Home Public Transit Policy Thoughts on spending on design vs. capacity

Thoughts on spending on design vs. capacity

by Benjamin Kabak

A $3.8 billion PATH station will not bring increased capacity to the rail system.

As the United States’ economy remains in a slump and the MTA has been forced to scramble for construction dollars, how the authority spends its billions has often come under the microscope. Along the East Side, Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway will deliver three stations for $4.5 billion. While those costs are high, at least SAS is increasing transit capacity. The same cannot be said for other projects.

Down in Lower Manhattan, various stakeholders — the federal government, the Port Authority — have contributed billions to two projects that are more ostentatious than functional. The Calatrava PATH terminal has been billed as part of the rebirth of Lower Manhattan after September 11, but for $3.8 billion, all we’re getting is a giant porcupine. The Fulton Street Transit Center will be a hub for the subway in name only as the $1.4 billion renovation includes a fancy above-ground entrance and some reconstructed walkways.

For over $5 billion, then, New York is getting a few buildings that may or may not be visually appealing, and no added transit capacity. I’ve long believed that to be a waste of precious resources, and I’m not alone. Over at Forbes, Stephen Smith of Market Urbanism fame writes about spending priorities. Starting his argument with a nod toward Japan’s train system, Smith notes that the country’s rail hubs are not architecturally attract. “Shinjuku doesn’t even seem nice by modernist Japanese standards,” he writes, “and the most extravagant post-war station I can find is Nagoya, which doubles as the skyscraper headquarters of the country’s biggest Shinkansen company.”

Moving along, Smith says that the spending patterns in New York are “indicative of our warped priorities” when it comes to transit spending. A greater proportion of dollars are funneled toward aesthetics rather than capacity. He writes:

Spending a lot of money on flashy stations is also not something that Spain, the world leader in cheap and efficient tunneling projects, recommends. In a report on railway expansion in Madrid, tunneling expert Manuel Melis Maynar writes: “Design should be focused on the needs of the users, rather than on architectural beauty or exotic materials, and never on the name of the architect.” And it makes sense – the point of transit is to transport. Money buys movement, and funds are finite. When a system is running well, people aren’t sticking around to stare at the ceiling, anyway.

As always though, America must be the exception. Spain would never spend $3.8 billion on a single starchitect-studded station, but its own Santiago Calatrava was happy to build one if New York was footing the bill. Calatrava’s original design called for an enormous bird-like World Trade Center PATH station whose walls would open up in a sort of flapping motion, but it was scaled back for security and cost reasons. The wings were clipped and evolution was set back a few hundred million years – the bird will now be a ”slender stegosaurus.” Even the originally projected $2.2 billion cost would have been more than Paris spent on its entire new 9 km-long Métro Line 14.

And then just one block away from the WTC boondoggle, we find the $1.4 billion Fulton Street “Transit Center” (a.k.a., subway station). Back in 2002 there was talk of selling off air rights above the station, the largest undeveloped parcel in Lower Manhattan, but that never happened…If American cities are ever going to grow beyond their currently stunted sizes, they’re going to need new transit infrastructure. But no amount of government subsidies will ever be enough to build more than a line here and there until we get our astronomical costs under control.

Expensive design isn’t the only driver of cost in the U.S., but particularly in Lower Manhattan, design gives transit spending a bad name. It’s tough to justify spending billions on two projects within a few blocks of each other that do next to nothing to increase ridership, but that’s what politicians want. It doesn’t make much sense.

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MaximusNYC October 3, 2011 - 2:36 pm

I see 2 redeeming elements of these projects. First, lots of construction jobs. That’s important in the current economy. Second, magnificent public infrastructure. I’m sure Grand Central could have been built more cheaply and less grandly, but I’m glad it wasn’t.

However: It would be great if these stations were a bit less fancy, and the money saved was instead being spent on that extra station on the 7 line, or another phase of the 2nd Ave. subway. Those would create construction jobs too… and more infrastructure that was functional, not just gratuitously beautiful.

That said, we know that the money that’s paying for the Calatrava station and the Fulton Street hub is not fungible — it was only available for those projects. Given that political reality, I’d rather see the money spent in NYC, to give us something nice, than spent elsewhere or not at all.

Bolwerk October 3, 2011 - 2:40 pm

You get construction jobs in building transit out. Then you get jobs after that too, both in maintaining the infrastructure and in stimulating private sector jobs.

