is the only agency in the country which is routinely violating the spirit of the ADA, and probably the letter of it too, by completely rebuilding stations without providing wheelchair access.

      The Fulton St. project is one of the few evidences that they take their ADA obligations at all seriously. You have no right to suggest that they just break the law even *more*.

    • Phil says:

      As much as I am for ADA, not because of its legal mandate but due to the ethical nature of it, it’s worth noting that most of the improvements will be sparsely used. Even if you level out boarding height, add elevators, and make the entire station navigable by wheelchair, using the subway is next to impossible if you’re handicapped. Try boarding a train during rush hour; it’s hard enough if you’re able-bodied. Instead of trying to outfit a century-old system retroactively, the MTA should be investing in Access a Ride and other non-subway modes of transport for ADA-designated passengers.

      • orz says:

        The primary purpose for ADA compliance is to help people in wheelchairs, and that alone is enough to justify the cost, but don’t forget that it also has the side benefit of making places navigable for people with strollers or rolling luggage. It doesn’t benefit just the narrow segment of the population that you suggest.

        • pete says:

          And building bathrooms for the homeless that constantly break down and trap people. The only places I’ve ever seen an ADA ramp in the NYC subway was at 42nd 8th ave.

      • R. Graham says:

        If you don’t mind can you please elaborate on exactly what improvements will be sparsely used? The station pre-construction had very few if any areas at all that could be called sparsely used. Most riding vets attempted to avoid the station at all costs due to the complicated nature it which it did and still does exist.

        The new transfer walkway will be fully utilized as opposed to being forced to use a portion of a walkway combined with the A/C platform and then a portion of another walkway.

        The 4/5 platform is OVER utilized now. Opening up those walls into the transit center itself and allowing people to navigate under it will prove the ability to transfer two-fold. The additional entrance/exits at Maiden/Cortlandt and Broadway were a great help in filtering station traffic prior to the closure of others and will go a long way in balancing the crowd on the platform when all are open again. Transferring to the E and R didn’t exist and will get put to use greatly especially by those who just want to avoid the winter weather and walk underground.

        Not to mention that the streets above are narrow enough so reducing the above ground traffic is a win for everyone. Pedestrians, buses, cars and trucks.

        • Jason says:

          “The new transfer walkway will be fully utilized as opposed to being forced to use a portion of a walkway combined with the A/C platform and then a portion of another walkway.”

          This!

          “The 4/5 platform is OVER utilized now. Opening up those walls into the transit center itself and allowing people to navigate under it will prove the ability to transfer two-fold”

          Definitely this! Although I hope they were able to restore the original IRT detailing and incorporate it into the new layout.

        • Andrew says:

          The new walkway is entirely WEST of Broadway. If you need to get past the J/Z (which is EAST of Broadway), you will still need to use the A/C platform.

          Every single transfer that used to require walking on the A/C platform will still require walking on the A/C platform in the future. And I think that is one of the major sources of confusion: people follow the signs to whatever train they’re looking for, find themselves on a platform, and don’t realize that they’re not on the right platform yet.

          Additional exits are always nice, but they could have been installed without everything else. And a weather-protected passageway is also nice, but it’s not necessarily worth the price tag. (It’s not going to be a free transfer.)

      • Andrew says:

        Phil, have you seen the price tag associated with Access-a-Ride? Over $50 per passenger trip.

      • DavidDuck says:

        Phil, have you ever ridden the Washington Metro?

        By the way WMATA is accessible…but not that easily. Elevators were shoehorned in at the last minute to most of the downtown stations due to WMATA trying to avoid accessibility. So, for example, there are transfers that require 3 slooooowww elevator rides. And our elevators are out all the time. And there are almost no redundancies for wheelchair access.

        Yet one sees folks in wheelchairs all the time.

        I understand that in NYC it will be a looonngg time before there is wheelchair access for the other hundreds of stations not on the major hub list. But that day will come, and there will be plenty of folks in wheelchairs on the subway then.

    • Scott E says:

      Actually, making the complex more accessible is a small part of the whole project. That could have been added to the existing station, along with untangling the mess of underground passageways, without adding the glass-enclosed structure above-ground. That structure, which somehow converts regular transfers between subway lines into a so-called “Transportation Center“, is the wasteful part. The elevators and ramps are not.

      • R. Graham says:

        Yet having the air rights made the underground work that much easier. They could have made improvements on existing conditions, but it would have been much more complicated and taking just as much if not more time. Plus the same narrow transfer point at the north end of the 4/5 platform would have still existed. At least with the air rights they can filter more people through an open area. Without the air rights it still right back to the area where the stairs currently exist and then you’d have to figure out where you would fit an elevator into that extremely narrow and crowded area.

