Tuesday, August 21, 2018

How the largest bus terminal in North America was cleaned up. An example for BC communities.

For the past week, I have been in New York on a holiday. I was staying at a friend’s place in New Jersey which meant that the most convenient way into Manhattan and New York City was by bus. All buses that go to Manhattan terminate at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Source: Rose Trinh

Coming into the bus terminal for the first time, I was amazed at the sheer size and volume of people and buses that use the facility. The bus terminal is 1.5 million square feet, and handles around 230,000 weekday passengers per day. To put that into perspective, the bus terminal is about the same size as Metropolis at Metrotown, and handles half the daily passengers as SkyTrain!

Inside the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Source: krisknow

I was curious how they kept such a massive, 24-hour facility secure. I noticed that the bus terminal had shops and service that were like what you would find in an airport. I figured this had something to do with how they keep the place safe and inviting.

I did some Googling and found a research paper titled, “Redesigning Hell: Preventing Crime and Disorder at the Port Authority Bus Terminal” (Felson et al.) The bus terminal was full of people that would sleep all over and was a hotbed of all types of unsavory activity up until the mid-1990s. The first response that people had was to call for more police to clean up the terminal.

Just like in British Columbia, the courts in New York allow people to stay in public facilities. In New York, they must ensure that there is help is available for a person. Only if help is available and if the person refuses the help, can they be asked to move along. In our province, “low-barrier” housing must be available for all people on the street. If it is not, people can camp in parks as I’m sure most people in Langley are aware. If social services aren’t available, police have their hands tied.

It would be cost-prohibitive to have police in every section of the bus terminal attempting to monitor every activity considering the size of the facility and volume of people using it. At the time of the report, there were over 125 police officers assigned to the facility, and “policing the bus station was frustrating and often ineffective” (17). Even if they were able to arrest a person committing a “low level” crime, they found “difficult[ies] in making charges stick” (17).

The Port Authority needed to take a different approach, and in the early 1990s invested in improving the design of the facility and addressing the social issues in a different way.

To address the social issues and people living the in the bus terminal, the Port Authority worked with social service providers to ensure that people had an option to get help. When the police saw a person living in the terminal, they offered them the option to get help or get arrested.

The design of the facility was also improved to reduce crime and high-quality businesses were brought in. The facility was opened to ensure that there were no nooks and crannies where people could be hidden: some brick walls were replaced with glass, for example. Lighting and wayfinding were also improved, along with ensuring that the facility was clean and in a state of good repair.

They also attracted chain shops to the bus terminal to create an inviting retail environment, and to get more eyes and ears in the facility. Where larger stops could not be accommodated, they put in small kiosks.

In Langley City, we are improving the lighting in our Downtown, keeping the core clean, and providing more positive activities to drive out negative activity. We are also working to ensure that we have a diverse mix of businesses in our Downtown.

Council is also advocating to the province to get more resources into our community to give people the option of getting off the street.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal is a microcosm of what many communities in BC experience, and it confirms to me that we are on the right course. When I was at the bus terminal, I felt safe. The programs put in place in the 1990s are still effective today.

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