Home PANYNJ At PABT, a $90 million bandaid for a gaping wound

At PABT, a $90 million bandaid for a gaping wound

by Benjamin Kabak

No one in his or her right mind would ever mistake the Port Authority Bus Terminal as a pleasant place to spend any amount of time. It’s dirty and dingy with little in the way of amenities and much in the way of dripping and collapsing ceilings, permanent residents and an overall feeling that it’s best days aren’t just decades in the past but may never have happened at all. The building is an eyesore amidst Midtown Manhattan and somehow manages to shepherd 225,000 per day through its doors. Imagine if it were actually something approaching state of the art.

At some point, the Port Authority will have to figure out how to tear down and rebuild Port Authority without disrupting travel plans. They should get around to advocating for permanent bi-directional bus lanes through the Lincoln Tunnel as well. For now, though, the PA is going to slap $90 million worth of improvements on the Bus Terminal and call it a day — or a Quality of Commute program. The problem is that $90 million in New York City just doesn’t go that far.

In a release on Wednesday, the PA heads announced the new expenditure. “The Port Authority Board of Commissioners today authorized $90 million to a “Quality of Commute’ improvement program for the Port Authority Bus Terminal,” Executed Director Pat Foye and Deputy Executive Director Deborah Gramiccioni said. “The functionally obsolete facility no longer meets the transportation needs of the hundreds of thousands of riders that pass through the terminal every day, and the Port Authority is committed to identifying comprehensive improvements within the context of its existing Capital Plan. This initiative will make interim improvements to the terminal as the agency explores a program to deliver a redeveloped facility.”

The exact details of the investments will be unveiled at a Port Authority board meeting in September, but PA officials let slip some details surrounding the plans. According to Foye, the bus terminal will see an improved heating and air conditioning system, better cellphone and wireless service and a more aggressive outreach program for the homeless New Yorkers who, for better or worse, call the bus terminal home. The bathrooms too may see some upgrades.

Ultimately and unfortunately, it’s insulting to pigs to say this is putting lipstick on a pig. The Port Authority Bus Terminal, simply speaking, is an embarrassment and likely an impediment to more transit service in New York City. People eschew buses because trying to travel through the terminal is a singularly unpleasant experience. But something is better than nothing.

At some point, the Port Authority will have to make some tough decisions with regards to its bus terminal. The agency estimates that it could take 10-15 years and at least $1 billion to replace the thing (though a future replacement could include lucrative air rights and development upward). For now, we get air conditioning and some better cell service. I guess that’s forward progress, but it sure ain’t reinventing something that sorely needs to be reinvented.

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Chet July 24, 2014 - 11:36 pm

Although I haven’t been in the terminal in years, I’ve never heard a good thing about it. Yet, the idea of completely replacing it does present an excellent opportunity for the PA to take a page from Hong Kong’s MTR- don’t just sell the air rights, but build and own the building that’s put on top of it. Whether offices, hotel, condos, or combination of the three such a building, along with commercial retail space in the bus terminal itself would go a long way in funding the entire project, and providing a constant stream of revenue beyond tolls, fares, etc.

Brandon July 25, 2014 - 7:29 am

The PA sort of did this with Hudson Terminal (now the WTC PATH) when they built the World Trade Center.

Don’t know much about the construction of the original WTC but the rebuild has been a financial disaster and a real drag on the authority. It would be a great value-capture mechanism if they were competent and/or not subject to the mess of political influence of 2 states.

John-2 July 25, 2014 - 8:40 am

The original was something of a fiasco in terms of occupancy for the first 15 years of its existence — State offices had to be moved into the WTC from other locations across the city because of the shortage of private companies renting space. It took the Wall Street boom of the 1980s and the long-delayed construction of Battery Park City and the World Financial Center to finally make the WTC area an attractive destination fro companies (and even then, there were questions over why the Port Authority should be competing against private building owners in the real estate market, which led to the eventual deal to sell the buildings to Larry Silverstein).

AG July 29, 2014 - 7:11 am

You are correct… Real estate COULD be a boon for the Port Authority – bu with all the political folly in the area – it can’t be compared to Hong Kong. There is a reason Hong Kong and Singapore both were ranked just last week as the most transparent places to do business.

