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Downtown Manhattan

The destruction of the entire World Trade Center complex in lower Manhattan in the terror attacks on September 11, 2001 has led to perhaps the largest newly available open space in the heart of any densely populated city since the Potsdamer Platz became available in Berlin after the fall of that city's Wall in 1989. We include here some brief analysis of recent developments regarding the site, paying particular attention to news coverage (or lack thereof!), followed by full texts of statements made at public hearings by George Haikalis and others.

Port Authority Set to Blow $2 Billion
on WTC Calatrava-Designed Transit Hub
[updated Aug 18, '05]
(On July 25, 2005, David Dunlap wrote in the NY Times about the World Trade Center site ["Below Ground Zero, Stirrings of Past and Future"]. Dunlap highlighted the long unused passenger platforms left over from the old Hudson & Manhattan RR, PATH's predecessor. The statement below is a modified version of a letter sent to Mr. Dunlap by George Haikalis shortly after the article appeared.)

The Port Authority announced at the end of July 2005 that it planned to start work in September on the World Trade Center transit hub, at the eastern edge of the site, which will cost more than $2 billion and is scheduled to open four years from now, in 2009. This project will squander a fortune on cosmetics and "starchitect" vanity, and will not improve travel times for its users. Journalists should be demanding a detailed accounting of how the Port Authority can spend that much money "gold-plating" a terminal that has recently been rebuilt.

As far as transit advocates can tell, there will be no significant improvement -- in terms of shorter travel time or reduced walking distance -- resulting from this massive vanity boondoggle. The main feature of the plan -- Santiago Calatrava's spiky 'greenhouse' -- which supposedly "celebrates arrival", will be of little help to commuters arriving there. These commuters will have already spent as much as 60 to 90 minutes traveling from home to reach the PATH terminal, and then are going to have to spend another 10 to 20 minutes in the terminal to reach their ultimate destinations. Perhaps the first time or two they see it, commuters might have found the original Calatrava structure of some passing interest, but the revised and fortified design will quickly become offensive. The idea of natural light reaching the platforms seems of little benefit to travelers, and in the winter, at morning and evening rush hours, when most commuters travel, the sky will be dark.

The greenhouse has been criticised by this site before, as a "stegosaurus on steroids", but the recent redesign, while strengthening it in anticipation of a terrorist attack, makes it look even scarier and more like a perpetually collapsing wall of the former World Trade Center. It looms over us with crooked glass frames bisected by another set of spikes looking to fall on us. Gee thanks, Mr. Calatrava, just the image at this location we all need.

It gets worse! This project will be paid for by using a big chunk of the $4.55 billion in Federal transport funds set aside for public transit improvements that were to help revitalize Lower Manhattan. None of the transit improvements provide any significant benefit to riders. The Fulton transit hub will not be useful for most subway riders. Even worse, the South Ferry station rebuild will actually reduce train capacity.

One of the initiatives we've tried to advance is connecting the PATH tunnels directly to the #6 Lexington Ave. local subway. Then passengers from New Jersey could reach SoHo and East Midtown more easily. And vice versa: commuters from the Upper East Side could travel more easily to job sites on the Jersey City Waterfront. With the Trade Center site empty, a new routing was feasible. The Port Authority, jealously guarding its little fiefdom, and terrified of having to coordinate regional transit with the MTA, fought this proposal.

Another possibility was to take advantage of the full 15 foot, 3 inch diameter of the PATH tunnels (Dunlap mentioned these in his article on the 25th) and operate wider cars. The new terminal in Manhattan could easily be built to these dimensions, although some work would be needed in New Jersey. Then trains could operate from regional rail lines directly to a Lower Manhattan terminal, allowing for a one-seat ride from Princeton or Morristown.

But these proposals have gone nowhere, due to an utter lack of political leadership in both states and determined efforts by the Port Authority to discourage rail improvements. Instead, the Port Authority is going ahead with a new half-billion dollar vehicle security facility to facilitate access to a 1,400 car parking garage, bus storage facilities and truck docks. It is worth noting that the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building offer none of these motor vehicular amenities and are financially quite successful. The ghost of Austin Tobin still haunts the authority!

Streets at the World Trade Center Site:
'Staging Area for Limousines'?
[updated July 14, '05]
The mainstream newspapers in this town show surprising conformity in being in lockstep with Dan Doctoroff's and the
Lower Manhattan Development Corp.'s proposed extensions of Greenwich, Fulton and other streets into the plaza design, in effect stealing public auto-free space for, as the Times said, "a staging area for limousines" (Traffic Flow is Crucial Part of Debate at Trade Center, Dec. 15, '03). The LMDC, a panel of elites appointed by the Governor's office, is another wing of NYC's oligarchic permanent government: well insulated from public votes and public opinion. Will this memorial space, where the lives of some 2,800 Americans were cruelly ended, become a limo stand, car-bomb security risk, and boombox-car/horn-honking speeder space?