        That would have not helped the major safety problem of crowd bunching on the platform.

        • Andrew says:

          You’re focusing on one platform. There’s plenty of work going on in the rest of the complex without the benefits of air rights.

          The narrow transfer point isn’t actually narrow at all – it’s just very busy. That’s not to say that there won’t be improvements, but this is a pretty hefty price to pay for improvements to one specific transfer move at a massive station complex.

      • Nathanael says:

        Most of the costs are in the new passageways / elevators / escalators / entrances / etc., particularly in the painful restructuring of the A/C mezzanine (which involves moving load-bearing columns… ow). The necessary opening of new entrances before closing old entrances for rehab / elevator installation is slow and expensive. The underground connection between the 4/5 and the A/C needed to be made much wider, which is what the underground part of the “Transit Center” does, and the Dey Street Passageway distributes some of the 4/5 traffic in another direction.

        This stuff constitutes most of the cost — and already required buying up the lot where the Transit Center is going in, and digging down several stories in it. The addition of a building added a fairly small portion to the costs after all that was done.

        The glass “oculus” added a larger amount to the costs. So when budget problems hit, it was deleted. The Feds, late in the day, supplied money to add it back.

    • Here are the costs from the latest Fulton St. quarterly report: The Transit Center building by itself costs $325 million, the Corbin Building work cost $78 million, and the MTA spent another $221 million on real estate acquisition costs. If you want to add in the unnecessary Dey Street connector between the R and the rest of the station, that’s another $219 million, and that’s before any money spent on ADA compliance.

      So how about I just call it $765 million of waste and praise the MTA for spending nearly the same amount on rehabbing and making ADA-compliant a key Lower Manhattan station? Fair compromise?

      • R. Graham says:

        The MTA wanted to tear down the Corbin Building but they were going to be in the legal fight of a lifetime. It’s a landmark status building. It only made sense to acquire it, incorporate it into the overall design, fix it up, do the underpinning which they were going to be responsible for anyway in order to open up things down below and then make a profit off the real estate when they open it up again.

      • Nathanael says:

        Dey Street Connector is to relieve overcrowding on the 4/5 (as is a lot of the work, actually) by distributing people to more subway lines. Also involved in ADA compliance because the costs of the R/W elevators are included in that.

        The Corbin Building work was unavoidable once the lot next to it was cleared.

        The lot next to it had to be cleared to provide congestion relief on the 4/5 – A/C transfer and to provide locations for elevator shafts. The real estate acquisition was all absolutely necessary for the contstruction.

        Your number for the Transit Center building includes foundation costs, some of which would have been required even without a building.

        So how about you call it less than $300 million in “waste” — for the “oculus” — all of which came directly from the Feds and which the MTA actually had cancelled when it looked like the money wasn’t coming through.

        I think that would be fair. You getting a clue would be nice.

        • I think that would be fair. You getting a clue would be nice.

          There’s a far more civilized way to have a disagreement. I don’t see why you’ve been so nasty about it in this thread, and I’d appreciate it if you would tone down the vitriol. Thanks.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Take some lithium, really. He was quite clearly not attacking disabled people.

      I would venture to bet that the SAS would provide more benefit to disabled people anyway. An entire subway line in Manhattan will be entirely ADA compliant, to my knowledge the only one.

      • Nathanael says:

        Entire? Three stations with no access to lower Manhattan? 1.6 billion would never have completed phase 3 or 4.

        • Bolwerk says:

          It’s a much better place to focus resources, even if we have to put up with these insane, unnecessary costs.

    • Andrew says:

      Calm down. He didn’t say that he was opposed to the ADA improvements.

      And even if he did, he’s entitled to his opinion, and he’s entitled to express his opinion on his own site.

  7. Willers says:

    I have to assume that you grew up in the city and learned the NYC subway from childhood. Like many others, though, I moved to city as an adult. Because of this, I experienced the subway early on in much the way that tourists and visitors do. I can say without hesitation that the NYC subway, compared to other major subways of the world, is a mind-boggling tangle of inaccurate signage, counter-intuitive passageways and connections, and mazes of rules and exceptions that must be memorized rather than understood in order to get to a destination. I just don’t think you understand what a confusing situation it is for visitors and newcomers to navigate compared to other systems.