Alex July 24, 2014 - 11:58 pm

A billion dollars to rebuild the facility? No no, that would be far too cost-effective and practical for the Port Authority. They need to spend 4x that much on a bus terminal that serves far fewer people. It should also be a GRAND (but also shoddily-built) monument to a famous architect of the day. THAT’S the Port Authority’s style.

jfruh July 25, 2014 - 12:01 am

For what it’s worth, there was this brief period a few years ago when BoltBus came into Port Authority, and I found waiting for the bus there a much more pleasant experience than waiting for the bus outside teh Sbarro across the street from Madison Square Garden.

Phantom July 25, 2014 - 6:33 am

Its better than it was in the sixties or seventies, I will give it that.

One reason it will never be great is that lowlifes do find their way there, as they find their way to any American bus terminal.

Love the old ad BTW.

Nathanael July 26, 2014 - 7:09 pm

Pigeons live inside the terminal. Turns out this is never good for the ambience of a building.

Spencer K July 25, 2014 - 6:53 am

There have been a bunch of folks on twitter that have been engaging the Port Auth, NJ Transit, NJ press and lawmakers to address continued issues there. Minor upgrades like better cell or WiFi service, bathrooms and general facade and structure improvements would go a LONG way toward the morale of those of us waiting a ridiculously long time. The trick will be for them to use the money as efficiently as possible, but also for this not to placate those who have made the most noise, because this is only a salve to an awful wound that needs to be permanently fixed.

Permanent bus lanes would be another gigantic improvement. Though frankly, and having said all of the above, the thing could be ugly as sin, with little fancy amenities and I wouldn’t care. So long as I’m either there short enough to not have to notice, or if I am there long, be able to USE my phone, not be stifled by 90+F heat or frozen by lack of heat, and have a place where I can take a leak without holding my breath or afraid of contracting disease.

Everything else is for the tourists or out of region travelers which can’t account for more than 5% of the daily riders.

Eric F July 25, 2014 - 10:32 am

I don’t care much about amenities, but think about the trip: you are traveling through urbanized Hudson County, under the Hudson and into a massive terminal among fields of skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan. The terminal should provide a sense of the awe-inspiring scale of the trip that took place.

lawhawk July 25, 2014 - 9:19 am

I’ve had the misfortune to commute through the PABT on occasion, particularly after Sandy disrupted rail service. To say that the facility is overburdened and horrendous is an understatement and a disservice to those words.

Commuters better know what line they’re on because you can’t ever truly tell where one line starts and another ends. They wind in and through each other where the platforms for the NJ Transit buses are located (the 200 level gates). Escalators don’t work. Everything is too narrow by half. Buses can’t ever seem to get in or out on time.

Dedicated permanent bus lanes would be a start, and you’d think that with the PANY operating both the PABT and Lincoln tunnel, they would coordinate those activities even better than they are. Make the middle tube exclusively a bus only operation.

But that only addresses one aspect of what’s wrong with the PABT. There’s no place for buses to go once they’re in the PABT. They can either circulate to the street or back to NJ. There’s no provision for a depot, which was the PANY’s interim solution – build an auxillary garage nearby for a couple hundred buses so they wouldn’t clog streets and reduce congestion in the tunnel.

That’s still the angle that will form the basis of a new PABT. Use the annex once it is built as overflow, while each wing of the PABT is gutted and rebuilt to handle the crowds.

Selling air rights was explored and dropped in the financial crisis a few years back, but the market seems to be right to have another go of it. That might free up sufficient funds to get the PABT rebuilt.

Having some of the construction costs for the WTC finally come to an end in the next 3 years will definitely help, but the PANY has a huge backlog of tasks that need to be done to keep its infrastructure in a state of good repair. They need to make the PABT a priority considering that it handles 200k customers daily.

Eric F July 25, 2014 - 10:21 am

“Make the middle tube exclusively a bus only operation.”

No capacity has been added to this crossing since 1957. It makes more sense to me to add an entirely new tube to modern standards to accommodate 2-way bus operations and to bypass the helix and Hudson County generally. Then, the existing XBL can handle Hudson County operations quite comfortably.