Alon Levy October 3, 2011 - 2:43 pm

No, the money for Lower Manhattan would’ve perfectly fungible, as long as it could be spent within Lower Manhattan. Both the LIRR and NJT have stub-end terminals pointing toward Lower Manhattan – Flatbush and Hoboken – that could and should be extended. But instead, the MTA preferred to spend money on prettifying Fulton Street rather than on extending the LIRR there, and Port Authority preferred to give money to Calatrava rather than to spend it on extending NJT to Lower Manhattan.

Adirondacker12800 October 4, 2011 - 5:11 pm

You’d have to build deep stations in Hoboken and Atlantic Ave in addition to the one deep under Fulton Transit Center. Not cheap…

Marc Shepherd October 3, 2011 - 3:36 pm

I think it’s a mistake to put the PATH station and the Fulton Street project in the same category. The PATH station is purely decorative. It serves no transit benefit that did not exist before.

But the Fulton project adds new connections and entrances, makes the station’s numerous platforms ADA accessible, and significantly improves pedestrian flow. It also has a decorative element, but that is not all it does, or even the majority of what it does.

Benjamin Kabak October 3, 2011 - 3:40 pm

It is probably a mistake to lump the two together. If I remember correctly, design elements at Fulton St. are somewhere around 1/3 of the $1.4 billion cost. The rest of the upgrades, from ADA accessibility to pedestrian flow, are important, but even that $500 milion is still a lot to spend on a building.

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 10:40 pm

The $500 million for the “oculus” was deleted from the budget, then re-added using ARRA money. Just to set the record straight.

So the $500 million is federal money targeted specifically to employ people, rather than to create useful things…. and the oculus was “shovel-ready”, having gone through environmental impact statement and design, where a lot of useful things weren’t. So I see why the Feds went ahead and paid for it.

Bolwerk October 3, 2011 - 2:37 pm

Yes, this kind of waste is tragic. $3.8B could bring PATH somewhere new in New Jersey or Brooklyn (my vote would be towards one of the airports), bring AirTrain towards Manhattan, pay for another trans-Hudson rail tunnel, bring HBLR to Manhattan or Staten Island, or do a lot of other useful or even truly imaginative things.

Although, I think that station is far from pretty. It’s flashy ocular rape. Zone smart, build transit, and let the private sector worry about pretty structures on private lots, because at least then the ugly ones would be built with someone else’s money.

MaximusNYC October 3, 2011 - 2:38 pm

Off-topic (but I don’t know where else to ask this): Does anyone know what the structure is that’s currently being built above the tunnel entrance to the Culver Ramp? I’m a regular user of the Ditmas Ave. F station, and every time I take the train into Manhattan now, it passes under this structure as it goes underground. It appears to be the steel skeleton of a multi-story building, erected on a “bridge” over the tracks right at the mouth of the tunnel.

Alex C October 3, 2011 - 6:14 pm

CBTC signal room? The northbound express track is supposed to get CBTC installed between Church and 4 Ave at the viaduct rehab. Not sure if that’s still happening, but it was part of the original plan.

MFS October 4, 2011 - 12:44 pm

If this is around Ave C, it is substation work.

dungone October 3, 2011 - 2:56 pm

Lacking in this analysis is some nuance. Spaniards are neither as rich nor have the wealth gap of New Yorkers. There’s also a question of population density the policies that regulate land use on a regional level. Downtown NYC is losing business to border cities like Stamford and White Plains even though NYC better capacity and a better workforce. In a nutshell, capacity doesn’t always win in America.

This is an Apple vs PC debate. It’s a convenient idea, to assume that what the marketplace will really respond to is drab utilitarianism. But it’s also possible to build up demand and come out on top by promoting good design.

You can look at Metro Line 14 in Paris, which I rode, but I don’t think that subway is lacking in modern amenities or excellent design. It’s a world class line. And if you can look at the immaculately designed Art Nouveau subway entrances all over Paris, you really can’t argue that drab capacity is the only way to build a transit system for a livable city.

Benjamin Kabak October 3, 2011 - 3:02 pm

I don’t disagree with what you say, but there has to be some happy medium. We don’t have drab utilitarianism if the idea is neighborhood revival, but at the same time, does it make any sense to spend $3.8 billion on something that serves no capacity function at all?

dungone October 3, 2011 - 4:03 pm

I think for $3.8bn we get a lot of important symbolic and touristic value, but it’s also a misstatement to say that all $3.8bn went into that. A more relevant figure would be useful. I’m not sure if I would find that figure to be as exorbitant, especially since the station is to serve what is undoubtedly the most important historic monument in the world for our generation. Sometimes you just have to splurge on cultural assets for future generations and I think that some of the spending has to be seen in that light.

al October 3, 2011 - 10:20 pm

$3 billion of that $3.8 billion is underground. That raises the question as to what is making that underground structure cost 3 billion. For that amount you could have built 3 copies of the Bank of America Tower, which also had underground (large deep excavation), transit (abuts 5 subway lines), and historic/preservationist elements (preserve old Henry Miller’s Theater facade and build a new 1,000 seat Broadway theater).