    One of the biggest confusions has been the Fulton Street area. Because I live in the vicinity, I am constantly stopped by visitors who are hopelessly lost in what has been an insane conglomeration of stations, entrances, exits, and mazes of twisty little passages. For years, I said–”this should be just one big station.” Now that it is going to be mostly that, there is grumbling from the author of this blog (unexpected) claiming that the money would be better spent on other things. I am the first to agree that information systems are needed, but so are projects that correct the piecemeal chaos of the original construction.

    • R. Graham says:

      I completely agree. Especially with the tourist aspect of your comments. What most don’t realize is downtown is going to turn into a tourist attraction starting this year. More people will filter through that complex station beginning this year once the September 11th Memorial opens up.

      It is the duty of the MTA to correct this mess as soon as humanly possible. For the regular riders, for the tourists, for the disabled and for the safety of all of the pedestrians as well as the traffic above. Downtown is not made to handle huge loads of crowds. Creating more direct ways of getting around underground without having to walk through a maze is vital to the future success of the entire area.

    • Bolwerk says:

      I never found it especially confusing. Once in a while I made a mistake and ended up in a wrong part of town. And at an average of 4 rides a day, often on different parts of the system, I really don’t see *that* much in inaccurate signage either (I do see plenty of inadequate signage).

      As for your second paragraph, I think if you ask five people what the new construction priorities should be, you’ll get five different answers. I think of Fulton Street as a worthy project, but it should have been kept on budget. I would certainly put (in no particular order) the 41st/10th station, finishing SAS, a circumferential outer borough line, or a subway to Staten Island up as higher priorities – but it’s clear the city fathers don’t think the outer boroughs need better transportation.

    • Andrew says:

      Actually, it’s not going to be “just one big station.” It’s going to be basically the same massive complex it’s always been, stretching as far east as William (because that’s where the 2 and 3 trains run), only now it’s going to have a building at the corner of Fulton and Broadway. If you enter through that building but need the 2 or 3 train, you’ll have just a long and confusing walk as always.

      • Nathanael says:

        Enter building, down to main mez level, diagonal walk, down to A/C platform, up to 2/3 Mez, down to 2/3. Yep, that’s the worst walk from the entrance building in the entire complex.

        But of course you will also be able to take the direct elevators to the 2/3 mez.

  8. Larry Littlefield says:

    So why does ADA accessiblity take as long and cost as much as it does?

    As long as people take the attitude that any spending is good as long as it’s spending on me, and don’t worry about what isn’t being spent on as a result, or infrastructure will degrade. And we’ll never have ADA access as planned.

    • Hank says:

      Larry, ADA compliance does not have to be as costly and drawn out as this. If the MTA supervised its capital budget in a more rational manner (and looked for better opportunities to get revenue out of this project, see above comments re: air rights), we wouldn’t have situations where needed infrastructure upgrades would not get side-tracked by projects that take twice as long or cost twice as much as originally pitched.

      • R. Graham says:

        I don’t see the real estate relevance when the west side rail yards is going to be strictly real estate in the air and that project is taking longer to get done (it hasn’t even gotten started) than Fulton Street.

    • Nathanael says:

      Retrofitting *while lines are operating* is expensive and slow. Everywhere.

      If you could shut down the 4/5 and A/C for a few months, the whole thing could be done much more cheaply and quickly. Wanna try it?

      • Nathanael says:

        This, incidentally, is why I’m really ticked that the MTA isn’t providing elevator access at the Brooklyn stations which they are actually CLOSING to renovate. If you’re doing that, the retrofitting is not nearly as problematic…. but they aren’t doing the retrofitting.

        • At which stations in Brooklyn is the MTA closing but not providing elevator access? All of the rehabbed stations along the Culver Line will have elevators and so two will the Smith/9th St. stop.

  9. Ramiro says:

    It is definitely unfair to call the stationhouse a 1.4 billion waste of money, since the 1.4 billion dollar figure is for the whole project. In fact, the contract to construct the stationhouse at this site is only $176 million.

    What would of that built at 41st and 10th? half a north bound platform? (at the cost of $500 million a station).

  10. Mike says:

    As a visitor to the city a few months back. I was very surprised to see the lack of elevators at the stations. We have 2 small children and found it very difficult to navigate to stations that had elevators. The system is complicated enough without worrying which stations have elevators.

    We thought the trains themselves were pretty clean but the stations could use general cleaning. It would be a nice addition to the stations.

    • Andrew says:

      Almost all of the system is over 70 years old; some is over 100. Retrofitting elevators into even most of those stations is expensive and time-consuming. I doubt there is any system in the world of similar age and extent that has elevators in every station.