Alex July 25, 2014 - 11:45 am

If you’re going to add another tunnel under the river, it needs to be a rail tunnel to Penn Station. There’s no reason to spend billions on an elaborate bus tunnel when a rail tunnel would have much greater capacity. Plus, there are already 3 tubes for the Lincoln Tunnel so taking one over for buses is a far more sensible and economical way to go. The region, let alone the PA, can’t afford to spend billions just to avoid taking away a lane or two from motorists.

Michael K July 25, 2014 - 12:59 pm

While the middle tube can run exclusive two way bus operations during rush hour, the Port study in 2006 concluded that the lanes would be severely underutilized, based upon the assumption that ARC will divert 40% of bus riders onto the rail system.

I recently alerted the NJ State Legislature about this flawed study and intend to bring up this issue at the next Port board of directors meeting.

As far as rail tunnels are concerned – a huge amount of ridership is centered around the waterfront (HBLR, Edgewater and Fort Lee), the defunct northern branch and the currently CSX owned four track West Shore Line. Unless a new tunnel expands rail service to those three areas, a rail tunnel will do little to alleviate bus congestion.

Perhaps a tunnel at 125th to connect the Eastern Bergen defunct rail lines to the Second Ave Subway will finally link us all.

Bolwerk July 26, 2014 - 9:23 am

I’d be very skeptical of any of that. The bus riders are bus riders because they are diffused along routes that aren’t near rail and where rail would be politically difficult to build.

And, well, there is a rail-ready accommodation at the GWB to link the A or C to Fort Lee. I don’t see anyone clamoring to use it.

Nathanael July 26, 2014 - 7:12 pm

I guess that was Michael K’s point. The busy bus routes into PABT are from points which have no rail service and which won’t have rail service for decades at minumum.

So permanent dedicated bus lanes would pay off very quickly.

Michael K July 26, 2014 - 10:04 pm

To be clear, the bus riders are primarily along those three corridors – waterfront, Northern Branch and West Shore.

All have rail, but no NY connection on the waterfront and no passenger rail for the others.

The towns along the freight lines have been clamoring for rail service for years.

lop July 25, 2014 - 11:58 am

If you have a bus lane in each direction in the tunnel do you still need a bus garage in Manhattan? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to put one in Jersey and use the Manhattan real estate for something else?

Alex July 25, 2014 - 12:04 pm

You absolutely still need one in Manhattan. There has to be a place for people to get on and off of the buses. But it might make sense to build something in NJ for them to park during the day. That becomes feasible with an exclusive outbound lane and would take a lot of idling buses off of Manhattan Streets.

lawhawk July 25, 2014 - 1:12 pm

NJ Transit already shuttles buses to and from NJ bus depots for the rush hour. It’s horribly inefficient because they’re providing revenue service in one direction only. It also backs traffic up on 495 when there are issues, which means that if there’s an inbound issue, it backs up the buses trying to get to the PABT, even if there are no outbound delays at the tunnel.

That’s why getting an auxillary depot for overflow in Manhattan is critical to a smoothly function PABT.

Michael K July 27, 2014 - 10:41 pm

A two way xbl is a much cheaper option.

Eric F July 25, 2014 - 9:31 am

“The exact details of the investments will be unveiled at a Port Authority board meeting in September, but PA officials let slip some details surrounding the plans.”

Actually, there was quite a bit of detail provided on the uses of $90 million. You can watch the committee meeting video and it’s specified in very granular detail.

That presentation noted that NJT buses bring in as many people as NJ Transit trains and the PATH system, combined.

I was very surprised to see them considering a new terminal. The current one is too small. Any new terminal –to be an improvement — must be larger, but still tie into the Lincoln Tunnel and subways. Stacking the terminal vertically could add space, but sacrifice convenience. In short, I’m really wondering where they could possibly build a new terminal. We certainly need one in this area, but I have no idea where they’d do it.

Ideally, you’d have a new terminal, and a new tunnel tube extending out past the choked Rte. 495, all the way to Secaucus for connections to 3/17/Turnpike. With a very reliable route, you could really amp up interstate bus utility and I could envision a modern waiting and gate area with attractive access to various interstate bus services.

It would also be nice to see consolidated bus terminals on the east side and in lower Manhattan.

eo July 25, 2014 - 12:21 pm

You are right, there is no space where they could build a new terminal so that they can demolish the old one. The region continues to suffer from lack of proper transportation planning and balkanization due to a million agencies and political subdivisions doing their own thing.