Jeff October 4, 2011 - 9:13 am

Because its not just building a PATH station. Keep in mind that parts of the station is located under and inside the Memorial and other WTC towers, so there is a lot of out-of-sequence construction going on. There’s also the active subway line (the 1-line) going through the site, which is basically being converted from an underground route to an elevated one that runs on top of the PATH station. All of that work is part of the project. So that plus all of the logistics nightmare of having about 10 billion dollars of work-in-place going on one 16-acre site means that the costs would go up exponentially

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 10:43 pm

But most of the PATH track/platform/elevator station work was already built for the “second temporary” station… and the #1 line work is separate from the PATH station budget… and so is the N/R work…

…no, from what I can tell it really IS a $3.8 billion porcupine.

Lawrence Velázquez October 3, 2011 - 3:38 pm

Surely there is a middle ground between “drab utilitarianism” and a $4 billion porcupine.

dungone October 3, 2011 - 4:25 pm

I actually don’t think that $4bn is that much money. It’s about $13 for every American. It’s a more fitting response than the $100 per household per month that the Iraq war has been costing Americans ever since it started. I find it ridiculous that transit authorities have to fight for scraps while politicians lavish funds on wars over oil.

The budgetary constraints that transit faces is completely artificial. The process of building out transit should be to asses the long-term economic benefits and if they’re there, build a budget around the investment from the ground up. Instead, we use a top-down process to secure money that has already been allocated for political purposes, not for economic growth.

Bolwerk October 3, 2011 - 4:34 pm

But consider whose money it is. It’s more like $457 per New Yorker. And closer to $2500/Manhattanite.

And then consider the opportunity cost of $3.8B. By any measure, it’s a lot of money.

dungone October 3, 2011 - 4:59 pm

Like I said, I don’t agree with the method in which transit projects funded, but that doesn’t mean that the price is too high even for a single project. The same rationale goes for the opportunity cost. If funding was allocated to transit the way it should be, the priorities would shift towards capacity and service. As things stand, however, the projects that end up getting built are the ones that serve special interests and other political goals. That’s true no matter which city you’re talking about. I believe that politicians love it when the public debate focuses on the costs of a single project instead of demanding for more money all-around. It frames the debate around waste of limited resources when most of the people who are arguing with each other actually wish for more money to be raised all-around.

The two figures you gave, by the way, are misleading. They don’t represent the actual price paid by either of these two groups nor do they take into account the net benefits. NYC is an economic driver on the international scale and every infrastructure improvement benefits the entire world in some way. Even if Manhattanites alone had to foot the entire bill, most of them would probably recoup that investment over their lifetimes if they stayed on the island.

Bolwerk October 4, 2011 - 11:19 am

But it means exactly that: the price is too high. The project is broadly unnecessary, and the opportunity cost is building something useful. It’s fine to build pretty for the ages, but do it within the confines of a smart cost-benefit analysis.

Those figures are as misleading as your $13/American figure. However, they at least reflect who gets most of the benefit and who is paying most of the cost (New York is a tax donor). This “investment” simply doesn’t return much more than a do nothing option would. We’d have a working station, and IMHO likely a less ugly one, by doing nothing.

Alon Levy October 3, 2011 - 5:42 pm

If New York could build subways at the cost of M14, it would cost $3.25 billion to build SAS from 125th Street to Hanover Square. At Madrid costs, make it $650 million. If you deflate GDP to the cost of subway construction rather than to the general cost of living, Americans are thus several times poorer than the Europeans and Japanese, and are slightly poorer than the Chinese.

Form follows function. That’s how it is in Paris, whose stations are not Calatrava bonanzas. From below ground, Chatelet-Les Halles looks much more like Fulton Street does today than like the MTA wants Fulton Street to look. It’s true even for Apple products: Apple’s profits are dominated by the iPod, iPad, and iPhone, all of which provided new functionality, for example the iPhone’s versatile apps. You’d expect that if design were so important more people would be buying Macs, but Macs and software are about 15-20% of Apple’s profits right now.

dungone October 3, 2011 - 11:07 pm

Have you seen the height of the buildings in Paris? Madrid? They’re not overbuilt the way Manhattan is. I think geology might also make some difference for Paris since it sits on a lot of limestone.

