LIRR’s Brooklyn Bunker: More Extreme Than NYPD Counterterror Guidelines

Atlantic Terminal9_1.jpgSecurity barriers mar the Atlantic Terminal sidewalk. Image: Noah Kazis.

Brooklyn’s new Long Island Rail Road terminal opened earlier this month to generally positive reviews for its airy interior. Outside the station? That’s an entirely different matter.

The Brooklyn Paper called the "sarcophagus-sized slabs of stone" on the sidewalk — which nearly come up to one’s neck — "a grotesque eyesore." City Council Member Letitia James agreed, telling Gothamist, "This is a facility that is supposed to celebrate openness, yet they put hideous barricades in front of it."

The barriers weren’t in the original renderings for the site, which architect John di Domenico hoped would become a "civic presence." They were added after the fact for security, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

We’re still trying to figure out just who decided to go for total overkill here. Requests are in with di Domenico + Partners, the NYPD, the MTA, and the Department of Design and Construction. While we haven’t pinpointed exactly where the order came from, the fortress mentality on display exceeds even the NYPD counterterrorism division’s own guidelines.

We did get to sift through the NYPD’s 2009 report, Engineering Security: Protective Design For High Risk Buildings. As a major transit hub, the Atlantic Terminal falls under the NYPD counterterrorism division’s "High Tier" category, for which they prescribe additional security measures. Those measures include "perimeter security," which the NYPD justifies like so: "The best way to minimize the impact of an attack is to keep the threat away from a building."

The NYPD also puts forward some basic guidelines about just how much protection they think is necessary. That’s where the real surprise is. Here’s what the city’s counterterrorism experts recommend:

With respect to bollards, the NYPD recommends four feet of clear spacing, bollard sleeve to bollard sleeve. In general, New York City recommends that bollards measure between 30 and 36 inches in height.

And here’s how the Atlantic Terminal sarcophagi measure up, based on an informal analysis conducted by Streetsblog today. The barriers loom a full foot higher than NYPD’s own recommendations:

Height.jpgImage: Noah Kazis.

Gap_1.jpgImage: Noah Kazis.

Some of the spaces between barriers are little more than three feet apart, barely enough for pedestrians to squeeze through and more draconian than the NYPD’s suggested four feet. All you transit riders trying to get to your platform, consider yourself neutralized.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Congratulations, to the MTA, NYPD or whatever idiotic hater of the civic realm erected these barriers. They have done absolutely nothing to stop the real terror threat at Atlantic Terminal — three guys walking on to a train and blowing themselves up a la Madrid and London. But they have fully prevented Osama Bin Laden from ever driving an M1A1 Abrams tank into the LIRR ticket booth.

    MTA: Wake up. This is why we despise you. You put gigantic coffins in what should be a great civic space. You crap on your own train stations. You care more about imaginary security threats than you do about the communities that you’re supposed to serve. You literally turn our public space into dead space, a tomb.

    We hate you.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    At the very least, for now, why can’t we plunk these in the street? Even during non-rush hour, it is hard to navigate around there. If cars are the problem, let their “public space” suffer.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    BTW, great reporting Noah. The NYPD document and the tape measure tell the tale.

    I say forward this to the BDM (brain-dead media) ASAP. You just handed the 11 o’clock news a great story with visuals.

    Eckerson also has a great point: Why not put the bollards out on the curb rather than making the front of a train station virtually impassable for LIRR customers?

    Incredible! This makes me so much angrier than Obama backing down on health care reform and John Edwards going to Haiti, even.

  • It appears that at least one of them is a bench….so that’s good.

    But as I said last week, perimeter security isn’t new. Go to DC, and half the buildings there have it. Stop by the federal reserve in any city and you’ll note the same thing. What you’ll note are heavy metal benches, bolted to the ground, planters holding large trees, metal bollards doubling as lights etc.

    A good designer hides perimeter security by integrating it so that it’s useful and artistic.

    And as Clarence said, not only are these ugly, but they are badly positioned. There’s dead space between the curb and the blocks, why?

  • Shemp

    I bet it was someone at LIRR headquarters in Jamaica – not a hotbed of urban design.