The proper thing to do is to build the two new rail tubes under the Hudson plus a new terminal (Penn South or Macy’s Basement, who really cares), then you have got enough capacity in terms of rail to drop everyone in Secaucus and completely close the PABT for 10 years, so that it can be rebuild and then you route back the buses (probably not all of them and eliminate the street pick-up/drop-off).

Reason why I say build the rail first is that I can see a deep rail terminal being built much more easily that building a deep bus terminal (one cannot build a high in the sky bus terminal first because the thing has to go somewhere on some block and there just are not any to go around).

The reality is that nothing much will happen until some piece of existing infrastructure fails completely — the politics of having a state border along the Hudson is such that you cannot get both states and all other political subdivisions to cooperate — NJ voters do not vote for the candidate whose district covers the PABT and opposite NY voters cannot care less what makes sense for a politician in NJ to do.

JJJJ July 25, 2014 - 9:32 am

The problem is that any major construction will be at a station thats essentially full. How do you do that without disruption?

They should start by adding a second bus location in midtown Manhattan. Maybe something by grad central, accessed via bus lanes. Of course, Hudson Yards was a huge missed opportunity to take a transit asset and – gasp – use it for transit. Where else are you going to find space like that for hundreds of buses?

Larry Littlefield July 25, 2014 - 12:31 pm

They should start by adding a second bus location in midtown Manhattan…Where else are you going to find space like that for hundreds of buses?”

Anyplace near a subway station is going to be too expensive for a bus terminal. However, perhaps a small facility could be added near the new #7 line extension. Everyone arriving there would have to take the subway rather than walk, but they would be able to get to East Midtown.

NYC already has a second bus terminal, but it is little used. The problem is that it takes longer to take the A train from 42nd and 8th to the George Washington Bridge bus terminal than the intercity buses save in time by not having to drive that same distance.

SEAN July 25, 2014 - 9:48 am

Some on this site had the idea that the PABT be moved ajacent to Secaucus Junction station. I wonder if that idea was ever explored. Not saying the idea is good or bad, but it is interesting despite the aditional transfer that would be created & the overloads on trains between Penn Station & Secaucus.

Eric F July 25, 2014 - 10:24 am

That’s not a very good suggestion. First, you;d immediately create the largest passenger rail terminal in the U.S., requiring capacity for about a quarter million train passengers per day. There is no way capacity exists or will ever exist to handle that load. You’d also add transfers to commutes, slowing them further.

Secaucus is a nice alternative bus drop off point for interstate buses, because it can take over an hour to get through that last couple miles into Manhattan from NJ due to inadequate roadway capacity at the entry points.

g July 25, 2014 - 10:37 am

This was only proposed in conjunction with a theoretical 7 train extension to Secaucus. A major bus terminal was included in the EDC feasibility study. Even then a total closure of the PABT wasn’t suggested and probably wouldn’t be possible unless another NYCT line (maybe the L) were also extended. It would however provide some breathing room and capacity to redevelop the PABT into a modern terminal.

lop July 25, 2014 - 12:08 pm

Hub bound said Lincoln tunnel carried 32653 people on 922 buses 8-9am. Busiest single track of rail is 53rd I think at 27493 in that time.

The point of 7 or L to Secuacus or gateway or ARC or NJTransit to lower manhattan or grand central is to increase transhudson capacity. If you want to take out the busiest crossing (buses in the lincoln tunnel) you’d have to do two or three projects instead of one.

g July 26, 2014 - 1:02 pm

I was providing a clarification of things previously discussed. Nobody has suggested closing the PABT or the XBL and rerouting all that traffic through Secaucus. Rerouting and expanding some of the services currently running into the PABT to such a facility at Secaucus would have the effect of increasing capacity while allowing service to be drawn down temporarily at the PABT for reconstruction.

Eric F July 25, 2014 - 12:22 pm

Think about that in reverse. You live in Manhattan, you want to take a bus to Great Adventure. You get yourself to Secaucus on the 7 and there switch to a bus. Sound convenient?

