Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
UPDATED 4:15 p.m. The world's busiest bus facility, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC, could face a major overhaul or even a replacement.
The Port Authority of NY/NJ has awarded a contract for a "Midtown Bus Master Plan" to "revitalize" the squat hulking gateway to Midtown Manhattan as part of a plan to accommodate expected increases in bus traffic. The study will also consider "possible terminal replacement," which would dramatically change the face of, and commuting experience in, the Times Square area.
Around 8,000 buses and 225,000 travelers pass through the bus terminal every day, mostly from New Jersey.
Often maligned as drab, intimidating and by turns cavernous and cramped, the PABT suffers from a dated image as much as a contemporary space shortage.
Many New Yorkers and New Jersey commuters may delight at the prospect of a revamped bus terminal recalling the PABT's dark days in the 70s and 80s when the homeless and criminal population occupied as much waiting area as the commuters. The online travel site VirtualTourist went so far as to deem the building one of the 10 ugliest in the world, saying: "Those who pass by this iron monstrosity might be tempted to ask about a completion date, but alas, this is the finished product."
But the bus terminal is already on the up. The exposed iron frame has largely been sheathed in a curtain of flickering digital advertising, a gaudy touch in most places, but humble by Times Square standards, and profitable. The attics where homeless people dwelt have long since been sealed up. Columns were shrunk, lighting and paint brightened to improve visibility and deter crime. And the vast once-sparsely used atriums have been populated by retail. All of this earning the bus terminal the redeeming honor of a "great public space" from the experts on that designation at the Project for Public Spaces.
The bus terminal is, however, running out of bus space.
The contract for a Master Plan with such a sweeping purview is an acknowledgement that more Manhattan will need more space for bus commuters in the years to come. About 65 million people pass through the PABT each year, and at peak times the facility is at capacity.
Following Sandy, with train tunnels out of service, the PABT became a daily test of endurance (see pic) with New Jersey residents waiting on lines well over an hour as a line of borrowed buses stretched for blocks down 8th Avenue, unable to fit into the bus terminal fast enough.
Even with a surge of curbside competitors draining off some of the long distance bus market from Peter Pan and Greyhound, the daily commuting needs are demanding expansion.
"The development of a Master Plan underscores the Port Authority's commitment to make the Bus Terminal a world-class facility and bus transit the most reliable mode of access to midtown Manhattan," said Port Authority Chairman David Samson in a statement. "While the Port Authority has already begun the work of revitalizing the Bus Terminal, including the recent acquisition of top-shelf tenants like Starbucks and Cake Boss Café and the installation of WIFI in the South Wing concourse, this comprehensive approach is the best way to ensure the Bus Terminal keeps pace with future passenger growth over the next fifty years."
The Master Plan will be conducted by Kohn Pedersen Fox and Parsons Brinckerhoff factoring growth of interstate travel, impacts on the local community including idling buses on local streets, and "more equitable funding from carriers operating at the Terminal." The study will cost $5.5 million and be completed in 18 months, according to the Star Ledger.
It is unclear if Fox and Brinckeroff will take into consideration the other design suggestions for the PABT over the years, including this rendering with rows of evergreen trees besides stacked bus gates, or the plans to build a tower over the terminal that got some attention in 2008.
The Port Authority Bus Terminal opened in 1950 with significant expansions or re-construction projects happening up through 2007.
QUESTION: What would you "revitalize" about the PABT? Tell us. @tranportnation or in the comments below.