  • I love that petty government offices think they’ll be targets.

    The planes hit the /world trade centers/ and the /Pentagon/. The fourth target was either Congress or the White House.

    They’re only doing this because they get to do it with our money, and therefore need not justify it. Private corporations throw up shock-absorbing planters only when the shareholders feel it’s justified, because the shareholders are the ones paying for it.

  • AlexB

    These don’t really bother me for some reason. I am alone? It would be better if they were planters or bollards, but the large stone blocks haven’t ruined the station for me. It’s a minor problem.

  • Celal

    AlexB:

    Yes, you are alone. I can’t describe in words how much I hate these monstrosities.

  • My girlfriend lives two blocks away from Flatbush terminal, exits the train there, but is afraid to walk by/through these blocks at night, since they are so easy to hide behind.

  • Benjamin: That’s a fantastic point; I suppose us men would never think of that ourselves.

  • D. Mark

    Let’s get real people. We live in a world filled with terrorists that want nothing better than to kill as many of us as possible. What better way than to load a car or truck filled with explosives and drive down Flatbush Ave or 4th Ave at high speed and plow right into the the lobby of the new Atlantic Terminal and blow.

    Improbable you say…well who would have thought that someone would blow-up a van full of explosives inside One World Trade Center’s parking lot. How many of you guessed that someone would fly airliners into the World Trade towers?

    I’d rather be safe than sorry about the perimeter protection erected at the Atlantic Ave terminal. If you think aesthetics is more important than precautionary protective measures, then you are out of touch with the cold hard reality of today’s world.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Oh, I was waiting for the “let’s get real” / “cold hard reality” commenter to swing by. Surprised it took so long. So, yeah, D. Mark, Let’s get real:

    1. I’m not privvy to their target list but the LIRR Terminal lobby has got to be pretty low priority. You could kill and terrorize far more citizens by driving your truck into Target right next door (no pun in intended) or, hell, the multiplex on Court Street.

    2. Far more appealing terrorism targets in Manhattan have much more respectfully designed security measures that are just as bomb-proof as this.

    3. Again, the real threat to the train station is London or Madrid style suicide bombing. That’s what the “Brooklyn Jihad” guys planned to do to this train station in the late 90s. This security measure does nothing to guard against the real threat.

    The cold hard reality is that the people who set up this particular security measure were idiots, who don’t seem to know a lot about designing security infrastructure and who have zero respect for the citizenry that they are supposed to serve. And there’s no reason why New Yorkers should have to put up with shit like this. A healthy, functioning public realm is essential to a free society and a democracy. If we let the security state and go-along dopes like you take that away from us, then surely the terrorists are winning.

  • You can gamble with your life and guess where a terrorist may strike or when. But, I’d rather be safe than sorry.

    I’ll recommend they put some flowers on top of the slabs to beautify it for you.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    Hey, I am all for making our mass transit more safe, no doubt, but there is absolutely no reason you can’t do it with verve & pomp and make it artistic while maintaining a level of safety. (See the story at the top of Streetsblog right now on newer, cheaper, better street construction umbrellas.)

    AND – most importantly – they should get those off the sidewalks and put them flush on the street with the curb. Cars are what we are guarding against, human beings walking shouldn’t have to pay the penalty. We already do every day.

  • Marty B beat me to it but bombs in backpacks get by these things rather easily. I could understand such measures for 1 Police Plaza but this is crazy!

    Oh and I’m quite sure there are some ADA violations with these things being placed 3 feet apart but I would have to see it in person.

  • @jass,

    These are not benches, unless you’re about eight feet tall. They’re four feet high.

    @Andy B from Jersey.

    These may actually prevent backpack bombs, since they’re set so close together that it makes it difficult to pass between them. Be on the lookout for skinny suicide bombers.

    The big joke is that the same team that brought you this security perimeter (Forest City Ratner and the MTA) are teaming up to bring you the nearby Barclays Center arena, which the NYPD just two years ago claimed wouldn’t even require bollards. Ha! Can’t wait to see how they defend that Class I terror target. Closing a lane of Flatbush or Atlantic, perhaps?

