A few weeks ago, word leaked that March would see the debut of New York City’s newest new subway headhouse. This one is unique as it cost $3.9 billion, features a future mall and will leave a massive mark on the Lower Manhattan streetscape and internal skyline. I am, of course, referring to the Port Authority’s Santiago Calatrava-designed World Trade Center PATH so-called “transportation hub,” a brilliant bit of branding I’ll discuss shortly.
When I wrote about the opening last month, I trod familiar ground bemoaning the lost opportunity to do something better with the $4 billion. The PATH Hub looks spectacular, cost far too much and did nothing to improve mobility. There’s no connection to, say, Brooklyn or JFK Airport, an old post-9/11 idea for Lower Manhattan, and the money didn’t go to expansion of trans-Hudson rail capacity. It’s a mall on top of a subway station designed by a starchitect.
Anyway, let’s take a look at their press release touting the opening in the first week in March. The highlighting is mine:
The Port Authority announced today that the World Trade Center Transportation Hub Oculus – the iconic centerpiece of the sprawling transit facility – will open in the first week of March. The opening will provide a greatly enhanced commute for the 100,000 weekday PATH riders who travel through the station, with quicker, climate-controlled access to the Wall Street area and other destinations to the north and south of the site…
The Oculus – with its soaring wings designed by Santiago Calatrava – will enable travelers to have a seamless connection with 11 New York City subway lines and the East River ferries in addition to access to PATH trains. When the Oculus opens, PATH commuters will take new underground passageways to One World Trade Center, 4 World Trade Center, the corner of Liberty and Church streets a few blocks from Wall Street and to Vesey Street on the northern edge of the site. The new facility contains state-of-the-art escalators and elevators for convenient vertical circulation between the trains and street level…
“More than a decade ago, planners envisioned a rebuilt transportation complex on the World Trade Center site that would provide critical links between various modes of transit for the first time. By later this year, this vision will become reality,” said Port Authority Chairman John Degnan. “When the Oculus opens, commuters, visitors and residents of Lower Manhattan will have a greatly enhanced commute to and from the site for the first time.”
“The Port Authority has a rich tradition in pushing the envelope and being the premier master builder in the region. The rebirth of the World Trade Center and the construction of the Transportation Hub touched not only Lower Manhattan, but the rest of the country and the world as well. We can all stand in awe with what has been accomplished here,” said Port Authority Vice Chairman Scott Rechler.
“The Hub will be a vibrant transit center and tourist destination with an extensive transportation network in the revitalized Lower Manhattan,” said Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye. “This year, tenants, commuters and visitors will enjoy easy access to the World Trade Center Transportation Hub’s first-class shopping, dining, and amenities, and also provide them with a first-class, convenient transit trip to and from the site.”
Where to begin? Where to begin? First, the Port Authority claims 100,000 weekday PATH riders travel the station, but PATH’s own ridership numbers betray this claim. In October of 2015, the region’s busiest transit month in sixty years, the Port Authority’s own ridership numbers [pdf] show only 52,595 riders on an average weekday. Ridership isn’t going to double when the “hub” opens, and in fact, it can’t because the PA spent $4 billion on a station headhouse than on capacity increases!
Meanwhile, just look at these turns of phrases. The hub is going to offer underground walkways which connect to Fulton St. and nearby subway lines. There are no free transfers, but this is a “seamless connection.” The $3.9 billion also bought “state-of-the-art escalators and elevators.” Fancy! Degnan, Rechler and Foye also issued some gems. The PA is now the “premier master builder,” and the subway station will be a “vibrant transit center and tourist destination,” the latter which may have been the point all along.
So what is the WTC PATH Transportation Hub then? To call it a hub is misleading as it is simply a station headhouse for the 18th busiest subway station in New York City. It’s not an intermodal connection by any means, and it certainly isn’t a terminal point for a commuter rail line or long-haul rail road. The building looks impressive; the branding is on point; but it’s all smoke and mirrors. We spent $4 billion and got a mall down the block from $1.5 billion mall. Hopefully, someone in Albany is listening, and we won’t repeat the same mistake with a $3 billion mall at Penn Station. After all, for $8 billion, we could’ve covered those ARC cost overruns years ago.