An article by David Dunlap in the NY Times on Dec 16, '04 ("At Site of New Tower, a Game of Inches") again implies that at the surface, the extensions of Fulton and Greenwich Streets have been predetermined, taking away pedestrian space - the inches are for pedestrians, the acres are for the cars! In addition, Cortland and Dey Streets were shown with dotted lines: the City "strongly favor[ing]" their extensions and the Port Authority against them. To many New Yorkers, usurping even an inch of the site for cars-only asphalt is unacceptable. The new surface memorial plans do incorporate some 300 oak trees forming "colonnades very much like a cathedral," in the words of one designer in a NY Times article on Dec 17, 2004. Even so, the same article was able to quote Monika Iken, founder of the memorial advocacy group September's Mission, who said the memorial might feel like a "beautiful traffic median."

A New Eyesore Tower [updated July 15, '05]
Governor Pataki has pushed hard to build a mega-tower at the site, at one point swearing work would begin in Feb. '05, whether or not the design was any good, on an instant eyesore skyscraper (Orwellian name "Freedom" Tower). The first version, ixnayed in May '05 by the NYPD for security reasons, was way too big, its knife-edged shape suggesting posturing, cocaine-addled designers. One incentive to rush a new tower on the site is to hoist a huge TV antenna before New Jersey does. Version Two - 'Son of Freedom Tower' - has sinced popped out and it's a little less of an eyesore, but the lowest 200 feet - roughly 20 stories - will be a solid concrete wall. Author James Howard Kunstler commented on his website that Son of Freedom Tower "lacks the dignity of even a common bowling trophy." Perhaps the most astute comment was printed in a letter from Daniel Greenwood, from Salt Lake City, to the NY Times on July 1, 2005:
"The new plan for the Freedom Tower, if built, would represent a monument to the victory of terror and fear over human freedom. Isolated from the city grid, perched on a fortress-like pedestal, hostile to strangers and closed to the outside, it is everything a free society and especially a free city is not."

The PATH Terminal [updated Jan. '05]
Then there's the proposed PATH terminal, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Its aboveground structure looks like a Stegosaurus on growth hormones but will at least allow light down to the rabbit warren of tunnels connecting the proposed shopping mall and transit hub, where the "little people", who don't take limousines, will be scurrying underground for many more generations. Press illustrations of the Calatrava "greenhouse" carefully play down or airbrush out the new road and highway intrusions on the WTC site. When you study photos of the steel-and-glass concourse roof of the old Penn Station, torn down in 1963, what impresses you, besides the beauty, is the regularity and symmetry of the design, which is supposed to correlate with riding transit: ie, regular schedules, a sense of order, and above all, sturdy form. Do the new designs and the perpetually falling look of the proposed funhouse-style buildings suggest any of that?

Meanwhile, the Port Authority took over 3 years, and a fortune, to build the replacement PATH terminal, a few-thousand foot loop of track and plain-jane platforms at the very bottom of the 'bathtub', the layout of which was understood to be temporary. Now the terminal is described in the Dec. 16 '04 Dunlap article as the "fixed element", the dictator of everything to come, delivering the coup-de-grace to the concept of connecting PATH tracks to the NYC transit system literally just a few feet away! Is the NY Times deliberately protecting these jealously guarded transit fiefdoms at the expense of the riding public?

The NYC establishment also continues to push for the proposed funhouse-style office buildings. A letter by Joseph Russo of Jersey City appearing in the Village Voice on Jan. 7, '04 hit the nail right on the head. He wrote: "The [Daniel] Libeskind buildings with their tilted, leaning shapes evoke the chaos and horror of the moment that tower two began its tilt before it collapsed . . . How could any sane person have selected his designs? They are so bad they don't even belong in Houston."

The rush to start building anything, no matter how stupid, may have been tied to, and become residue of the Republican National Convention, held in NYC in August, '04, leading to speculations about Governor Pataki's presidential, or vice-presidential ambitions. Is he pushing this and other big projects like the west side football stadium to score brownie points with the Republicans who hold the strings to the federal purse, or is he being pressured by real estate greed and 'master builder' vanity?

The plaza plan, besides the grove of oak trees and a "civic open space", could also feature a meditative and healing natural garden or even just a grand lawn, but space for that is being eaten away for the street extensions: greasy asphalt biodeserts for limo/towncar parking and double-parking. It's been suggested that the real estate interests that control downtown point blank refuse to allow any buildings on the WTC site unless they have front-door limo access. And Greenwich Street: closed to vehicles for some thirty years, why on earth should vehicles be allowed onto the WTC site now? No farecard or trackage connectivity between New Jersey' PATH trains and the vast MTA system is being discussed or even mentioned. Nor is our downtown trolley loop. As a result of this virtual censorship, if we let these operatives get away with it, hundreds of thousands of daily commuters from two states will have to endure charmless, inconvenient and costly transfers for many more decades, and NYC, once again making itself the laughingstock of big city planners and activists the world over, will miss out on yet another chance to create a world-class auto-free pedestrian environment . . .


Statements by George Haikalis:

May 23, 2002: public hearing held by Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and Port Authority
The LMDC is a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, a state agency controlled by Governor George Pataki. It is designed to be an unaccountable agency that is empowered to build anything anywhere in the state, and it is able to override local zoning laws.

Oct. 2001: the Empire State Transportation Alliance


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