Put the bus garage under the W.T.C. memorial
By David Stanke
The various political entities making decisions on form and content of the World Trade Center site are finalizing their decision on the location of a tourist bus parking facility. Three options have been floated for public response. The first option was to locate it in the bathtub area of the W.T.C. beneath the memorial. To address concern that parking busses under the memorial would be an insult to those who died, the L.M.D.C. and Port Authority are considering a site along West St. in Battery Park City and a site under the Deutsche Bank building on Liberty St. It appears that the Gov. George Pataki will make the decision based on the path of least political resistance, rather than on sound city and fiscal planning issues.
It has become clear that the driving concerns for location of the bus parking facility should be cost, speed of implementation, and impact on W.T.C. memorial and surrounding business and residential communities. On each of these measures, the W.T.C. is the logical site for the terminal. Months ago, the W.T.C. was the preferred and only site under consideration. To demonstrate his awareness of the need for speedy action Downtown, the governor has offered things like a farmers market and a building cloak for Deutsche Bank. Unfortunately, on issues of W.T.C. infrastructure that really matter, even obvious decisions are lingering. The city needs accelerated, responsible decisions that effectively use limited resources to establish a foundation for rebuilding our city.
Six acres of land for a memorial and related facilities is an honorable and expensive dedication to the memory of those lost on 9/11/01. As the definition of that space goes downward and outward, we are faced with real additional costs that will be born most heavily by surrounding communities. The bus garage below the memorial site will have no real impact on the look and feel of the memorial. But it will have real impacts on our neighborhoods if it is moved off site. The idea that these facilities are a violation of sacred ground has been manufactured by the constant repetition of a few active individuals.
Initial plans released for public comment do not provide complete design and cost details, so comparisons must be made with some degree of speculation. This may reflect the difficulty in simultaneously designing three facilities in a complex and uncertain development project. Of course, the less detail available, the harder it is to object to specific items.
The W.T.C. site would be the most cost effective alternative for the site. The main protective infrastructure is already in place in the form of the bathtub slurry wall. The bathtub was built deep to protect the foundations of the W.T.C. and held a substantial parking lot before 9/11/01. It is an expensive facility, with a lot of money has already gone into securing these walls that would have otherwise collapsed. Failure to use this facility is throwing money away at what will be the most expensive memorial our country has ever conceived.
Either alternative to the W.T.C. site will probably be more expensive. A new bathtub is required for Site 26 in B.P.C. Deutsche Bank may not need a bathtub, but it will certainly require new infrastructure to support the garage. Complicated construction projects for staging busses into the garage will spread into the surrounding areas of these smaller sites. Finally, there is the cost of the land itself, both real and opportunity cost. The Deutsche Bank site may have to be purchased for commercial development anyway, but retail opportunities will be limited by the bus terminal.
Pataki controls the Battery Park City Authority and some of the real costs of lot 26 could be hidden depending on the deal he decides to make. This property could serve another purpose for Battery Park City either commercial, residential, or recreational. Land is expensive in Manhattan and moving a bus terminal out of an empty hole to a neighboring site has real costs.
Construction at the W.T.C. site could start immediately and the garage would be operational the most quickly. It requires no purchase of property and no demolition. The availability of the bathtub enables rapid completion of the terminal that would provide the foundation for the memorial park. Accelerating this process is a key step in renewing the site and normalizing life in the surrounding areas. It would get the busses that are already infiltrating our neighborhoods into a protected environment. At Deutsche Bank, construction would wait for one to three years for demolition of the existing building. At Site 26, the additional infrastructure work could easily add a year or more.
Locating the facility at the W.T.C. site will be the least harmful to surrounding communities. The expanse of the W.T.C. site allows greatest flexibility in subtly and efficiently routing busses in and out of the facility. It will draw busses away from surrounding residential neighborhoods. It will minimize interference with pedestrian pathways between the W.T.C. and surrounding areas.
Locating the garage at Deutsche Bank will damage surrounding communities. Residential housing surrounds Deutsche Bank on three sides. The blocks to the east, between Greenwich and Church Sts., and to the south, below Albany St. are residential and hold a public high school. My home on Liberty St. would be a half block from the terminal and a block and half from the entrance ramp. The bus garage and its access routes will sever these pedestrian walkways. A Deutsche Bank bus terminal will further isolate the planned new South of Liberty community from its primary asset, the W.T.C.
The Battery Park City site also introduces serious impacts on surrounding neighborhoods. Entrance to the site will either add to the congestion on West St., or draw the busses into the local streets across walkways to ballfields and schools. Kevin Rampe, L.M.D.C. president, has said that the entrance would have to be underground to minimize above ground impact. But all underground entrances start above ground somewhere. One possibility presupposes at least a short tunnel along West St., an expensive option that has not yet been finalized.
The W.T.C. site will also provide the best service to the intended audience, visitors to the memorial. Any other location will place them further from their destination. If the situation today is indicative of the future, the movement of people between bus drop off and the memorial will cause pedestrian congestion and generate little support for local businesses other than street vendors.
Our elected politicians must focus on and communicate the financial situation for the rebuilding of the W.T.C. Many projects are needed and a limited budget is available. The $20 billion from the Federal government (if it actually materializes) will be easily and quickly consumed. The billions available to developer Larry Silverstein are still at risk. As decision-makers waffle on obvious decisions, that money is eaten away by monthly rent payments to the Port Authority. Intrusion of facilities forced off the site and into our local neighborhoods poses real costs born specifically by the residents and workers of Lower Manhattan.
A bus terminal that improves access to the site, removes congestion from our streets, enhances the memorial environment, and has limited impact on residential and business activity will be a blessing to everyone involved in the W.T.C. With all of these benefits to the living, the terminal would also be an honor to the deceased.
David Stanke owns a condominium across the street from the W.T.C. site and is one of the founders of BPC United.