Home Fulton Street Daily News: On the Transit Center to nowhere

Daily News: On the Transit Center to nowhere

by Benjamin Kabak

Following yesterday’s revelation that the Dey St. Passageway won’t open for a few years, the Daily News took the space to remind its riders of the folly of the Fulton St. Transit Center. In an editorial calling the project a — wait for it — boondoggle, the paper questions the project on an overall basis.

Two transportation projects are eating up more money than you could ever imagine without adding one bit of new service or expanding the subways by a single foot of track. First, the Port Authority will spend at least $3.74 billion on a grandiose World Trade Center PATH station, double the size of Grand Central, complete with a strikingly elaborate above ground entranceway. Originally budgeted at $1.5 billion, the terminus, now running 9 years late, will replace a half-billion-dollar “temporary” station that has been quite well accommodating PATH’s comparatively small number of riders.

Not to be outdone, the MTA set out to untangle the joinder of the Broadway-Nassau station, serving the IND’s A and C with the Fulton St. stations of the BMT’s J and Z and the IRT’s West Side 2 and 3 and East Side 4 and 5. Never mind that riders have negotiated the convolutions for 64 years; the MTA budgeted $400 million to simplify transfers — a cost now risen to $1.4 billion and includes an oculus roof that will allow light to penetrate as at the Roman Pantheon. The plan is seven years behind schedule.

The projected tab for the PATH station and the Fulton Center totals $5.1 billion — money that could have been spent, for example, on extending the Second Ave. subway farther downtown…Now, the agency has built a walkway that does not allow free transfers and will largely be vacant until the office buildings rising at Ground Zero are filled with tenants. And then it would simply be a place to walk between Broadway and Church St. in bad weather. For $200 million.

This is a drum I’ve been beating for years. Even though the money is all federal, this project’s aims were tied more to the revitalization of Lower Manhattan than it was about improving train service. The PATH Hub as well suffers from similar problems with only a small percentage of the expenses going toward increasing train service.

We can ultimately discuss the merits of building Great Public Works to improve train service. There’s a cogent case to be made for spending on architecture and design in order to make travel more appealing, more comfortable and more convenient. But in an era where $5.1 billion isn’t easy to come by and pressing transit capacity concerns are far more important than making a subway station look good from the outside, these projects are federal boondoggles. Better planning would have incorporated design improvements with transit capacity upgrades.

The News says Joe Lhota has asked his staffers to reconsider restoring the free transfer via the Dey St. Passageway. That would be a real start even if few customers need it. Just the illusion of paying attention to transit demands would be a good first step here.

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JC Frank October 2, 2012 - 4:51 pm

God forbid commuters have something nice to walk through every day when a cold, dark concrete hole with a limited access is good enough. Why would we need more then a Hudson News to serve us on our way to work or home? Yes, service is important, but so is having some pride in our public works.

Benjamin Kabak October 2, 2012 - 4:52 pm

I don’t disagree. It just should not cost $1.4 billion to build something that looks good (or over $3 billion, as the case is with PATH). That’s absurd.

Jerrold October 2, 2012 - 6:12 pm

BEN, when you said that Lhota asked his staffers to reconsider the free transfer, did you possibly mean that he asked them to reconsider the decision to NOT open ithe passageway now?

Benjamin Kabak October 2, 2012 - 6:13 pm

As far as I can tell, Lhota has asked his team to determine if this will be a free in-system transfer that will open sooner than the timeframe reported by the Daily News yesterday. I don’t know much else right now about it.

Jerrold October 2, 2012 - 6:13 pm


BEN, when you said that Lhota asked his staffers to reconsider the free transfer, did you possibly mean that he asked them to reconsider the decision to NOT open the passageway now?

stan October 2, 2012 - 5:01 pm

money is a limited resource. transit infrastructure should be pleasant to use, however the obscene waste of funds on the over-designed fulton complex should at minimum embarrass everyone involved. they spent money on NOTHING. my commute is not easier or more convenient because of this and, as stated, there is not a single foot of new track to show for $5 billion.


Bolwerk October 2, 2012 - 5:26 pm

Looking nice doesn’t cost that much. Ugly monstrosities like that helmet-shaped turd that was dropped on Brooklyn last week are overpriced too.

