The Newly Renovated George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal—Brief Thoughts (Draft)

Author's note: This is a draft/outline of a more thoughtful piece coming soon! Keep your eyes peeled!

Some background: originally opened in 1963 as part of the Trans-Manhattan Expressway, the newly renovated George Washington Bridge Bus Station is a significant fixture in New York City's regional transportation. The original bare-bones terminal was closed in its entirety in 2013, with plans for a 2015 reopening. It didn’t reopen until 2017.

Now, there are many ways to judge the physical shape of a transit facility. Is it comfortable? Safe? Attractive? Easy to use? Does it promote urbanism and/or provide public space? Does it support the community? Help the local streetscape? Etc, etc...

Well, good news and bad news. The good news is that, on the inside, the new terminal is relatively comfortable, attractive, and easy at, at least on the upper, bus-boarding level. It has a pleasant enough waiting room, clear signage, restrooms, seats, and ticket machines (is two enough, however?). It has gorgeous views, and feels very open, taking tremendous advantage of its location next to the bridge and Pier Luigi Nervi's architecture. Even the boarding area is nice, with clear signs helping people get where they want to go.

For all that, however, it is bare-bones. The waiting room offers seats... and nothing else. A wonderful opportunity to mix some retail and community space for (and, in turn, taking advantage of) travelers has been missed. I'm also not quite sure the space and facilities are significant enough for the amount of travelers (although on that I admit I could be wrong).

The rest of the structure, however? The lower levels will be a cramped, sterile shopping mall. If the one current tenant—Marshalls—is any indication, there will be no local businesses inside. Worse, the interior mall space doesn't interface with the street at all. It is a structure which will do next to nothing for the community or its urban fabric.

The worst is the exterior. The terminal is over an expressway, is surrounded by far-too-busy roads, and is composed of dehumanizing, bare concrete which soars over the street. It’s street interface is terrible. And nothing has been done blank, dehumanizing sides of the structure, something which should have been job one.

I don't want to be entirely negative: as a transportation space, it is pleasant enough, and hopefully it will encourage more to use its buses to travel between New Jersey and New York. However, as has been the case with almost every structure the Port Authority has ever built, no effort has been made to craft an important, urban space, the type of space such nodes should be.

And that's just sad.

Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook.

NYC Ferry: South Brooklyn, Day One

Ride along with The Fox and the City on the first day of service on NYC Ferry's new South Brooklyn line — June 1st, 2017.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Mayor De Blasio's signature ferry service. While it was great it was going to cost the same as a subway ride, wouldn't it be much slower, and hence much less useful than other methods of public transit?

Well, I'm glad to admit that I was wrong! It is a tremendous ride: quick, comfortable, and beautiful. If you live near one of its stops, it is a method of transportation that just draws you in—one you just want to ride. We'll see how it fairs when the weather gets poorer, or in a storm, but for now, it is a *tremendous* addition to New York City's transportation arsenal.

Come along and ride the HB102 (catchy name, huh? Temporary only!) on the first day of service on the South Brooklyn line! Starting with a tour of Wall St. / Pier 11 and the boat, we then travel to DUMBO, Atlantic Avenue, Redhook, Sunset Park, and finally Bay Ridge. It is a gorgeous trip, and it couldn't have been a more beautiful day to experience it!

Hope you enjoy!

A Quick Tour of the Second Avenue Subway

Something a little different: a quick tour of the first phase of the newly opened Second Avenue Subway. It's just some quick footage I slapped together from a recent visit to the line. Not a proper, fancy tour by any means, just a look at the general layout of the stations, their designs and features, and how deep they are relative to the street. I hope it gives a sense of the spaces. Enjoy!

Dreams of the Agora, Nightmares of a Mall: Critical Impressions of the World Trade Center Transit Hub

Read later: PDF Download
View of the WTC Transit Hub
The World Trade Center Transit Hub—New York's new, $4.5 billion transit terminal—clearly has grand ambitions. It isn't merely self-consciously monumental; it also sets out to be a transformative public space—one that will bring the spark of urban life to a neighborhood that so desperately needs it. Crafting a deeply functional public space, however, is a difficult task even in the best of times, and building a node for urban life—an agora for the modern city—is a taller task, still. Can the Hub actually fulfill its architect’s grandiose promises and craft a truly urban environment from scratch?

A critical examination of the station reveals a space that is maddeningly ambivalent. On the one hand, it is a place that consciously echoes the designs of other successful, urban stations—a space which not only possesses an awe-inspiring center, but which could act as an urban refuge from the commodified, tourist-centric memorial above. On the other hand, however, it is also a complex riddled with troublesome decisions, led by problematic management, and plagued by unanswered questions—a space not only dominated by omnipresent security, but seemingly on the fast track towards becoming a shopping mall in the guise of a privatized "public" space. In other words, the Transit Hub has a lot of potential. It also has the potential to be a monumental disaster.

