First impressions from the Calatrava WTC PATH OculusBy
I have a series of posts on a few topics that I have in the works, including an important one on the smoke and mirrors behind Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s phony pledge to support the MTA’s capital budget, another on the potential for a looming New Jersey Transit strike, a third on the faulty logic behind the latest effort to revive the F express in Brooklyn, and a fourth on the MTA’s victory in a First Amendment case over transit advertising. But — and you knew there was a “but” coming — I’ve been busy with work and fighting a cold all week. Instead, I’ll leave this list up as a reminder to myself to tackle them soon and a tease for you to come back next week.
So tonight, let me offer a few thoughts on the new World Trade Center PATH Transportation Hub/Oculus/Calatravesty/whatever you want to call it. After the part of the building opened on Thursday at 3 p.m., I swung by on the way home from work today. As it stands now, it’s quite a structure. It’s blindingly white, even at night, with long hallways, high ceilings, and a profound sense of emptiness. The columnless structure of the Oculus with its ribs reaching for the stars feels endlessly vast and cathedral-like. All of the people were who were milling about, either to take photos or get to their PATH train, were doing so in a hushed tone usually reserved for religious buildings.
As it stands now, half-finished and half-opened, it’s also noticeably vacant. The main hall, which isn’t so much a waiting room as it is a vast and expensive passageway, is ringed with what will eventually be storefronts, but the commercial space isn’t ready. It is nearly impossible to judge the building and its form and function until the mall opens because it is a mall first and a transit center second. Since the Downtown Hudson tubes, well over 100 years old, weren’t shifted eastward, the Oculus isn’t above the platforms but rather serves as the main attraction on an underground walk that will eventually span from Brookfield Plaza to the Fulton St. Transit Center. It’s not quite a train station; it’s not quite a subway stop; and it’s not quite a mall. But it’s more the third than the first two.
One element of the building stuck out at me, and it’s something I’m sure Santiago Calatrava must hate as well. As the silence fills the Oculus, the only sounds are the constantly repeating and far-too-loud instructions emanating from speakers in the numerous escalators that ring the structure. Stand forward; walk lively; don’t run; hold the handrail; keep children in your sight: don’t use the escalators for oversized luggage; and on and on and on and on through the night. I don’t know if these stem from fear of a negligence lawsuit or ADA requirements, but they could not be more disruptive or annoying to ethos of the building. If they’re not mandated message, turn them off. We all managed to use escalators just fine yesterday; we’ll do great without hand-holding announcements tomorrow.
Finally, there is still the matter of this structure as a train station, and so far, the early concerns about narrow staircases leading to platforms that cannot handle peak-hour crowds remain a glaringly obvious problem with something that was supposed to be a selling point. How did the Port Authority fail to construct enough staircases that also wide enough to handle people flow? Why did the train station elements of the building come last?
Needless to say, my thoughts don’t touch upon the leaks that have plagued parts of the building still not open to the public, the constant need to clean and buff the slippery floors, or the cost. That’s the $4 billion white marble and steel elephant in the room. But even though the building hasn’t yet fully grown into itself, I’d urge you to check it out. It is certainly a sight to see. Plus, you can take some fun selfies.