However, there is looking nice and then being vastly overbuilt. PATH calls for a comfortable platform space and the quickest exit to the street possible. Same with Fulton, with accommodation for transfers. Penn and the bus terminal perhaps need more amenities, though they don’t need to go crazy either. (We have things backwards in New York: our small caps central station is the modernist cesspit, and our large caps Grand Central Station has loads of amenities and aesthetic qualities not needed for bringing suburban commuters in.)

OK, maybe this is small, but Fulton Street Transit Center likely does the opposite of “revitalize” downtown. It drove out a lot of fairly nice small existing buildings that had apartments and businesses in them, and replaced them with space that doesn’t have the same economic potential. That might be acceptable if it vastly improved access, but it only kinda did, and could have without all the destructiveness.

Nathanael October 3, 2012 - 9:22 pm

Well, when they finish it, Fulton St. is basically designed to provide more passenger flow for the 4/5, plus better transfers to the A/C

…and ADA access for four (4) of the stations on the 100 “key station” list which NYC Transit MUST make ADA accessible by a certain deadline. The MTA is completely grudging about ADA access and has a bad attitude, but they don’t have any way to avoid the key station requirement, as they already got something like a 20-year extension beyond everyone else.

They did, however, count each line’s platforms separately for the purposes of counting to 100 (so Grand Central is three stations, etc.), which means that they get to the end of the list faster by doing interchange locations.

The headhouse? An unnecessary extra, but it was gonna be hard to build the transfers without undercutting the buildings where the headhouse will now be located, so I guess someone said “Let’s build a headhouse!”

As for PATH, I totally agree. The proposal is bloated beyond belief and doesn’t even really seem to be fit for purpose!

Scott E October 2, 2012 - 5:33 pm

I continue to maintain that I can accept one “grand” station in the area (my choice: Fulton St, as it improves passenger circulation, adds elevators, and serves more routes thereby making it a true hub). One station can serve as a hallmark of the area. Putting two separate monumental rail facilities a block apart just seems weird.

In a way, it reminds me of the sports “complex” in South Philadelphia. You’ve got three modern venues, the Wells Fargo Center (76ers, Flyers), Citizens Bank Park (Phillies) and Lincoln Financial Field (Eagles), in a two square-block area. By themselves, each one is impressive in its own right. But together, they seem completely disjointed, with nothing visually or functionally unifying these common-purpose buildings. Architecture, signage, pedestrian flow, etc. is all different.

The downtown transit facilities will be just the same: awkward.

kvnbklyn October 2, 2012 - 5:44 pm

Somehow this always gets overlooked when discussing the cost of the WTC “PATH Station”: What is referred to as the PATH station is in fact a large underground mall that happens to have a station attached to it. The PATH station itself did not cost anywhere near $3 billion. The expensive portion is the mall itself, which isn’t that outrageous considering it will generate significant revenue for the Port Authority (and Westfield). The beauty of the architecture will greatly affect the mix of stores and the rent per square foot they’re willing to pay (compare GCT rents to those of NYP).

Alon Levy October 2, 2012 - 10:42 pm

Grand Central vs. Penn Station is not just architecture; it’s also ceiling height, proximity to the actual CBD (the Empire State Building is on 34th, but nearly all other skyscrapers are in the 40s and 50s), and interior passenger circulation space. Usability is more important than aesthetics for this. The most profitable malls per unit of area aren’t necessarily the prettiest. Pacific Centre looks like one more downtown building.

There is no excuse for the stegosaurus.

Nathanael October 3, 2012 - 9:23 pm

Ceiling height matters.

The stegosaurus is inexcusable, however.

Eric F October 3, 2012 - 9:24 am

I spent some time in that mall before 9/11. My understanding is that it was generally the case that each chain store located there saw the WTC location as it’s highest grossing location worldwide. Stores would open crazy early, like clothing stores opening at 7 a.m. Basically, WTC was the only retail location for lower Manhattan office workers, and the amount of business any semi-competently run outlet could take in was staggering.

AG October 4, 2012 - 12:49 am

you are absolutely correct… what passes for journalism is seriously lacking nowadays. it seems reporters just have something in their mind and then distort facts to prove them. I just saw that twice in the NY Times this week…. and believe it or not I commented on the stories with the facts (Ferry Point and Flushing Meadows relating to revenue vs. maintenance) and they refused to post the comments.

kvnbklyn October 2, 2012 - 6:00 pm

The Fulton Transit Center would be much more palatable if a taller building had been built over it. As it stands, the MTA will receive revenue from the mall they’re building over the transit infrastructure, but it’s not terribly big (and the spaces are awkwardly sized), so I don’t think its development potential is maximized. The MTA wanted a free-standing glamour project funded by the feds, largely because the PANYNJ was already getting one.