As far as Apple, their i-devices never provided new functionality, just well-designed user interfaces and novel form factors. Their approach has always been to charge a premium for excellent design and now they have the largest market cap of any company in the world. I don’t mean to derail any further, though. I just want to point out that New York has to compete against car culture and cheap land for extremely wealthy people who could live anywhere they please. It’s not like the quality of the apartments are what makes this city such a draw, so, just food for thought.

Alon Levy October 3, 2011 - 11:26 pm

Yes, Paris is height-limited. So what? It’s as dense as Manhattan, is built over catacombs, and has a tight network of Metro lines that everything has to go under, forcing everything to be done deep-level. (SAS is also deep-level, but that’s by choice; it could be quite close to the surface.)

User interface is part of functionality; that’s what made the iPod successful. The iPhone doesn’t offer that over the BlackBerry – it just offers apps; you can’t play Angry Birds on a BlackBerry, and that too is a functionality issue. I’m all for spending money on user interface: legible, usable bus maps; combined cross-agency TVMs; simple, easily memorable schedules; simple fare systems. This is quite different from building monuments to Calatrava.

dungone October 4, 2011 - 10:27 am

Paris is not as dense as Manhattan AFAIK. The old metro is so shallow it hardly makes a difference for passing underneath it and either way, tunneling that deep was still going through limestone, not bedrock, which is possibly the easiest material to tunnel through (hence all the catacombs).

If you want the subway to come with better user manuals that’s fine. FWIW the Fulton Street project addresses almost all of your concerns by connecting 6 subway lines with 1 entrance, 1 fare, 1 help desk, plus lets you get to PATH. So it is indeed more of a usability upgrade than Benjamin’s preference for improved capacity and service. I don’t know why you feel that usability can be done on the cheap and without great design. I guess you really have an issue with the above-ground structure, which, IMO, as elaborate as it is does have a great deal of functionality as well.

Alon Levy October 4, 2011 - 2:05 pm

Check it on Wikipedia. Excluding two large parks at the edge of city limits, Paris has 25,000 people per km^2. Manhattan has 26,000, or about 27,500 if you exclude Central Park.

The depth of M14 is if I remember correctly about 30 meters, comparable to or deeper than SAS, but I can’t find the link any longer. And the catacombs posed significant construction challenges – there was a collapse at one point and the tunnels needed to be shored up. Bedrock is not that hard to tunnel through; when the rock is hard, it forms a natural arch around the tunnel, and I’ve heard this as a defense of deep tunneling from New York-area engineers.

On top of this, straight, wide roads are a very pleasant environment to tunnel under. In Tel Aviv, the subway designers cited straightness and width as a factor making a line under Ibn Gabirol easy to build, before rejecting it on the false assumption that the area isn’t dense enough (it’s the densest part of the city, but is built low-rise, like Paris). Add the fact that SAS Phase 1 intersects no subway line and that the only intersections south of 125th and north of 14th are with deep east-west lines the line could go over, and SAS should be one of the cheaper subways in the world, rather than the single most expensive.

Fulton lets you get to PATH, if you cross fare barriers. There’s no plan for fare integration – in fact, PATH’s smartcard technology is a proprietary Cubic product that’s incompatible with the open ISO standard that the MTA wants to use. There’s a slogan in Germany: organization before electronics before concrete. Make transfers easy before spending billions on iconic infrastructure.

Adirondacker12800 October 4, 2011 - 5:19 pm

On the other hand you can use your Metrocard on PATH.

Andrew October 4, 2011 - 11:32 pm

And credit card-based smartcards will be valid throughout the region, not just on NYCT.

PATH jumped the gun with its Smartlink card.

dungone October 4, 2011 - 7:17 pm

Looking at Wikipedia, it seems to say that Paris is close to 21k per km^2, or am I mistaken? Whereas Manhattan has a little over 27k per km^2. But if you count the 1.5 million commuters who come onto the island plus those who leave for the day, it’s a massive load. I’m not trying to discount the population density of Paris, but building height matters. Getting around one 100 story building is arguably more challenging than getting around ten 10 story buildings.

Alon Levy October 5, 2011 - 2:17 am

You should exclude the parks. 21k counts parks at the city’s margin as part of the city.