      And the increasing ease of bringing strollers into the subway system has made things more difficult for the rest of us, who have to navigate past strollers on narrow, crowded trains and who from time to time are left behind on the platform because of a stroller that’s occupying space that could be occupied by several standees. Strollers are required to be folded on buses; I think that same rule should apply on the subway.

      • Nathanael says:

        London (with *the* oldest Underground railway system) is working on the same problem. They are very, very far from full accessibility. Bank station alone is going to run untold billions of dollars; they haven’t even figured out how to do all of it yet.

        Despite which they’re doing better than NYC. :-P With a weaker law (UK’s DDA is IMHO weaker than ADA) they are providing better service with a better attitude. They have a wheelchair access map which is accurate, detailed, and up-to-date, and their elevators are out of service less often.

        Oh, and the wheelchair-accessible buses in London run on time because they have bus lanes and the Congestion Charge, so the buses are actually a viable alternative.

  11. PBK says:

    I work across the street (on the Fulton street side). Click here for some more pics.

    Peter
    inklake

  12. Shabazz Stuart says:

    I would like to chime in here

    Ben, interesting post, however I have to disagree in some places.

    Downtown has been a tangle of subway lines for years, and a transportation hub will allow not only allow for a grand entry point for subway lines, but also for improvements later on (i.e. if the LIRR or NJ Transit ever expand to Lower Manhattan).

    This is a badly needed project. You’ve written in the past that aesthetics and convenience matter. This project will defiantly make a very great contribution to the Downtown infrastructure landscape. Many other cities have realized the importance of creating aesthetically pleasing and functional transportation centers for local services. This is no different.

    They new Coney Island Station cost $400 million to build. Given that scale, the cost of this station isn’t that out of scale.

    Now I agree with you that the Path Station at the WTC is redundant and unneeded. It’s essentially designed to do EXACTLY what the Fulton Street Hub does, and is located about 4 blocks from it. They will be joined together to essentially be the same station. This doesn’t make sense! Direct anger there, not at the Hub project

    • Alon Levy says:

      As far as I know, the station does not include any future space for an expansion of commuter rail to Lower Manhattan. Have you heard otherwise?

      • Bolwerk says:

        There was chatter about LIRR or AirTrain to the WTC, but obviously nothing serious.

      • Andy Battaglia says:

        There are provisions in the Calatrava Hub for the Atlantic Branch of the LIRR. Fulton Street is unrelated although both PATH and Fulton hubs will be connected.

      • R. Graham says:

        Grand Central didn’t include any space set aside for L.I.R.R. yet new tracks and tunnels are being built under Grand Central. If the Second Avenue Subway ever makes it down to Hanover Square a connection will be made along Fulton Street via a transfer tunnel to William Street. If L.I.R.R. ever made it down to John Street & Broadway then a connecting pedestrian tunnel from the platform to the center would be nothing more than a formality. Same goes for AirTrain.

        • Alon Levy says:

          I’d much rather that when the time came to extend the LIRR and NJT to Lower Manhattan, it would not require an $8 billion cavern.

          The alignment you mention could be workable, but I’m not completely sure. It might end up curving under building foundations…

          • R. Graham says:

            The cavern would be required regardless. The streets of Lower Manhattan are far too narrow for cut and cover methods or shallow tunneling. Also the buildings are far too old and any shallow digs would require expensive underpinning of existing structures just like the Corbin Building had to be underpinned prior to steal rising at Fulton Street.

            • Alon Levy says:

              The point of building a new transit center is that it can come equipped with a train box underneath, like San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal.

              • R. Graham says:

                I am not familiar with the terrain conditions in San Francisco but I can say that any L.I.R.R. extension into downtown would at minimum feature a need to be deep because of the nearby East River. And this is if you use the A/C station and tunnel as a guide. You can build it now, but it will cost a high price now and would’ve jeopardized the current project.

    • Nathanael says:

      I suspect that that PATH station is never going to get built. And it does seem rather pointless, doesn’t it? The existing (“second temporary”) station is spacious, wheelchair-accessible, and not at all confusing.

      It could do with slightly-less-ugly, but the Calatrava design is very, very expensive while providing *no* practical benefit over the existing station. In fact the WTC site planning problems have delayed the MTA’s practical and useful proposal to connect the E to the R/W….

  13. Spendmore Wastemore says:

    Great photo.

    I liked this thought:

    “…Politicians like to spend money on things that are living examples to their generosity. …”

    The things that make a city work are a combination of the least and most glamorous. Unexpected beautiful things here and there, and underlying hardware that works with watchful efficiency.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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