BoerumBum July 25, 2014 - 2:49 pm

I’m not sure how many people live in Hell’s Kitchen, but I’m sure the majority of New Yorkers are already taking a subway to a bus when they’re going to NJ. Who cares if the Hudson crossing is continuing on a train, or on a bus? The trains are less likely to slow to a crawl every time it rains, though.

AG July 29, 2014 - 7:48 am

well it certainly does matter how you cross the river… traffic being one of the major issues.

BoerumHillScott July 25, 2014 - 11:07 am

It seems to have all the amenities that one would want in a bus terminal, including food and book/magazine shops.

The two biggest short term problem seem to be issues created by the homeless population and a lack of good repair in the mechanical systems. It seems like the current plan address both of those.

Long term, expansion is needed, and the only real places are up or down, both of which would probably require the existing structure to be demolished.

Douglas John Bowen July 25, 2014 - 11:30 am

Relocation required. Candidate: Secaucus, N.J.

The marginal gains to be made pale relative to the expense required (and that includes the nearby Lincoln Tunnel’s overtaxed infrastructure).

The No. 7 extension to New Jersey keeps looking better, New York borough taxpayers’s objections notwithstanding. (And, yes, certainly New Jerseyans should help pay for any of this, much as some of us who work in Gotham do already.)

Eric F July 25, 2014 - 11:33 am

You want to add a quarter million riders to the 7 train?

Michael K July 25, 2014 - 1:10 pm

I would venture to say that the 7 will be empty in this direction for the most part, currently.

sonicboy678 July 25, 2014 - 2:22 pm

That’s an immediate setup for failure. There’s no capacity available and there probably won’t be even with CBTC.

Bolwerk July 26, 2014 - 9:46 am

Huh? That’s probably about what one of the Lex tracks carries daily.

lop July 26, 2014 - 12:51 pm

Hub Bound has 32653 bus passengers through the lincoln tunnel 8-9am. Across the 60th street cordon 45 carries 25795, 6 carries 24331, busiest track listed is from Queens EM carries 27493.

Bolwerk July 26, 2014 - 3:22 pm

Crossings are quite unlikely to represent peak subway utilization. Don’t forget, the densest county in the USA is Manhattan, and you’re describing how packed trains are before they get to Manhattan (or perhaps after they leave it).

And the bus service pattern is in no way analogous. Those buses serve areas diffused all over northern NJ. They aren’t making successive stops along a single route.

lop July 26, 2014 - 3:48 pm

Bus demand is peakier than subway demand, so focusing on daily numbers doesn’t work, lex tracks local and express each carry way more people than the lincoln tunnel buses, but peak hour it might be the other way. When I took the E it was most crowded under the river, I don’t know that you could find any point where one lex track carries 32k people in an hour today. Which is what the 7 would have to do if you wanted to close PABT, which would just be a stupid idea. Better signaling would get you there, but then you just spent ten billion dollars sending the 7 to Secaucus and building a new bus terminal, so you can close PABT leading to a longer commute or extra transfer for anyone from Hudson county or heading to the west side, and that massive project can’t move more than a few thousand new commuters.

Bolwerk July 26, 2014 - 5:20 pm

Oh, come on. R188s have a rated car capacity of 176-188 passengers. Taking the low number and multiplying by 11 means a capacity of 1,936/7 Train. Moving 32,000 people/hour therefore requires 17 TPH, and even with stone age MTA signaling significantly more than that is possible.

Anyway, I’m not for closing down PABT, but I am for minimizing it. It’s a an eyesore on the outside, a shithole on the inside, and receives too many people to be efficiently moved by bus.

Meanwhile, 7 to Secaucus makes sense whether PABT is closed or not.

lop July 26, 2014 - 6:30 pm

What service is crowding at <2.5 square feet per passenger? 30 tph would give a more tolerable, but still cramped, 4 square feet for 32k passengers.

Four 176 cars, seven 188 per 11 car train btw.

Bolwerk July 26, 2014 - 7:09 pm

I’m probably lowballing a little, but the Wikipedos list car length at 51.33’x8.6′. So figure there is an average combined 380ft^2 of sitting and standing room per car (I think I’m over-compensating for for cabs). That brings loads per car down to 152 so each passenger can average 2.5ft^2.

Multiply by 11: 1,672 passengers/train

30,000 passengers/hour ÷ 1672 passengers/train = 17.94 TPH. So, round up and you need 18 TPH.

