A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gridlock At WTC PATH Station

True Stories From a Mosh Pit (Campus Socialite)

When the Port Authority closed its 33rd Street PATH station on Friday morning due to police action , a dangerous situation of a different sort unexpectedly arose at the World Trade Center PATH station. Dense crowds formed inside the station trying to get out to the street and nearby subways and buses, and those who took subways and buses to the WTC PATH station found a huge crowd outside trying to get in.

Passengers had headed to the WTC station in unusually large numbers -- those on their normal commute through WTC plus those who would normally have used the 33rd Street station. This excessive volume had caused a rare case of what we might call PATH gridlock. Unfortunately, the Port Authority was oblivious and left passengers to fend for themselves during this gridlock situation. Beyond the discomfort and delay, the crowding conditions became extreme and rife with potential danger.

The only sensible action taken by the Port Authority during the incident was to shut off the power to the dozen massive WTC escalators, presumably to keep passengers from reaching overcrowded landings and become injured and/or crush those already packed on the landings. People resorted to using the escalators like regular steps.

Since all but one of the escalators at WTC station were claimed by exiting passengers, only a single escalator was available for those seeking to go downstairs and catch a departing PATH train. A narrow pulse of passengers was slowly but steadily pressing through the crowd to that escalator. The rest of those hoping to enter the station massed across the station's frontage seeking a way in. The occasional stray pressed through the crowd the wrong way, not knowing the "arrangement," only to find that one "can't get there from here." The scene looked like one of those films of a cell under a microscope.

Passengers were packed like sardines on the upper platform, just outside the WTC station's newsstand. Indeed, the landing was a veritable mosh pit with currents of traffic moving this way and that. The crowd couldn't get out of the station normally because the people mobbed outside were blocking all but one of the potential exits. The crowds both inside and out were involved in the ultimate alternate merge as they pressed their respective masses of humanity into 2-abreast streams of people that could fit through the available ways out of and into the station. And you know how well New Yorkers handle alternate merges -- if not, just try it at the Holland Tunnel merges.

Those of us who had yet to reach the mosh pit landing were temporarily stranded on the steep escalators. It was take a step and wait. Wait some more. Take a step and wait. Repeat. In the meantime, we craned our necks trying in vain to see what was happening at street level. It was odd to stand motionless on the escalators. Conversations ensued as people pondered among themselves what was happening. All wanted to be on their way. Most were reasonably patient. All complained about the lack of public announcements.

I could have gone through life without this experience, but on the bright side it was reassuring to see that commuters cope well with bad traffic management. Luckily the mob remained calm, as a panic by even a few could have caused pandemonium and countless injuries, even deaths.

I have to say the Port Authority let PATH passengers down on Friday morning. Luckily things worked out okay, but it wasn't an obvious outcome. I hope officials study this occurrence and develop contingency plans for when this scenario plays out again. After all, it could have been a disaster.


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