So apparently the 7 train is all messed up because of an ice condition brought about by an umbrella on the tracks that somehow caused a power outage. Although many have used this is a prime example of why subways shouldn’t run in bad weather, if anything, this proves the opposite as the tracks would have been cleared of ice all day except for the umbrella-inspired power outage. The other elevated lines didn’t have problems today, eh?
Anyway, I’m swamped at work this week and don’t have much time to write anything long-form. Today, I’ll urge you to read Steve Cuozzo’s takedown of the Fulton St. Transit Center. In New York Post style, he eviscerates the complex, and while some of his criticism is off base — the MTA couldn’t re-route 100-year-old subway lines to create truly clear passageways, other remarks hit the nail on the head. Cuozzo thinks claims of untangling hallways was overblown while some wayfinding signs leave much to be desired. The expensive headhouse, he complains, with its fancy oculus is still devoid of retail, but in a year or two, when it’s full, no one will care.
The issue though was the price tag. It cost $1.4 billion, and we got no new stations or new track mileage out of it. I ultimately think the Fulton St. Transit Center is a huge improvement on what was there before it, but Cuozzo’s kicker contains a kernel of transit politics I’ve written about before. “The ugly truth is that the Fulton Center was never about unraveling a maze. It was about building a monument to politicians’ and planners’ egos, crowned by a useless glass dome.”
Many of his criticisms are the same as mine, namely the horrible job the MTA did providing clear public information.
The other question is why should it take a year or two to rent the commercial space?
So if this project is a waste of $1.4 Billion, what mass transit megaprojects are we building or will be building that are not a waste of money besides the Second Avenue Subway and #7 extension? East Side Access? The grand Path station? The Moynihan Station, the Path extension to Newark, Cuomo’s LGA extension?
Any wonder it is so difficult to obtain mass transit funding when we see how the politicians waste the little funding we do get?
The MTA makes it clear that they view too much passenger information as a bad thing and communicating information to passengers should be dumbed down and simple as possible so as not to confuse the masses of ignorants riding their transit. “Train traffic ahead of us”? Sure! Whatever will shut ’em up.
E.g. when people posted rogue “exit strategy”/”pre-walk” posters indicating which car to stand in for the quickest transfers and exits, the MTA official response was that they don’t provide such information anywhere because it’d result in crowding of those cars at popular transfer/exit points. But another way to think of this is that the low frequency of service they provide results in crowded trains so they need to hide information from customers to make up for it. They built a fancy new headhouse at Fulton Street, so if the signage confuses people enough to enter it instead of simply walking past to the better entrance to their train platform, it distributes the pedestrian traffic into the new investment. The idea that we actually want to get somewhere quickly? We’re not the priority there.
Don’t understand what you mean they need to hide information because of low service frequency. Everything else you say makes sense.
What annoys me the most about the lack of information is a sign that says “No B nights and weekends” instead of “First B at 6:08 AM, last B at 10:34 PM Mon-Fri.” Only takes a few more words and provides so much useful info.
But as you say useful info and the ability to get where you are going quickly and efficiently are not their priorities. They would rather you wander around and get lost so you can patronize the shops.
When they change the schedule from 6:08 to 6:06 they have to change all the signs. And then back again a few months later when the work that required the schedule change, is done. Each station needs a different time posted.
Other than plunging a deep, pedestrian tunnel parallel to the A/C station under John Street, the Fulton Center was never going to solve the station’s problem of complex connections, because the J/Z tracks and station’s bi-level nature on Nassau Street blocks any simple connector just below street level. If the MTA is getting spanked by Cuozzo and others for this, it’s because they painted pictures that didn’t jibe with the reality of the plans, but did get them a unique-looking building above ground (which is the area the politicians who backed the plan really cared about — connecting a few subway lines was simply the means to justify the end).
To be fair, there is a bit more clarity one level down in the connector between the A/C and 4/5 trains, but not $1.4 billion worth of additional clarity. As for the retail, that’s going to take time to play out and probably won’t be fully known until the PATH hub opens, and we find out if lower Manhattan is ready for large- and small-scale retail hubs within a block of each other (and if it is, the Fulton Center will look more useful than it is today to the area’s non-subway passengers — but again, not $1.4 billion more useful).
For the mobility-impaired (my fiancee is one), the renovation of Fulton is a massive improvement. It was frankly pretty unusable before.
Three words. Municipal Art Society. That’s where this stuff comes from.
