A transit advocate looks at abandoned transit infrastructure and thinks, "Imagine if we reactivated that!" Certain other people (if they have a name, I don't know what it is) look at abandoned transit infrastructure and think, "Imagine if we turned that into a park!" And you know what? That made sense for the High Line. With its multiple twists and its passages through buildings, even with a brand-new driverless electric metro it probably would have been too noisy and inconvenient to be worth reviving.
This is not the case for several other pieces of abandoned rail infrastructure in the New York area. I've already expressed my frustration with the Walkway Over the Hudson (squatting on the perfectly functional Poughkeepsie Bridge) and the North/South County and Piermont trails (preventing anyone from reactivating the incredibly useful Putnam and Erie lines). Even though the "Tappan Zee Park" proposal was to use road infrastructure (not yet abandoned), it was still a pretty shitty idea, and was exploited by the Governor to divide and conquer his environmentalist opponents.
Unfortunately, these proposals just keep coming. I try to ignore them, but some people seem mesmerized by anything that sounds like a park. There's the "Queensway" proposal to turn the abandoned Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach Branch into a trail, which is a bad idea and shouldn't be encouraged. But tonight I want to talk about a much worse one: the "Low Line" proposal to turn an abandoned underground trolley terminal into a park, lit by sunlight piped down by futuristic fiber optic cables.
For the moment, forget about whether anyone would enjoy hanging out underground the way they do in Bryant Park, even with copious amounts of light. Forget that there's a 46-acre park a few blocks away. Let's talk about the transit infrastructure that would be sacrificed for this project. The Manhattan Terminal is a 60,000 square foot underground station with eight loop tracks for trolleys:
The MTA's Real Estate department, spurred on by the "Low Line" people, has posted a video of the space, which is definitely worth watching. The tracks and the trolley wire guides are still in place.
So we could turn this space into a park or a disco. Or we could take advantage of its strategic location at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge, the crossing of two subway lines and the gateway to Lower Manhattan and return it to its intended use: as a transit terminal.
Funny how not one of the Chinatown bus kvetchers has suggested actually providing a terminal for the buses. Would the full-size intercity buses fit? I don't know; Peter Hine doesn't mention the clearance. Certainly the Chinatown vans would all fit.
The diesel and gas fumes might be a challenge, but if the "Low Line" people can talk about piping sunlight down from above, why can't we talk about a good ventilation system? The Port Authority Bus Terminal is a little stinky, but seems to be able to avoid asphyxiating its passengers.
If this were connected to an exclusive bus lane across the bridge like the one in the Lincoln Tunnel, they could really improve transit access.
It's heartening to me that on every breathless news article or blog post about the "Low Line" there were several comments suggesting that the space could be restored as a trolley or bus terminal. I hope that the next time some idiot proposes turning good transit infrastructure into a park, someone will set up a Kickstarter page offering to pay them to go away.