  • I’ve carried a 40lbs pack through the Lemon Squeezer on the AT in Hariman and I’m not exactly skinny. This won’t slow down anybody with a backpack (you were joking, right Eric?).

  • vnm

    Marty B.:

    Take a long, deep breath. You’re obviously posting angry.

    The MTA hates the public realm? Oh, sure. That’s why they built the Atlantic Terminal in the first place, the interior of which has gotten positive and rave reviews. That’s why they maintain Grand Central Terminal and an arts program most cities would die for. In Washington D.C., the police terrorize musicians and force them out of the Metro. I guess New York’s MTA welcomes them with a formal program because it hates the public realm.

    Your ad hominem attacks and hyperventilation discredit your arguments. Terrorists hate and despise. In civil discourse thoughtful people may disagree over the design of street furniture, but it ought not rise the the level of “hate.”

  • Marty Barfowitz

    vnm:

    Marty Barfowitz is not about civil discourse, first of all.

    Second, it’s the MTA’s give-away of the Vanderbilt railyards to Ratner + the useless token booth clerks sleeping in their bullet-proof boxes while trash cans overflow around them + the inability to provide basic information to customers + the constant increase in fares and decrease in service + these sarcophagi + about one hundred other things that make New Yorkers despise and, yes, hate the MTA.

    But it’s the stuff like this — where the MTA could easily have made a better decision, no politics or unions or anything really forced this on them — that really gets my goat. This is just the MTA crapping on Brooklyn, its customers and its own new train station. This is the MTA allowing security concerns to erode our public life in a way that is just totally thoughtless and unnecessary. This is the MTA turning a beautiful new public building into a fear-mongering and dysfunctional tomb.

    Finally, the message to the MTA is this: Remove these giant coffins and put in a security system that respects the public realm and your own f’ing train station and customers.

  • After the 7/7 bombings, I read accounts by counterterrorism experts about how the London Underground had really good ventilation, and if the same bombs had exploded on the worse-ventilated New York City Subway, the death toll would have been much higher. They begged for greater funding for subway ventilation, none of which has materialized.

    But sure, let’s spend all our security money on concrete blocks. We all know that if we don’t do really ugly things, we’re weak on terrorism. Perception is reality, and plopping street-blighting barriers is effective counterterrorism.

  • Kaja

    > Your ad hominem attacks and hyperventilation discredit your arguments.

    On the contrary; I think they’re wholly appropriate given the MTA’s egregious work. Marty Barfowitz is winning this thread.

  • Peter

    An amusing thought occurred to me just now –

    These bollards ostensibly exist to protect against some lunatic crashing through the front door with a truck laden with explosives, right?

    The two streets that run through here, Flatbush and 4th avenue, are both so insanely congested that noone would ever be able to get up to speed anyways.

  • Streetsman

    @Alon Levy:

    I hate these things with a passion as they are a hard slap in the face to anyone trying to use that sidewalk – I equate this construction with an act of vandalism and public obstruction. I firmly believe City Hall will do the right thing and have them removed and replaced with something more attractive and more appropriate.

    However, for the record, the Atlantic Avenue subway station is probably the best ventilated in the entire system. As part of the renovation, the area around the terminal was dotted with new high-powered emergency response ventilation fans that could suck all the air out of the entire station in minutes.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Also, it should be noted that the MTA is not a “hominem,” yesterday’s Supreme Court decision notwithstanding. Corporations are not people.

  • Of course corporations are people, especially legally. We treat corporations as people because corporations are composed of people, consist wholly and utterly of people.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_personhood_debate

    I think what you mean to say is “corporations shouldn’t be people”. Which is just, like, your opinion, man.

    (It’s ok, Marty, you’re completely correct about everything else, I still love you.)

  • Dan

    Eric McClure – I know you love to turn EVERYTHING into an anti-AY rant but FCR had NOTHING to do with these bollards – the station is an MTA project…..And yes they are ridiculous and to all those making the better safe than sorry – fine Ill go with that – EXCEPT the MTA has to explain in detail how this design is so much safer than virtually every other security perimeter in NYC – which are almost universally more attractive.