In practice, you probably want more than that anyway to prevent crowding issues on platforms, especially considering the loads we’re talking about would probably be concentrated at a few stations. But it’s still very doable.

Hub Bound says the Lex Express peaks at 23TPH, so there is probably some point in Manhattan where the Lex Express has throughput well over 30k people/hr. (Those are 10-car trains, I think.)

lop July 26, 2014 - 9:24 pm


Leaving Grand central, at an average of 18% over guideline capacity the line carried as many riders as lincoln tunnel serves, the rest of the line looks to carry less than that, not sure how much growth there has been since this document was put together.

The 176/188 probably isn’t guideline capacity, rather crushload capacity, guideline on the 7 would probably be about 1200 per train.

Bolwerk July 26, 2014 - 10:48 pm

Crush load or not, it’s probably the manufacturer’s rated capacity. More is probably considered dangerous. I don’t know how seriously to take the TA guidelines. They don’t seem to make a serious attempt to follow them themselves, and their operating procedures practically contradict them.

But that link you posted is pretty dated, in any case.

Michael K July 26, 2014 - 10:09 pm

7 to Secaucus will not replace the PABT. Instead it will allow NJT to add additional service to areas it cannot do now due to no available capacity to Midtown. In addition, the Hoboken rail division will have a boom in ridership because the three seat trip would be reduced to two for many riders.

AG July 29, 2014 - 7:50 am

I agree – it would be an addition… No way it would be a replacement. The region as a whole needs added capacity – not replacement.

Bolwerk August 2, 2014 - 5:29 pm

A four-seat ride is conceivable. Your commuter train to Hoboken to another commuter train (or PATH) to a 2-subway or subway-bus combination to your final destination.

Not to mention many of these transfers are long at best. It’s really no wonder the bus terminal is busier than should be expected. At least the commuter buses cut that first part in one complete trip.

Larry Greenfield July 25, 2014 - 12:03 pm

Compared to the PATH station at WTC, which serves far fewer commuters, the $1B sound like a bargain. It also makes the PATH station expenditure seem even more outrageous than ever.

JJ July 25, 2014 - 2:11 pm

Another solution, which is EXTREMELY cheap, is a transitway.

Make a street, something like 31st which has easy access to the tunnel bus only.

3 lanes.

Eastbound and Westbound curbside stopping lane. Operate it like a bus station, with dedicated gates. Buses could stop at two gates, one on each side of Manhattan. Super convenient for commuters. Going to Princeton? Your bus will be at gate 21, which is between 6th and 7th or between 3rd and lex.

Center lane is reversible, going east in the morning, going west in the evening, where buses can get to their gates along the curb.

Other end of Manhattan, buses get on the Queens midtown tunnel and get off in Long Island City, where huge expanses of empty land await buses that need to chill for the day.

Total cost: paint and sign for phase 1, and making the traffic signals 2 way.

Nathanael July 26, 2014 - 7:47 pm

I don’t think there’s any crosstown street which you can convert that way, without complaints from the people in the buildings immediately adjacent who use them for local access and deliveries. The buildings on the crosstown streets complained about trying to put bus lanes on 42nd, which is extra-wide.

OK, here’s a better idea. There would be some squirreliness involved, but how about taking over the right (western) three lanes of Ninth Avenue, from 41st all the way to 30th. There are relatively few, larger buildings and most of the buildings have their auto access from the cross streets anyway. Tie into the existing bus layover north of 30th St.

Not ideal long term but should work long enough to replace PABT. And the design involves nothing but paint.

Tsuyoshi July 25, 2014 - 4:40 pm

So some people are saying: send the 7 to Secaucus. A large portion of the bus commuters come from Hudson County, which, ironically enough, has poor access to Secaucus Station. Instead of the 7 to Secaucus, why not send Hudson Bergen Light Rail into Manhattan? Don’t even build another tunnel, just take two lanes from the Lincoln Tunnel, and then run it down the middle of 42nd Street to Grand Central. If this was done, upon completion it would instantly be the highest-ridership light rail line in the country. I am sure it would be more useful than devoting the space in the tunnel and along the street to cars.

Obviously this is (currently) politically impossible, but does anyone know if it’s physically impossible? Maybe the trains wouldn’t fit in the tunnel, I don’t know.