Blaming the Municipal Art Society (MAS) for the limited efficacy of the Fulton Center is inaccurate and unfair. You make it sound like they have some outsize influence on the design of public works, more so than any of the other forces that shape these kinds of projects in NYC. That is really just not the case. If anything, I would argue it’s the fealty paid by elected officials to the commercial real estate industry, working in conjunction with the inflated egos of our politicians (a point Mr. Cuozzo touches on) that has the greatest impact on how many of our public works end up. The MAS is a 120 year old organization that does indeed have influence, and their voice has played a positive role in the design and aesthetic appearance of many of the city’s greatest public spaces, which the average New Yorker takes for granted. In this, the second decade of the 21st Century, it is obvious to anyone who reads the newspaper or looks out the window that real estate money runs this town, and the Municipal Arts Society, is trying to be a seat at the table to provide a countervailing voice, with respect to good design. I for one, am grateful that there is a MAS at all, because otherwise we would be left with even more ugly crap, which we get plenty of as it is. I will not argue in this space the merits of the Fulton Center – I believe I have weighed in enough already, as have many of you. The project has its pros and definitely its cons. It’s a typical NYC edifice, where everyone got their piece within the constraints of money and engineering, and we are left with something that is better, but not the best that we deserve and should have received. In terms of their influence, I would argue that the MAS’ role was quite limited in the case of the Fulton Center. Their focus for the last 20 years has been on Moynihan Station, and by extension Penn Station. You want to blame someone for Fulton Center? Look no further than the MTA, Governor Pataki, the area’s landlords, post 9/11 squabbling, and the century old infrastructure that presents a monumental engineering and financial challenge to constructing anything in NYC that is better than just good enough.
Three words. Municipal Art Society. That’s where this stuff comes from.
Pleas, cool it with that nonsense. It’s obvious you know better.
The new entrances at Fulton and Dey, through the Corbin Building, and the new headhouse aren’t worth the $1.4 billion. But that’s not breaking any new ground. The MTA didn’t completely untangle the mess of links underground, but if you paid attention to what they were claiming to do and what they achieved, it’s a significant improvement.
The problem isn’t that the changes didn’t go far enough. It’s that the MTA left a bunch of revenue on the table by building the oculus and headhouse rather than creating a new platform for a skyscraper that would serve ratables for the MTA down the line. Had they built out the underground portion as they did, street level entrances and then built a skyscraper atop it, the MTA would be generating revenue down the line, especially considering the pace of construction downtown.
Instead, the MTA went and decided to build a piece of performance art that is pretty to look at, but which doesn’t serve any long term goal for the agency. I’m not saying that every single capital project must be all function and no form, but the form trumps function here – as it does with the PATH transit hub a block away. No increase to capacity, which is sorely needed at many transit points.
The links to the N/R/PATH via Dey Street still isn’t open AFAIK, and that was a major component to the plan and was among the first portions to be completed.
The Dey Street passageway is open. It doesn’t connect to the PATH yet, but it was supposed to by now–the PA has been delaying the opening of the underground connections on their end for unknown reasons. (It was supposed to open in December, then late January, now they say March. I’m guessing June, possibly June of 2016.)
For every month that elapses, the opening of the WTC Transportation center is delayed 2 months. It’s become something of a slow burning practical joke played on NYC commuters.
The underground connections that were supposed to open are to the Towers. The Dey Street connection won’t open until the Oculus is ready (and if you ever see it passing by, its obviously not yet)
If there’s a practical joke, please let me in on it.
People now have a bizarre obsession with inefficient, fancy headhouses for transit stations. But it’s actually easy to see the cycle of design preferences here.
creating a new platform for a skyscraper that would serve ratables for the MTA down the line?! street level entrances and then built a skyscraper atop it You know what that sounds like? That sounds like Penn Station! Everybody is supposed to hate Penn Station. Elite opinion is squarely that Penn Station is bad and Grand Central is good. So there are only 2 choices here: beautiful single-use, grand, classy high-roofed station, or cramped, dirty underground rathole with arenas and skyscrapers built by greedy developers and sports moguls on top. Which one do you favor? It’s easy to build consensus on our future here with such solidified notions of the way transit hubs can be. The MTA even called Fulton Center the Grand Central of Lower Manhattan, as if it wasn’t clear enough what they were going for.
Penn Station is a mess not because of the tower above, but because the tower was not built correctly for a tower over a station. A tower (or anything such as the MSG) needs to give up its lowest 7 floors, ground to 7 for use by the station. Giving up the first 7 floors gives you the high ceiling waiting room with clear visibility and path finding (think Grand Central). You also get enough wall space for windows to actually make the place welcoming and bright in spite of having no light through the ceiling (because the tower is there).
I do not know enough of the history, but Penn Central was probably interested in maximizing revenue which is why the tower does not start at a floor as high as 7.
In my opinion you can have both the tower and the fancy headhouse as long as they are designed properly. The one at Penn Station was not, so we still experience the resistance to the concept because of the mess that was created there. The developers can have the low floors over train yards (such as Barclays Center), but they should not get them above active stations. Starting from 7 up (which I am sure with modern constriction techniques is easy to do) is the way to have towers over headhouses.
Your logic includes much nuance for New York politics.
There’s no market for another commercial skyscraper downtown, nor is it wise to have the MTA develop a commercial property considering we’ve had some troubling history with that idea.