The transit improvements below grade are very much necessary, however, particularly enlarging the transfer between the A/C and the 4/5 platforms.

Nathanael October 3, 2012 - 9:25 pm

I do wonder whether the superstructure is suitable for building an even larger building on top of the new Fulton Street building, sometime in the future, without disrupting the new underground flow.

Anon October 2, 2012 - 7:47 pm Reply
Charley October 2, 2012 - 7:52 pm

When the PATH station project first got underway, I recall reading that they were leaving space for a future connection for the Lower Manhattan/Jamaica/JFK transportation project if it ever gets funding. (And if they’re really smart, they would connect this new link with PATH to create a seamless system that would enable one seat travel from Jersey thru Lower Manhattan to Jamaica/LI via LIRR Flatbush Branch.

Question: Anyone know if this is still (or was ever) the case? Is this project dead in the water? If they did in fact leave room, at least some kind of effort was made for a significant future system capacity upgrade.

Henry October 2, 2012 - 8:30 pm

Even if the project does get started up again (which I highly doubt), one major stumbling block is the fact that AirTrain JFK’s technology is vendor-locked to Bombardier Transportation. No other company has developed compatible vehicles, let alone designed one that can operate on both LIRR and the AirTrain. They’re also at different levels of Jamaica Station, and I believe the AirTrain actually turns away from Manhattan on its approach to Jamaica Station.

There’s also various other nitty-gritty issues (train lengths, fares, FRA regulations, etc.) that would come into play, and would probably be a headache to deal with.

Boerumhillscott October 3, 2012 - 9:45 am

The JFK to downtown project is completely dead, and there is no real provision in the WTC PATH or Fulton Transit Center for it.

If anything like that did get built, it will be a deep cavern, like ESA.

Someone October 2, 2012 - 7:58 pm

This does remind me of the 63rd Street line in Upper Manhattan. For 12 years, that tunnel went nowhere and it cost more that $750 million to connect the 21 St Queensbridge station to the rest of the Queens Boulevard line. The passageway is just like that- hundreds of millions of dollars for something that is under-appreciated.

Larry Littlefield October 2, 2012 - 8:12 pm

“The News says Joe Lhota has asked his staffers to reconsider restoring the free transfer via the Dey St. Passageway. ”

They miss the point.

The idea was for the passageway to be outside fare control, so it could be used by non-subway riders for a quick off street route across downtown. As walking from Battery Park City to east of Broadway for a meeting, or east of Broadway to the WTC for shopping a lunch time.

There are people downtown who don’t arrive by subway. And parts of the day when people might use the passageway just to walk, so they don’t have to wait at lights. You’d have an off street walkway from the Hudson all the way to Fulton Transit Center, and pedestrianized streets from there east and south.

John-2 October 2, 2012 - 9:48 pm

I suppose that — depending on which side of the passageway at either end connects to the N/R and 4/5 platforms — they could consider bisecting the new walkway with a barrier and have one side of the thing in fare control and the other outside of it.

It wouldn’t work, of course, if the subway connections were, say, on the north side of Dey at Broadway and on the south side at Church, but if access is on the north side on both or the south side on both, the half-in/half-out option, with two 10-foot wide walkways instead of a single 20-foot wide corridor, would be feasible (though hopefully, with a better looking fence between them than the one at the Manhattan-bound 36th Street station on the M/R).

Matthias October 8, 2012 - 12:00 pm

That is exactly what should be done, although I doubt there is room after it was narrowed for “cost savings”. A glass wall could be used to that people would not feel fenced in.

John-2 October 2, 2012 - 10:03 pm

Part of the problem with the federal funds as allocated was they were limited to use downtown. It would have been nice if the PA and MTA could have redirected a few of those billions into actual infrastructure other than the new (and quickly deteriorating) South Ferry station. But it’s hard, especially on the PATH side, to figure where the money would have gone, since PATH is pretty much locked into their one station downtown, and any Second Avenue extension as the Daily News mentions would likely have been limited to infrastructure south of Houston or Delancey streets, in order to meet the terms of the funding as allocated by Congress.