SEAN July 25, 2014 - 8:14 pm

I do remember reading somewhare that there were plans to build another train station someplace in Weehawken. If one were to be built near Lincoln Harbor or there abouts, you could build a bus facility/ multimodle transfer center & solve several problems at once.

Nathanael July 26, 2014 - 8:06 pm

I believe it could be done with some sort of trains, but I’m not sure whether it could be done with HBLR trains specifically.

There’s a bigger problem, though: the mess of buses coming over I-495. It’s easy enough to connect all the buses east of the Palisades onto the “Lincoln Tunnel Rail”, but the buses that go up and over are a harder problem. These would have to be diverted to Secaucus Transfer or something, and again, Secaucus can’t handle them, not until Amtrak gets 2 more tubes. I suppose you could instead extend HBLR west to Secaucus proper and build a terminal there.

Actually, there are a lot of good things which could be done with HBLR extensions. New Jersey is painfully car-dependent.

Michael K July 26, 2014 - 10:14 pm

I think there is a height clearance issue in the tunnel – we once suggested a combined light rail bus tunnel and were told the roofs of the buses would get zapped.

Eric July 31, 2014 - 11:07 am

What if you put heavy rail in that tunnel, like a second branch of the 7 subway?

AlexB July 25, 2014 - 6:06 pm

Instead of a new bus terminal, I’d rather have a two way bus only Lincoln tunnel connecting to a new midtown bus tunnel with a couple stations like Seattle has with their four station transit tunnel (only without light rail). The tunnel can end at a huge garage somewhere in east midtown and have direct on ramps to the Queens Midtown Tunnel for quick & reliable through traffic to Queens and beyond. The point would be to relieve and renovate the current bus terminal without having to expand it at great expense. It would cost more, but be light years more effective.

SEAN July 25, 2014 - 8:03 pm

You know something – that’s not a bad idea. Although, I think putting the garage in LIC maybe better since there wouldn’t be interferance on Manhattan streets. This solution wouldn’t be perfect as you would be at the wims of traffic through the Midtown Tunnel. That said, LIC does have the land for a substantial facility for bus storage that would be far away from residential areas.

lop July 25, 2014 - 8:33 pm

People get on and off buses real slow. PABT has 223 bus platforms. Your stations would have to have room for a lot of buses to help much.

And if you’re building a new bus terminal why not put it downtown instead?

Or build a rail line instead of loud and dirty buses?

AlexB July 30, 2014 - 1:24 pm

People don’t have to board buses so slowly. NJ Transit could invest in larger buses with two, three, or more doors. They don’t have to run every bus route like a mini-greyhound system.

I agree that LIC would be the perfect location for a new bus terminal, maybe near the Hunterpoint Ave stop? It would add significantly to the cost and would not help with the immediate need of getting NJ riders into Midtown.

Bolwerk July 26, 2014 - 11:05 am

It’d be nice if there was a bit more strategy and thought on the part of agencies going into this. Each of the following is a fairly modest project, very useful in its own right, and each incrementally reduces dependence on the buses:

• 7 to Secaucus means NJT can terminate some buses there

• More tracks to Penn (we need them anyway) or a connection to GCT means…

• …rail expansion in New Jersey is feasible, reducing dependence on buses

• For some reason it’s never discussed, but HBLR along 42nd Street has the same effect, and solves a major surface transit shortcoming in NYC (complements the 7 to Secaucus, rather than competes with it)

• And little things, like just letting NJT buses load and alight passengers on streets and loop away could create significant efficiencies

PABT might be a major contributor to why Times Square is the busiest subway stop. This implies that many people who are using PABT would be at worst indifferent if expected to take another two-seat ride. If they transferred in Secaucus or at Penn, it probably wouldn’t matter to them.

lop July 26, 2014 - 1:07 pm

Unless they’re getting on the 7 at times square it would be an extra transfer if they have to get off the bus at Secaucus, not sure why they’d be indifferent to that.