Second Avenue Subway doesn’t have to get around buildings. It goes under a straight, mostly flat 30-meter-wide avenue. And getting around buildings of any height is difficult, though I don’t know enough about comparative construction costs to definitively say whether building height is a correlate of construction costs outside the US.

al October 5, 2011 - 2:48 am

$300 million per station. That should get attention. How are they building these station? There are 1st world countries where you can build a mile of subway with that money. What are the techniques and technologies employed to getting this built. How good is the design, and the project management (cost, schedule, and scope control).

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 10:47 pm

Alon, if you can figure out how to get LIRR, Metro-North, NYC Transit, the Port Authority of NY and NJ, NJ Transit, Amtrak, the City of New York, and the State of New York to cooperate, my hat will be off to you. It may require a revolution.

LIRR seems to have the absolute worst attitude, but none of the others are terribly cooperative either.

Andrew October 4, 2011 - 11:39 pm

Not sure why you think one entrance is a good thing. Fortunately, the completed FSTC will have multiple entrances. The big fancy one will be just as inconvenient for reaching the 2/3 as the existing Broadway entrances are now.

dungone October 5, 2011 - 10:59 am

I think it’s good for newcomers. The problem with navigating through the urban canyon of Downtown is that all the streets look exactly the same, GPS doesn’t work well, and you might see a subway entrance from blocks away only to realize it’s the wrong line once you get there.

Having a strong visual cue for blocks around is one of the strong points of Grand Central Terminal, whereas Penn Station lacks this. Having been to both areas for the first time in my 30’s, I can tell you it makes a huge difference; enough that I was late to two job interviews around Penn Station and Downtown because I didn’t know the subway, but Grand Central was fine.

Andrew October 5, 2011 - 6:04 pm

Every subway line within the Fulton Street complex is already reachable from every entrance, although in many cases it’s easier to walk to a different entrance at street level.

A strong visual cue can be misleading, because the fancy building will not, in fact, be the best entrance for people looking for the 2/3 – if they enter there, they will have to go down to the A/C platform and climb back up, just as they do if they enter at Broadway now. They will be best off ignoring the fancy building and walking to William on the street.

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 10:48 pm

“Every subway line within the Fulton Street complex is already reachable from every entrance, ”

Not in a wheelchair.

The main function of the Fulton St. project is to change that. Every wheelchair-accessible entrance (I believe three are planned, but it might be four) will connect to every line.

Andrew October 16, 2011 - 12:03 pm

If that’s really the “main function,” you’d think it would get top billing on the project home page: http://www.mta.info/capconstr/fstc/

In fact, it’s not even mentioned in passing. Nor is it mentioned on the “Planned Improvements” page: http://www.mta.info/capconstr/fstc/improve.html

If the only goal were ADA, it could be done for a small fraction of what’s being spent.

Max S. (WilletsPoint-SheaStadium) October 3, 2011 - 3:11 pm

It sure would be fantastic if involved in the WTC Transit Hub and Fulton Street Transit Center were the LIRR extended from Atlantic Terminal to four new tracks underneath both the WTC and Fulton St. Stations. Imagine if the eastern exit of the platform exited at the Fulton St. Transit Center and the western exit of the platform exited at the WTC Transit Hub?

One can dream, right?

al October 3, 2011 - 10:40 pm

It would be similar to the aborted Arc Project deep terminal under 34th st. More likely would be to convert the Atlantic branch to Rosedale to NYCTA. They could run the J/Z over the Montague St tunnel to a new track and tunnel connection to the LIRR Atlantic branch in Downtown Bklyn.

Phil October 3, 2011 - 3:16 pm

That’s not even the current version, unfortunately. Damn security concerns now make it look like a porcupine.

Jim Kingdon October 3, 2011 - 3:36 pm

I agree that the ornament to function ratio got out of whack here, but for me the silver lining is one which hasn’t yet been mentioned: People build monuments to things they care about. That transit qualifies as such, at least sometimes, is a hopeful sign for me.

Andy Battaglia October 3, 2011 - 4:13 pm

Both of these projects were brought about because of the 9/11 attacks and our desire to build something extraordinary. The transit hub qualifies as extraordinary to me. Aside from both of these projects I wouldn’t really say that New York or America in general build extravagantly. We build expensively. Pretty much all of the metro systems abroad are more extravagant than ours with the exception of perhaps Berlin. I always thought we all complained that our transit systems were too mundane! Now because of just two projects approved due to a glut of federal money New York is seen as being wasteful on aesthetics? Please! Let’s also not pretend that the 3.8 billion price tag represents the actual cost of the Calatrava station house. That price includes building up everything below it and all the extra work that had to go into keeping PATH running while construction continued. In other words, it probably would have cost a billion dollars just to bring that space up to grade and put a bench on it. Everyone seems to forget this when discussing all of the projects at the World Trade Center. It is a tangled mess of projects down there that requires unprecedented engineering.

