Urban Criticism

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.

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

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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.

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