By many accounts — some more concrete and reliable than others — the seemingly never-ending construction of the Santiago Calatrava-designed World Trade Center PATH Hub is holding up a lot of other ancillary transportation-related work in and around Lower Manhattan. The retail, for instance, at the Fulton St. Transit Center has been slow to arrive as Westfield, the lessor for both spaces, is working through which companies will open where and when (and which space is more desirable). A few blocks away,the Cortlandt St. 1 train stop, shuttered since the Sept. 11 attacks, won’t open until 2018, in part because of the lengthy delays that have plagued the WTC site rebuild efforts.
Now, though, as 2015 wraps while construction on the PATH Hub hasn’t, an end is in sight. According to a report late last week from Politico New York, Calatrava’s porcupine-esque building will open in March, nearly seven years later than originally promised by then-Governor George Pataki. In a short article, Dana Rubinstein reports on the opening date, rehashes the problems that have plagued this project and notes that the mall elements won’t open yet because they’re already leaking. I guess $4 billion just doesn’t go that far these days.
I’ve been an outspoken critic of the Calatrava boondoggle for years. It’s a $4 billion shopping mall that happens to house a train station, and it’s design is ostentatious in every way. From gleaming white marble that needs to be constantly cleaned to a lack of adequate staircases from track level to the fact that $4 billion resulted in no increase in trans-Hudson rail capacity, the station has been designed to be a great building first, a mall second, and a transit improvement a distant third.
Now, I can’t deny that the building is a sight to behold. It’s certainly something unique in New York City, and we should be trying to design transportation hubs as great public spaces. Utilitarian functionalism resulted in the current Penn Station — which isn’t particularly functional. Hopefully, it can get people excited about taking the PATH.
But. Of course you knew there was a but coming. From a cost-benefit perspective and from a usage perspective, the dollars are simply out of control. The Port Authority claims that 200,000 daily commuters will use the PATH Hub once completed, but these numbers defy reality. In 2014, the most recent year for which we have data [pdf], average daily weekday PATH ridership at the World Trade Center was 46,726, and there’s no way a station that doesn’t increase train capacity is going to usher in a four-fold jump in ridership. That 200,000 figure is likely from people coming from other subway stations who will walk through the mall part of the WTC Hub.
So in the end, the Port Authority spent $4 billion and over a decade building a monument to serve as the headhouse to what essentially the 18th busiest subway station in New York City with slightly more riders per weekday than the Canal St. complex that serves the IRT and BMT on the East Side. If I’m a bit disillusioned by the dollars and less than impressed by the building, perhaps you’ll understand. With money to burn, the Port Authority squandered an opportunity to invest in capacity upgrades for the sake of appearances. The pols will gather to cut some ribbons in March, but we should learn these lessons now. Calatrava’s PATH Hub will be a monument unto itself and unto the folly of spending improperly.