They still could have used the money to build lower Water Street to Houston or Grand Street, but then you’d get into a similar situation as you have right now north of 96th Street, with a tunnel sitting there empty for 40 years and likely for at least another 20 more, waiting for the additional $$$ to finally connect it to something. Rockefeller, Lindsay and Ronan never would have built upper Second Avenue if they thought some pols and MTA boss a half century later would get the credit for opening it, and the same dynamics were in play here; what would be logical and foresighted — building the infrastructure while you’ve got the money, even if it sits unused until the middle of the 21st Century — isn’t something most elected officials will do, especially with something as high-profile as the 9/11 reconstruction funds.

Larry Littlefield October 3, 2012 - 9:51 am

Pataki wanted to use all the money the Feds were going to provide to NYC after 9/11 for projects on Long Island and Upstate. Members of Congress from the rest of the country were shocked, and balked.

John-2 October 3, 2012 - 10:54 am

That was a ridiculous effort to pander with taxpayer $$$ to your core voting group areas (so egregious the Republican governor got slapped down by bipartisan outrage in Congress). But the reaction was to tighten down the parameters so much it gave him and the other pols and governmental authority officials involved the excuse to lavish the federal cash on overpriced things like the new PATH terminal and the Fulton Transit Center, which is shaping up to be the world’s most expensive food court, given the lack of anything but limited-use retail space projected for the interior.

Bolwerk October 3, 2012 - 11:03 am

The SAS should have a segment downtown. Shelly might even have liked the idea if they started there. 😐

Jeff October 4, 2012 - 12:43 pm

It wouldn’t be nearly as useful if it started there. And it would be a REAL boondoggle because the costs would be comparatively higher before they could adequately use that segment.

LLQBTT October 5, 2012 - 8:20 am

Shelly is too busy defending the sleaze bag Lopez.

Boerumhillscott October 3, 2012 - 11:02 am

The transit center projects may be overbuilt, but have having a free connection from the WFC to the WTC to the corner of Fulton and Broadway, with retail along the way is good for workers, tourists, and residents.

Boerumhillscott October 3, 2012 - 11:17 am

I really need to update the code on this site, but I am too lazy.

Benjamin Kabak October 3, 2012 - 11:19 am


Boerumhillscott October 3, 2012 - 11:23 am

Oops, this is what I get for posting on two sites at the same time.
Sorry, feel free to delete.

LLQBTT October 5, 2012 - 8:19 am

Perhaps the differentiator here is the these are public works projects, not true transit projects, and that is why they got any fed funds in the first place.

Someone October 6, 2012 - 1:18 am

Hm, looks like the transit center is running out of money- again, and now there’s going to be another MTA fare increase…

Ron Aryel October 14, 2012 - 5:04 pm

The Daily News needs to invent scandals every day to sell newspapers. It’s true that paying over $3 billion for a PATH hub is outrageous. Instead of that, the “lower Manhattan” restricted money could have been used for an elegant, serviceable PATH station rebuild, and an extension of PATH further east to a new terminal in Lower Manhattan (what would be wrong with taking PATH to the south Street seaport?). However the Fulton Center is not a “boondoggle.” It represents a vital utility, access to which was denied to the disabled, to families with small children in strollers and many others who had difficulty with narrow staircases, a maze with poor signage and sometimes poor lighting. While MTA overpaid for the real estate and construction costs went higher than they should have, the result of this project will be new transit hub accessible to everyone and revitalized retail space that will help the MTA and the local economy. A lot of critics see numbers but not the people who use the stations.

KAR October 14, 2012 - 8:50 pm

Well it’s not just the Daily News who “invents scandals every day to sell newspapers”… I’ve been noticing it in the NY Times recently… sad. More businesses and residents continue to move to lower Manhattan (the residential population is more double what it was on 9/11)… So aside from the general infrastructure improvements – that’s why the retail components are so large in both developments (WTC and Fulton)… Sorry reporting.

Andrew October 16, 2012 - 11:08 pm

Extending PATH across all of the Lower Manhattan subway lines would be astronomically expensive.

Providing ADA access to the Fulton Street complex doesn’t require a large building – in fact, the old ramps (since removed) might have made ADA a bit easier to provide (I don’t know if they met ADA standards, though).

If signage and lighting were a problem, then signage and lighting could have been fixed.

And the result will still be a maze, no matter what, since the complex is split down the middle by the BMT.

Before they were torn down for this project, Fulton Street and Broadway were lined with retail establishments.


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