What they could have done is try and develop a space that maximize retail square footage more effectively than what they’ve done with the Fulton Center, to try to squeeze more revenue out of this. But that’s still small potatoes compared to the $1.4 billion cost of the thing.
A residential or mixed use skyscraper probably would have done well, at least if mettlesome NY pols could just once resist the urge to make 20% of the housing affordable by fiat.
The other elevated lines had tons of trouble in the evening commute — it took my M train nearly an hour to go four stops down Broadway due to “switch problems”
Nothing works when temperatures drop so low. Last year was worse, however. #SupportGlobalWarming.
Continued storm talk…
MBTA still not working properly after every line (except Silver) failed yesterday. MBTA telling customers to avoid Red Line if possible. Commtuer rail with 30 minute delays or more.
Oh, and the entire Green Line subway portion has been closed due to some kind of failure.
Buses doing ok though, on their snow routes (ie, avoiding hills)
Your “re-wrote” I think should be “re-route”
Cuozzo gets a few things wrong, but I’m with him that Fulton has been quite a disappointment when cost is taken into account. Cuozzo underplays the connection under Dey Street between WTC and Fulton, but WTC is not yet open to the Dey Street connector, and until it is the utility of the connection can’t really be assessed.
Speaking of “re-routing”, it would have been nice if the MTA could have straightened out a bit the curve from City Hall to Fulton on the 4/5 line. Since they were rebuilding the station anyway, having that screeching, time sucking sharp curve realigned a bit would have really enhanced the overall project.
Straightening that out would involve a sharper curve somewhere between the two stations and would probably result in no time savings. On top of that, there would be more service disruptions, as there are only two tracks. (This is especially bad because this is the Lexington Avenue Line we’re talking about.) If anything, it would likely necessitate a full closure until the work is completed, which could take quite a bit of time. There may be other reasons for why it may not work.
I don’t see why straightening a curve would cause a sharper curve. Straightening a curve would cause the curve to straighten.
I get that there would be service disruptions, but constructing Fulton Center caused disruptions for ten years anyway.
That screeching curve mentioned above happens to be the end of the original IRT subway built in 1904, and the beginning of its expansion into Brooklyn, and later the expansion of the IRT further in Manhattan and the other boroughs. The set of train tracks between the south end of the Brooklyn Bridge subway station and the Fulton Street station was actually a set of train layup and turn-back tracks (a small train yard) for the express trains.
A walk along the city hall area, and a review of the street maps (both at the time of construction and recent maps) would instantly inform one of the challenges of the area.
Learn your transit history, and NYC history!
I have used the new Transit Hub twice and it is gorgeous. I haven’t walked through yet to the other lines, but the access to the 4 and 5 uptown trains is so much improved that that alone is worth the money. The Oculus is stunning and photographed in Black and White the interior screams for a Gershwin concerto.
It is a warm inviting public space, far superior to the old WTC concourse and if visually it is not Grand Central, it is certainly as good a public space as the Citicorp Center’s atrium.
Sorry Steve Cuozzo could not be more wrong.
I keep hearing commenters on this blog as well as Cuozzo and others make the claim that Fulton Center et al are about politicians’ egos. Is that really correct? I don’t see any particular politician attaching his/her name to the project or see that linked in the popular imagination to an anyone in particular. Perhaps that’s a function of the extremely long time it takes to build anything in NY, so projects outlast political careers, but I just don’t see the politician ego tag as applying to Fulton Center.
The time has to be some of it. Schumer might be the only high profile city or state pol left from that time. Most of the rest have been dumped, bumped, or indicted. But the other thing is it wasn’t something that was easy to disagree with if the feds were going to spend the money downtown anyway.
Rents in my building dropped in half after 9/11 (I lived near Broadway-Nassau, now Fulton), and had just signed my lease a few weeks before. Too bad they didn’t think a little ahead, because a residential skyscraper in place of the head house probably could have paid for the project. 🙁
Rents in my building dropped in half after 9/11 (I lived near Broadway-Nassau, now Fulton), and had just signed my lease a few weeks before.)
If your rent was cut in half as you state, then two conclusions could be drawn…
1. Ecconomic forces of 9/11 had a greater impact on the area than was known in the press or 2. your rent was too high to begin with & the landlord was forced to recognize that fact.
My rent wasn’t cut in half. New tenants’ rent was half mine – for a short period.
Obviously (in hindsight, at least) they couldn’t stay half for very long, but it was probably a few years before they climbed back to where they were.
I stand corrected, but my general point still stands.
Cuozzo is right
We could’ve had a better system and a nice building
I pass by this Transit Center daily, and I still have a really hard time visualizing it as a wise spend of taxpayer money, ever.
Much of it was wasteful, but reconfiguring the transfer layout in the main four (IRT Lexington Avenue & Broadway-7 Avenue Brooklyn Branch, IND Fulton Street, BMT Jamaica/Nassau Street) had been a reasonable move.
Getting the elevator access to all the platforms was well worth it. (And probably much more expensive than you’d expect.)