Eric F. October 3, 2011 - 5:34 pm

Right, the WTC PATH has already seen two “temporary” iterations. Each of those must have run into the 9 figures. PATH capacity is currently extremely constrained by its being limited to 8-car trains. Simply expanding to 10 car trains would get you a 25% capacity expansion, but would require extensive work in Harrison and in Jersey City. But combined, those two projects would be less than 10% of what is being spent at WTC now. And yet they are unfunded.

Ideally, the PATH would 4 track and have a separate line for Newark-WTC trains, allowing very fast service.

Adirondacker12800 October 4, 2011 - 5:22 pm

Or all the commuters who get off their commuter train in Newark or Hoboken to transfer to PATH could just stay on their train and get off at Fulton Transit Center. PATH ridership would collapse and there would be plenty of capacity.

John-2 October 3, 2011 - 3:57 pm

Because of its location and it’s direct connection to the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, the ostentatious nature of the PATH terminal is understandable, even if the terminal’s above ground frills themselves are is unnecessary. On the other side, the Fulton Transit hub is more functional, but at the same time due to its location a block east of Ground Zero, really didn’t need more than just a utilitarian makeover (possibly with more above-ground office space to negate the construction costs).

The MTA and the politicians controlling the purse strings took a building that would barely be seen from the Ground Zero site and tried to hitch a ride on the overblown design efforts of the immediate post-9/11 reconstruction period. It’s less of a waste of money than t he PATH terminal project, but it’s also wasted funds on a system that can less afford to waste $$$ on non-essential ruffles and flourishes than the Port Authority.

Peter October 3, 2011 - 4:43 pm

This is a more current rendering of the Calatrava station: http://www.panynj.gov/wtcprogr....._night.jpg

The wings have been clipped. How many more billions would the originals have cost? 😛

Peter October 3, 2011 - 4:53 pm

I had forgotten, or maybe I never knew, that the MTA had contemplated selling off air rights above the Fulton station (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11.....posed.html). It was surely wise not to delay the Fulton project for a development opportunity, but they should’ve build the transit center as a stub, allowing for the later construction of a taller building above. I’m sure a Fulton station bathed in natural sunlight will be pleasant, but the MTA could use those air rights dollars.

Andrew October 4, 2011 - 11:31 pm

Only one of the station’s six platforms will be bathed in natural sunlight!

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 10:51 pm

I suspect the commercial rental in the building will be fairly valuable anyway. They can always build taller later.

DavidK October 3, 2011 - 5:10 pm

Ha, had anyone had their heads screwed on right they would have connected the PATH into the 6 train. The trains are both IRT spec, would have been a real boon for any path riders working in East Midtown.

Too bad PA and MTA don’t want to play nice.

John-2 October 3, 2011 - 5:21 pm

Do a 3-D schematic of the tracks between City Hall and the current PATH terminal, and it would be a real thread-the-needle project. The line’s already lower than the No. 1 tunnel at Greenwich Street, so that’s not a problem, But then it would have to duck under and/or run beneath the A/C tunnel at Church and Fulton, the R/N tunnel at Chruch and Vescey and then get past the 2/3 tunnel crossing City Hall Park between Park Place and Beekman Street, while rising up to the level of the City Hall loop (roughly 2 1/2 levels underground) to connect in with the No. 6 train.

It’s possible, but it also wouldn’t be cheap. The original plan to run PATH across Ninth Street to hit the No. 6 line just north of Astor Place would probably be a cheaper option (though sandwiched between the Sixth and Eighth Ave. lines there, you’d couldn’t put in a flying junction at Ninth Street, as could have been done 95 years ago).

Al D October 4, 2011 - 10:08 am

I think that the PATH cars are wider than A Division.

Bolwerk October 4, 2011 - 11:23 am

My understanding is it could technically work but PATH rolling stock is actually a little lower and narrower.

Adirondacker12800 October 4, 2011 - 5:25 pm

And the itsy bitsy problem that the PATH lines and the 6 Line are at capacity and you can’t add anymore trains.

Bolwerk October 5, 2011 - 11:01 am

I don’t see much point to the PATH/6 marriage anyway, but it only seems borderline possible. If PATH should do anything, it’s go somewhere another line doesn’t already go.

