NIMBY: PATH Project Unloved in the Village
|By DAVID W. DUNLAP
||June 20, 2002
You do not have to stand long on the narrow dead-end PATH train platforms at
Christopher Street or Ninth Street to know that another way into or out of the
stations would be at least convenient. Maybe even a lifesaver.
Nor do you have to stand long on the narrow, 19th-century village streets above the
stations to know that the introduction of four new stairways used by several thousand
commuters a day would at least disrupt, maybe even alter, the neighborhood
For the moment, there seems to be no middle place to stand.
PATH, which is proposing to expand both stations, is not bound by the State
Environmental Quality Review Act or the city's Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure,
which commonly govern large construction projects. While it is easy to criticize these
time-consuming regulatory gantlets, known as Seqra and Ulurp, at least they offer
public forums and ground rules for the debate.
In their absence, what might have been a tough but straightforward planning exercise
has turned into this summer's Stonewall rebellion, pitting the immovable Greenwich
Village against the irresistible Port Authority, which runs PATH.
At issue is a $29.6 million project, scheduled to begin next month, to add two new
stairways at the east end of the Christopher Street station (emerging at Christopher
and Bedford Streets) and two new stairways at the west end of the Ninth Street
station (emerging at Christopher Street and Waverly Place).
Unlike Upper West Siders, who will clearly benefit if the new entrance to the 72nd
Street subway station relieves overcrowding, Greenwich Villagers have less of a stake
in the positive outcome of a commuter rail project that will upend some lives, homes
and businesses for nine months, if not longer.
There is not much incentive, in other words, for the neighborhood to say anything but
no, which it has said plainly through its elected officials and the Christopher Street
Neighbors worry about snarled traffic and fragile building foundations. They are also
concerned that the Waverly Place entrance would damage the integrity of the district
around the former Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, listed on both the state and
federal registers of historic places as the setting of the 1969 disturbance involving gay
patrons and the police that helped ignite the gay civil-rights movement.
The State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has determined that
the new entrances would be modest and small-scale enough not to greatly detract
from the district, said Wendy Gibson, the press secretary.
But David Carter, who is writing a history of Stonewall, said, "When you have a very
important battlefield — Gettysburg, Vicksburg or Custer's last stand — you don't want
to alter any part of it."
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has wandered into this battlefield as it
tries to cope with the extraordinary increase in passenger traffic at the two
southernmost Manhattan stations in the trans-Hudson rail system, following the
destruction of the PATH hub at the World Trade Center.
We started looking at how we can improve safety and security throughout the
system," said Michael P. DePallo, the director and general manager of the Port
Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation.
Both stations have a central platform at which trains to and from New Jersey board
and discharge, sometimes simultaneously. Each has only a single twisting staircase at
one end. That means passengers at Ninth Street might be 500 feet from the exit, or
more than two city blocks. Passengers at Christopher Street are 420 feet from fresh
Average daily ridership at Ninth Street has increased to 8,900 to date this year from
4,100 last year. At Christopher Street, it has grown to 7,400 from 3,600. So many
people come up the Christopher Street staircase during the morning rush that PATH
does not permit riders to go down the stairs from 7 to 9:45 a.m.
PATH estimates it would take 18 minutes to empty the Christopher Street station in
the worst case, 14 minutes to empty Ninth Street. The goal, Mr. DePallo said, is to get
closer to the National Fire Protection Association standard of six minutes.
At the unused end of each platform, PATH proposes underground mezzanines with
turnstiles, reached through street-level stairways not unlike a subway station,
enclosed by a balustrade. The stairways would occupy about 18 inches of sidewalk and
four feet of street, roughly three parking spaces' worth.
PATH officials say they evaluated 16 alternatives and have hired consultants to
re-examine those and an additional 18 possibilities. "We have had very significant
community involvement," Mr. DePallo said.
Too little, too late, said Ben Green, a co-chairman of the Christopher Street
Preservation Alliance, given that the problem in the station layout was recognized
long before Sept. 11.
"Had the Port Authority addressed it earlier, there would have been time to do the
obvious studies that are needed here," Mr. Green said. "We all have a problem and we
all have to share in the solution."