PABT has something like 223 bus departure gates and it’s at capacity. Adding a couple stops on the street won’t help much. You’d have to line the roads with bus stops. But that’s not great for the locals to have all those buses around. Gateway, NJTransit to GC, 7 to Secaucus whichever you build should be used first to allow NJTransit riders a way into Manhattan for the year or two that Amtrak needs to rebuild the existing Hudson tubes, and second to get express buses off the streets, and only after that to increase capacity for transhudson travel. If Hudson county is a big source of buses then HBLR would help, and would be better for locals in Manhattan than express buses idling diesel engines and offering them negligible transportation value over the PABT, and better for riders if it gets them to their office or subway faster or more comfortably.

Bolwerk July 26, 2014 - 3:17 pm

The people getting off at the bus terminal and at Penn are often going to the east side. Anyone working below the high 40s could tolerate or even prefer the 7 Train. The E Train is their current option.

Both the 7 and HBLR could help those people. So could GCT access for NJT rail.

Michael K July 26, 2014 - 10:51 pm

Consider the travel time savings – 15 minutes to Secaucus followed by a ten minute transfer and ten minute subway trip. 35 minutes is way better then the 75 minute trips buses have currently.

Nathanael July 26, 2014 - 8:10 pm

HBLR to Midtown Manhattan, plus HBLR over the Bayonne Bridge to Staten Island, would make Too Much Sense.

AG July 29, 2014 - 7:53 am

Not sure about to Midtown – but over the Bayonne to Staten Island should be a no-brainer. The best would be to connect the PATH to the SIR… but of course that is less likely since it would be more expensive.

Nathanael July 26, 2014 - 9:00 pm

So, the more I look at this, the more I go “Bus tunnels make no sense”. Also, “car tunnels make no sense”. Just not enough capacity.

It seems like several additional rail tunnels under the Hudson would be valuable.

marv July 27, 2014 - 12:40 am

Think big and don’t just bury the ideas below ground:

Elevated trains are a dirty term.
Pedestrian malls, linear parks, bike lanes and fancy train stations are all civic amenities.

Build signature bridges over both the Hudson and East Rivers containing pairs of connecting commuter rail, subway and light rail tracks and bike/jogging lanes.

-de-map 42nd street
-top the right of way with:
*a pair of heavy rail (NJT/LIRR compatible) tracks
connecting NJ to Queens with stops on both the east and
west sides. Link the tracks in Queens with the Montauk
branch and you could even run freight nights and
*a pair of subway tracks linking Newark Airport/Newark
/Secaucsus/the West Side the East Side/ LIC, with
an el over the LIE providing service to both
Douglaston and the JFK via the Rockaway line
*2 lane wide jogging and biking path (picture a tie in
to the high line!)

Street level would have an extension of HLB light rail (which could continue into Queens along Northern Blvd possibly heading into LGA) and mall/plaza type cafes and entertainment stages.

Gained is: Heavy rail, subway, and light rail connections between NJ and Queens. Both Penn Station and the PABT would gain breathing room without expansion. NJ access to the East Side would be real.

In short, 42nd street would be converted from a (pun intended) Mickey Mouse congested corridor with slow buses, mass transit below ground/out of sight and requiring several floors of slow undependable escalators or stair climbing into:

a convenient transit friendly corridor.

Adres July 28, 2014 - 11:45 am

Without maintenance, it takes less than 24 hours for a brand new rest room to turn into a s—hole. With public infrastructure, we often confuse blame age when the cause of a problem is poor maintenance and operations. I’m old enough to recall a new-ish PABT in the 70s, which was a pretty unsavory place. Then it got the north wing and a renovation in ’78. By ’82-83, it was a dump. Then a cleanup effort, then a dump again. $90 million or $1 billion won’t matter, if the PA fails to maintain order and a state of good repair starting “day 1” of operations.

DGR August 1, 2014 - 12:53 am

Just wanted to give some love for the current PABT and especially the PA police. Those of us who remember the 70’s and 80’s greatly appreciate the strong police presence, hardly any pandhandlers (quickly chased away), no homeless sleeping there (same), funky but serviceable restrooms, plenty of stores and food outlets. Yes it’s creaking at the seams but the PA seems to me to be doing the best they can with what they’ve got.

FWIW the quick fix of the dedicated centre tube, plus a storage yard somewhere on the W side, makes a lot of sense to me. I also like the suggestion of the dedicated cross-town street. If you take the Newark airport bus over to the E side it crawls along 42nd St, it’s usually quicker to walk.


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