Port Authority Bus Terminal

New York City
New York, NY

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

The Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) is the largest commuter bus terminal in the country, serving 185,000 passengers per day.

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Why It Works

The Port Authority Bus Terminal was transformed in a few years from a transit terminal seriously plagued by security problems, into one which serves as a conduit to, and anchor of, a revitalized Times Square. There is general public agreement that the terminal and the neighborhood have become much more safe and livable: criminal behavior has been halved; and 76% of PABT customers rated the overall experience of using the terminal as "good to very good" in a recent year. The most important lesson learned during the multi-year process of revitalizing this transportation facility was that addressing all the problematic situations was necessary to clean up the terminal. Members of PPS went so far as to spend hours observing patrons, and others using the restrooms for less legal purposes, in order to strategize ways in which to make it possible for today's patrons to enter the restrooms without fear.

What Makes Port Authority Bus Terminal a Great Place?

The surrounding district is clearly being revitalized. The Walt Disney Company has committed to the 42nd Street redevelopment project and will be renovating an historic theater and participating in opening a new hotel. Other entertainment companies are following. The Times Square Business Improvement District is upgrading the cleanliness and security in the neighborhood from West 40th to West 53rd Streets and from 6th to 8th Avenues.

Unused and misused space was redesigned in an attempt to eliminate so-called "criminogenic areas": dark corners, poorly lit corridors, and other problematic areas that contributed to the unsavory and unsafe atmosphere of the bus terminal. Included in the design changes was renovation of public restrooms, smaller pillars (since pillars obstruct view), and brighter lighting, painting and floors. Attic spaces where homeless people had been living were sealed. Also, the Port Authority now plays classical music on its interior sound systems. This has yielded much positive public comment and seems to contribute to the new overall ambiance of the terminal.

Design changes sought to change poorly used areas into mixed-use, revenue generating retail locations and make spaces more naturally self-policing. Efforts have been concentrated on making retail much more inviting and approachable, and expanding retail use into underutilized public spaces. As part of the comprehensive plan, a phased retail development strategy with a space-by-space retail plan was prepared to allow retail changes to be made as leases end. Ideas ranged from small kiosks to a golf driving range, a sports bar, pro shop and learning center. Recommendations were also made to improve storefront design and merchandising. A vending cart operation was started on the main level of the terminal. This program had the benefit of making the terminal more attractive and reducing nooks and corners where security problems occurred, especially at the entrances to the terminal from the street and subway.

Because the health of the neighborhood and the terminal are so closely interrelated, the manager of the terminal has become actively involved in community activities, serving on the board of organizations such as the Mayor's Midtown Committee, the 42nd Street Redevelopment Corporation (in charge of the Times Square redevelopment project), and the 9th Avenue Association, a business group. The Port Authority works on various problems with these organizations opening up lines of communication and benefiting the terminal and the neighborhood as a whole. Efforts of these and other groups -- especially the redevelopment of 42nd Street -- have complemented the efforts by the Port Authority to improve the terminal. With the help of the Business Improvement District (BID), which sponsors private security guards to patrol streets and sanitation staff to supplement city forces, crime has dropped 41% in the area between 1993 and 1995. The cleanliness rating improved from 54% to 96%, according to the Mayor's monthly cleanliness survey of the area, as reported by Gover Howell, Director of Public Safety for the Times Square BID. In addition, illegal peddling and low-level drug dealing operations have dramatically decreased in the neighborhood.

History & Background

Located on 42nd Street near Times Square connects major subway lines as well as housing over 225 intercity bus platforms. It has three floors, with shops, vendors, public art, and other amenities throughout. The infamous district around the terminal, once known as Hell's Kitchen, improved during New York's renaissance of the 1990s, and is now considered to be part of the Times Square theater district. The terminal was reconstructed in the late 1970's, in part to reverse a perceived decline in the terminal and the area around it. This effort largely failed to achieve its goal. By the mid-1980's, the terminal was plagued with significant criminal activity, some of it drug-related; and homelessness, with people actually living in the terminal. In addition, the interior of the terminal was confusing and unattractive, with insufficient services and amenities for passengers. In 1991, the Port Authority created an in-house task force to completely revamp the terminal from both a design and management perspective. A comprehensive improvement program was initiated, including: Operation Alternative, a social service outreach and referral program; a community policing program within the terminal; modifications to public spaces to minimize nooks and crannies; new amenities for users including upgraded restrooms, a public address system, and information booths; and improved retail. In addition, the terminal management has become a more active participant in redevelopment and neighborhood activities in the area around the terminal. The manager of the facility is on the board of directors of nine community-based organizations and works in close cooperation with their community development projects. The impact of these changes has been significant, and patrons have noticed the difference, as demonstrated by increasing positive perceptions during recent customer surveys. Also, in three and a half years, 33,000 referrals for homeless people were made. Sales per square foot of retail space have doubled. Crime in the terminal and surrounding area has been greatly reduced as well.

Contact Info:

Port Authority Bus Terminal (212) 502-2240; Times Square Business Improvement District (212)768-1560

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