The Stage

It was only with a great deal of trepidation that I made my way to lower Manhattan to visit the newly opened World Trade Center Transit Hub—the $4.5 billion station that now serves as the southern Manhattan terminus for PATH trains. Some of my reticence undoubtedly stemmed from the cloud of negative buzz that currently envelopes the project. After all, the station is already arguably more famous for its slipped schedules, ballooned budgets, and astronomical price tag than it is for any of its own architectural or urban merits. That makes it a challenging space to analyze without preconception, particularly for those of us in the New York region. At the same time, for better or for worse, the Transit Hub will be one of the largest single investments in public space infrastructure that New York City will see for some time. It will also undoubtedly be one of the most expensive.

And yet, for all of that, I knew that my trepidation was actually rooted in something far deeper than the structure itself, or the controversies surrounding it. It stemmed instead from the proverbial elephant in the room: to engage with the Transit Hub, one must confront the reality of its location.

Upcoming Excerpts & Thoughts: Port Authority Bus Terminal

 

Contrary to popular belief, yes, writing continues! Hopefully this piece will be finished soon. For now, please enjoy another excerpt, this time on the Port Authority Bus Terminal:

To the Port Authority's credit, it commissioned and largely implemented a plan that has made the [Port Authority Bus] Terminal much safer. This included some of the first explicit uses of holistic, urban-conscious design to create deliberately defensive architecture. Sightlines, for example, were opened, blind corners reduced or eliminated, and strong attempts were made to ensure all open areas of the Terminal were busy at all times—all in order to simulate a Jacobsian "eyes on the street"-like effect.

 But all of these improvements were a means to a very limited end: making the Terminal safer and more efficient for travelers passing through. Almost no attempt was made to placemake, to transform this highly valuable piece of public property into a public space.
-Upcoming excerpt

See other Upcoming Excerpts & Thoughts

Upcoming Excerpts & Thoughts: Malls, Urbanity

 

You know, writing is a long, slow process—certainly not one that suits social media. But fear not, dear reader: progress is being made, and my latest, quite large article is coming soon! Keep your eyes peeled! Until then, here is a brief excerpt to tide you over:

Unfortunately, achieving such a street-like atmosphere has been the unrealized dream of almost every shopping mall since Victor Gruen conceived of the concept. Almost all such malls, alas, instead turn out to be mere simulacra of streets: built to the human scale and for human perception and physical needs, but without any of the other factors that drive urban life, ultimately ending up as sterile homages to bland consumerism.
-Said upcoming article

See other Upcoming Excerpts & Thoughts

Upcoming Excerpts & Thoughts: Capacity to Create Public Space

 

In short, none of the primary actors involved in the Transit Hub have shown much capacity for creating or nurturing spaces that have any greater functionality or social import than a shopping mall, or that are any more welcoming than an airport security line.
-Upcoming Article

See other Upcoming Excerpts & Thoughts

Guess the actors involved ;-). In all seriousness, work continues, and hopefully this article should be ready for you soon!

Upcoming Excerpts & Thoughts: Calatrava

 

Just a quick update to show work continues. I had to work hard to pick an excerpt that was fun, but not too juicy; I have to save some surprise for the final article! Stay tuned, it should be coming soon!

If it is to succeed as a public space, this [the World Trade Center memorial] is the environment that Santiago Calatrava's Transit Hub—and though I am usually aghast at the lone-artist persona falsely ascribed to architects, there can be no doubt that this project carries his name with a little ™ at the end—must overcome.

See other Upcoming Excerpts & Thoughts

Upcoming Excerpts & Thoughts: Rent Control

 

Of course, for many of us, just the mention of rent control is usually enough to either make emotions flare, or worse, make resigned heads shake, a gut reaction screaming out, "Oh no, not this discussion again..."

See other Upcoming Excerpts & Thoughts

Brief Thoughts On: New York City's Proposed, Urban-Focused Streetcar

Author's Note: This is the first of a new type of article on The Fox and the City, a "Brief Thoughts On..." piece. These articles are meant to be shorter, less polished, and perhaps a bit less considered than the usual fare here. Hopefully however, the shorter length will allow for more articles on timely issues as well as for more freedom to explore esoteric ideas. Whether this turns into more articles or not is an open question, as these have a habit of evolving into larger pieces. But enough with behind the curtain ramblings...
The Portland Streetcar at the OHSU Station The Portland Streetcar at Ohio State Health University1.

For those of you who haven't heard, last week, in his State of the City address, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio officially threw his weight behind a proposal to build a streetcar line along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront2. With a planned length of around 16 miles, and an estimated cost of two and a half billion dollars, this (at least partially) mixed-traffic streetcar would be New York's first major investment in crosstown travel since the Independent Subway's Crosstown Line (today's G train) was constructed in the early 1930s.

To be honest, my initial reaction to this proposal, like that of many initial reactions I've seen, was quite skeptical. Rumors have been circulating about a waterfront streetcar project in Brooklyn since at least the early 2000s, coming to a head with the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association's oft-maligned plan to connect downtown Brooklyn and Red Hook3. At the same time, real estate developers and parts of the city's government have been pushing hard for large-scale residential redevelopment along Brooklyn's East River and harbor-facing coasts. Given New York's transit needs, it is tempting to write this project off as frivolous at best, and cargo-cult thinking at worst—that is, other cities have successfully built streetcars which have supported residential development, so we should as well. But the longer I've studied the proposal and ruminated on its merits and its meaning, the more and more I've warmed to it, and indeed, the more and more I've come to support it.

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