Connecting the dots it not worth the trouble in and of itself.

AlexB October 3, 2011 - 5:17 pm

I have no problem with “showpiece” buildings that glorify the whole system and business district. I also understand that the scope of work for these centers is more complicated than one might think from a simple description. That being said, WE ONLY NEEDED ONE TRANSIT CENTER!! All the underground upgrades are valid and necessary, but at least half a billion on the above ground portion could have been saved and put into the 7 extension or the 2nd Ave line. I wholeheartedly agree with Alon that the Atlantic and Hoboken branches should have been combined/extended to this are. It really would have unified the system in an unprecedented and incredibly efficient way, potentially leading towards a new wave of building in the downtown area.

Larry Littlefield October 3, 2011 - 6:59 pm

I believe the big cost of both projects is the underground pedestrian walkway, from Fulton Street to the WTC and from the WTC to Battery Park City.

That said, it’s a disappointment that such construction costs so much.

Alex C October 3, 2011 - 7:05 pm

It looks nice and all, but I would’ve preferred the 2 Ave stubway to 125 and the 7 to Chelsea Piers and with a 10 Ave stop.

BBnet3000 October 3, 2011 - 7:36 pm

No mention of Moynihan? The more I think about it, the more I think I like Penn Station where it is, even if it is a hole in the ground.

There’s subway lines at both ends of the station, and the Herald Square subway is only a block away. At Moynihan, the way I understand it, the Seventh Ave line will be a block away, and Herald Square will be 2 blocks away. Its yet another block further from the Lexington Ave line as well, though I guess that will at least be somewhat mitigated by the LIRR going to Grand Central.

How is that an improvement? Madison Square Garden is about to get rehabbed, but it wont necessarily last forever. They could still stick a fancy train station in there some day, and pay Rem Koolhaas a few million to CAD a contorted glass shape to put on top of it.

Alon Levy October 3, 2011 - 10:40 pm

It builds iconic infrastructure for photo-ops, steers money to the construction industry, counts as transit spending for the purposes of greenwashing, names a monument after a major politician, and separates Amtrak from NJT at Penn Station. It’s a win for everyone except the taxpayers, and they don’t count.

Andrew October 4, 2011 - 11:23 pm

It’s not a win for the riders either.

Alon Levy October 5, 2011 - 2:18 am

Riders count even less. Taxpayers generate revenue. Riders generate trash and complain to the media incessantly when things don’t work (especially when things don’t work because those same riders voted for politicians who cut funding for necessary cleanups… but I digress).

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 10:54 pm

It would be lovely if MSG were demolished and a train station built there. Moynihan is rather predicated on the assumption that that won’t happen.

Ask any intercity Amtrak traveller if Amtrak needs a more decorative New York station and a more spacious waiting room — the answer is HELL YES. The best option was, as always, to make a tunnel connecting Grand Central to Penn Station and use Grand Central, but that kept being rejected for fear of upsetting owners of the most expensive real estate in the US. Sigh…

Scott E October 3, 2011 - 10:42 pm

I can understand that, in the name of pride and an image of neighborhood rebuilding, that there was a desire to put one iconic transit facility (along the likes of Grand Central) in downtown Manhattan. What I can’t understand is why there is a need for two of them across the street from one another. It is an everlasting symbol of disconnected and uncoordinated agencies trying to serve a common purpose.

But since the PATH hub is at the top of this article, let’s be honest. If we hadn’t read article after article that this is supposed to look like a soaring eagle, would anyone have a clue what this is supposed to represent? Or would it just look like a giant, misplaced glass porcupine? Sometimes, artists are so abstract that people just don’t get it.

Miles Bader October 3, 2011 - 11:59 pm

It looks like a skeleton to me (especially the current “clipped” version).

Maybe not the best symbolism…

Personally I’d prefer something that combined “pretty” with a bit more functionality (e.g., retail, park, meeting-space, etc). As it is, it’s basically a giant sculpture that takes up huge amounts of space but leaves little room for anything more; it doesn’t even seem a good hangout space. Pure architectural sculptures like this are great photo-ops for tourists, but are all too likely to become dead spaces, transit-center or no.

