On a recent fall morning, I awoke to two helicopters buzzing overhead. A quick check of Twitter confirmed my suspicion: mounting delays at the inbound Lincoln Tunnel because of a crash in one of the tubes. The likelihood that travel on New York-area roads can suddenly come to a screeching halt, especially during morning and evening rush, is a major reason why we need to invest in public transit, especially to increase cross-Hudson capacity.
I was thinking about those morning Lincoln Tunnel delays when I left the office recently to catch an evening flight from Newark Airport to Chicago. I decided to take PATH from World Trade Center to Newark Penn Station, followed by a quick transfer to NJ Transit for the roughly two-mile-long, one-stop trip to Newark Airport. It’s a trip I’ve taken regularly for years, and at about 45 minutes, it’s generally shorter than the trip to LaGuardia or JFK. But it can be unpredictable.
A few years ago, I arrived at Newark Airport on a Sunday evening. NJ Transit was running service only every 30 minutes, so I tried taking a taxi from the airport to Newark Penn to catch PATH. Thanks to traffic, I spent more than a half hour in traffic on a trip up Lincoln Highway that should have taken no more than 10 minutes. NJ Transit runs two bus services connecting the airport with downtown Newark. The 62 bus is a local route and trip time is equally unpredictable in traffic, while the 28 Go bus, similar in concept to the MTA’s limited-stop Select Bus Service, doesn’t leave from Newark Penn. One has to either walk or take Newark Light Rail to Broad St. Station, easily adding as much as 10-15 minutes to the trip. Once on board the 28, a trip to Terminal C, geographically closest to downtown Newark, adds another 16 minutes to the overall travel time.
This evening, I left WTC at 5:10 on a Newark-bound PATH train and arrived Newark Penn at 5:35. After buying an NJ Transit ticket, I boarded the 5:44 South Amboy-bound NJ Transit train, and exited the Newark Airport station turnstiles at 5:49, for a trip time of 39 minutes.
Extending PATH to Newark Airport has been proposed, debated, and scrutinized for years, but it’s a really good idea that’s long overdue. New York has fallen behind other leading global cities that have far better transit connections to their airports. Trains in Brussels terminate at a station directly below the main terminal, and elevators carry passengers to and from departure and arrival concourses in a multi-story structure. London has multiple direct connections. The Piccadilly Line provides Tube service, while Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect provide rail service at varying price points and travel times. Shanghai has a maglev shuttling people between airport and city at impressive speeds.
An update on PATH to Newark Airport presented at the Port Authority’s April 2015 Board meeting shows that the project team isn’t just thinking of it as an airport-only service. PATH, infrastructure firm HNTB, and the Regional Plan Association are studying how new PATH service, combined with a revitalization plan for Newark’s Dayton neighborhood could lay the groundwork for new mixed-use development on the formerly industrial area adjacent to the proposed extension. Critics often argue that transit extensions to airports prioritize business travelers and tourists over local populations, but a look at PATH’s public materials reveals a forward-thinking approach to this already good idea that could make it into a unique success story for transit and community growth.