For all the talk about Penn Station and all the grief it gets, just a few blocks north sits a far worse transit hub. I had the distinct pleasure of arriving at the Port Authority Bus Terminal from Boston very early on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, and it was not a sight to see. From the inside, the building seems to be falling apart, and from the outside, it isn’t much better. As city planners eye a Penn Station overhaul, midtown’s bus terminal may soon see a brighter future.
With capacity the main concern — the PABT is at capacity during rush hour — the Port Authority announced on Thursday that it has commissioned a comprehensive study to assess how to accomodate future growth in bus commuting. The options could include things as mundane as terminal improvements and state-of-good-repair programs to possible terminal replacement. Ultimately, Port Authority wants to limit the number of buses idling on the streets of Manhattan and needs a better facility to serve as an entry point into the city.
“The development of a Master Plan underscores the Port Authority’s commitment to make the Bus Terminal a world-class facility and bus transit the most reliable mode of access to midtown Manhattan,” said Port Authority Chairman David Samson. “While the Port Authority has already begun the work of revitalizing the Bus Terminal, including the recent acquisition of top-shelf tenants like Starbucks and Cake Boss Café and the installation of WIFI in the South Wing concourse, this comprehensive approach is the best way to ensure the Bus Terminal keeps pace with future passenger growth over the next fifty years.”
Setting aside the hilarity of considering Starbucks and Cake Boss Cafe to be top-shelf tenants, the Port Authority should assess if its infrastructure can keep up with bus commuting over the next fifty months, let alone fifty years. With 65 million people passing through the Port Authority Bus Terminal each year, the structure, this monstrosity that breaks up the city grid, is nearing the end. What the future holds though is anyone’s guess.
In announce the new Midtown Bus Master Plan, Port Authority identified a series of goals in addition to expanding, repairing or even replacing the terminal building. The study, to be conducted by Kohn Pedersen Fox and Parsons Brinckerhoff, will look to integrate the bus terminal into the development to the west. Right now, Port Authority is very focused on sending its customers east, but with the growth in Hell’s Kitchen and Hudson Yards, the west demands attention. “Modernizing the bus terminal will keep it apace with other public investments in the area and enable it to accommodate increases in customers and commerce,” the PA said.
Unlike with Penn Station, doing something with the Port Authority Bus Terminal doesn’t involve upsetting entrenched interests and city institutions. Even a recent effort to improve the facade of the building has done little to lessen its hulking ugliness. As one traveler said to The Times when told of plans to remake the terminal, “They could start with the floors and the ceilings. The walls, I guess, are not very homey either.”