Kai B October 3, 2011 - 11:20 pm

We shouldn’t forget that this city has experienced many decades of the exact opposite in regards to form vs. function. Some examples that come to mind:

MSG – Even overlooking the fact that Penn Station was torn down for it, that is one ugly looking building.
Archer Avenue Line – Those are some ugly looking stations for being built just over two decades ago

The last couple of years haven’t been to kind to us either:

Fulton Street Transit Hub – Almost lost the above ground station on that one completely if it weren’t for a shovel-ready bailout from the federal government
Barclay Center – Went from Frank Gehry to toilet bowl, to somewhat better toilet bowl

When you walk through magnificent buildings in this city today (almost all were built 50+ years ago), it kind of makes you wonder what future generations are going to wonder about the city’s architecture of generations of circa 1960 to today. Almost everything is comprised of ugly and (only sometimes) functional boxes.

Frank B. October 4, 2011 - 12:43 am

Agreed. Modern architecture is a sin.

What legacy will we leave behind to our children when the brick-faced, classically corniced rowhouses have been ripped down, and bloody Fedders buildings with no yard and parking have replaced them?

Modern Architecture is the biggest scam perpetuated on the human race. Buildings once spoke with character, with bas reliefs, florets, columns, quotes for the ages, and true style. But modern architecture was cheaper. The hideous buildings that are going up around this city, (especially in downtown Brooklyn, and in Long Island City) should be banned by city ordinance.

It’s an atrocity. Modern architecture is a crime against mankind.

AlexB October 4, 2011 - 7:07 pm

That is one of the most ignorant statements I have ever read. You obviously have no idea what modern architecture is and how building are built. To think all older traditional buildings were well designed is as absurd as saying all new modern buildings are poorly designed. And to say that those “Fedders” buildings are modern architecture is like saying Maury Povich is a professor of postmodern philosophy.

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 10:56 pm

In architecture and art, “modern” is a technical term, referring to a period which actually ended in the 1950s. You are referring to recent architecture.

Frank B. October 4, 2011 - 12:37 am

When I begin to think of all the tunnels that $3.8 Billion could’ve dug, I want to puke.

Andy Battaglia October 4, 2011 - 9:09 am

Given the cost of phase one of the SAS,$3.8 billion of tunneling wouldn’t have gotten us much.

Benjamin Kabak October 4, 2011 - 9:13 am

Considering the preexisting infrastructure and tunnels north of 96th St., I am confident that $3.8 billion would have gotten Phase 2 most of the way, if not the entire way, there.

Alex C October 4, 2011 - 3:56 pm

And maybe a 10th Ave station on the 7…

ferryboi October 5, 2011 - 3:38 pm

How about a ferry to Staten Island?

Charles Komanoff October 4, 2011 - 9:20 am

Ben — For such an important subject, the analysis seems shallow. What exactly is being delivered, in terms of capacity, functionality, accessibility, etc., for the $3.8B and the $1.4B? Where have these funds come from, and could they have been available for other uses (i.e., opportunity costs)? You hint at the answers in your lede, but details — and links — would help.

You might want to fix the subject-verb disagreement in the second half of your first sentence, while you’re at it. Thanks.

Benjamin Kabak October 4, 2011 - 9:23 am

Charles: Fair points. I’ll see what I can put together. It’s been particularly difficult to get a cost breakdown for the Calatrava hub, but I have the numbers for Fulton Street at home.

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 10:58 pm

The Port Authority is remarkably non-transparent. The MTA is significantly better.

I would love to know what the hell the money is going into at the WTC site. Seriously, it’s been ten years, perhaps we should just declare the “bathtub” a giant open space and leave it at that.

KSK October 6, 2011 - 3:08 pm

The iconic design of these facilities *may* create value for the surrounding real estate. Certainly the experience of Grand Central makes for a more desirable office location, which translates into higher rent. If so, the surrounding real estate should be contributing to the cost of these facilities since they will benefit.

jj October 9, 2011 - 1:12 pm

another disastrous spending boondoggle pushes the USA into the Greekization road to collapse

Nathanael October 15, 2011 - 10:59 pm

No. First of all, the US collapse is very different from Greece’s, and second, neither is caused by “spending”.

Both are caused by financial fraud. Different sorts.

Aesthetics and Usability | Pedestrian Observations December 7, 2011 - 9:55 pm

[…] Transit Center at $1.4 billion) has small transportation benefits. This has led Stephen Smith and Ben Kabak to posit an opposition between spending on aesthetic design and spending on good transit, leading a […]

Calatrava’s $3.4 billion hub slowing down WTC progress :: Second Ave. Sagas January 18, 2012 - 1:13 pm

[…] in early October, when opined on the way we spend transportation dollars in New York City, I railed against the $3.4 billion price tag attached to the Calatrava-designed […]


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