  • In a coincidence of staggering proportions, I just clicked on an excellent Volokh blog about exactly Marty’s point about corporations: http://is.gd/6OeU9

    Take a look, I think it’s a great read.

  • dream-king

    The whole terminal design is crap. It’s like someone used a fun mirror to take a refracted photo of an old train terminal foyer and went with that.

    Try walking through it sometime. The completely predictable passenger egress flows are at odds with each other. They collide for no good reason. It’s like it was almost intentional for it to have been screwed up this badly. The whole entrance makes no sense. Just stop for a few minutes to examine the entrances. The garish archways to the mall area are ugly and won’t even be used. They missed a chance to make the ground section have a massive floor-to-ceiling stretch, but instead they put in this balcony outside the mall arches that look to me will never really be used by any large number of people. The narrow staircases to the surface level are intentionally made even narrower by a handrail divider.

    What kills me is they put in all this money but the freakin’ tiny elevator continues to operate excessively slow. Worse, the slightly bent door further slows the travel time; you can hear it scrape the inner elevator wall and delay door closings.

    It was a terminal entrance that was designed to discourage use. Wonderful. I’m glad the NYPD’s security job is easier because no one would want to bomb this spot. The bollards are just an afterthought of stupid, considering the vast traffic of the building go through the other, less-secure mall entrances. Most of the actual LIRR traffic doesn’t even leave the building; the transfer from LIRR to subway would have been a better focus. Money spent to connect the terminal to the closest A/C train station would have been even more worthwhile.

    I live in the area, and even for the passthrough LIRR traffic it’s useless. It’s certainly useless to local pedestrians. Maybe if there were also a bus terminal right outside or attached in some fashion it might make more sense, but there isn’t.

  • @Andy B,

    Joking? Well, a little. But the sarcophagi are ridiculously close-set.

    @Dan,

    Rant? What I posted barely qualifies. And yes, I do have a thin skin when it comes to Atlantic Yards, but the Atlantic Terminal building is a Forest City Ratner project. So I think it’s fair to raise the point. And while they may have had no role in bollard selection (I’ll believe it when I see proof), the Barclays Center will be an FCRC project on sold-for-a-song MTA property. Besides, given FCRC’s apparent sway with the MTA, I’m sure they could have effected a more pedestrian-friendly design had they cared to.

    And I’ve posted many a comment with nary a mention of AY.

  • Jonathan

    The other Atlantic Yards connection: If this is the appropriate level of security barrier for a transit space that could hold a few hundred people at a time, what will be the required barrier for an event venue holding 20,000 people, broadcast live on national TV? At the same intersection.

    Threats are a function of size (back-pack vs. truck) and stand-off distance. For more attractive targets, you want greater stand-off distances. Just sayin’….

  • Richiemagoo

    Looks like they’d make great projectiles if someone parked a car full of explosives in front of them.

    Really…..when people choose to live in such fear, they might as well just resign from the human race. So they beef up these places, the “terrorists” will just find other targets. What a farce, invented by the highly-educated and paid for by the entire country…yet they could not deter nor stop some sand-farmer from a Third-world country if he really wanted to do something.

    Hiow pathetic.

    Instead of wasting money on all this to scare people into giving up their liberties, why not instead use it to investigate just why WTC7 fell in upon itself like a controlled demolition, even though it had virtually no damage….and the fact that this wasn’t even referred to in the 911 Commission report?!

  • Streetsman: thanks for the information about Atlantic Avenue station.

    However, the real trouble spots on the subway are not in Downtown Brooklyn, where the subway lines aren’t that packed. Bombings are likeliest on the at-capacity sections in Midtown Manhattan, and possibly western Queens and Williamsburg.

  • IsaacB

    These suck, but so does the whole bug intersection. With no noticeable community advocacy, this is ovarall a ped-hostile environment. The station is just something that “had to be built”, without much thought given. Most people switch to the LIRR without going to the surface. The old waiting room sat neglected for decades. Until the entire intersection is reimagined, this is just one more indignity.

  • Some observations on the terminal and the street: http://the-landscape.blogspot.com/2010/01/atlantic-terminal-on-street.html

  • The station is just something that “had to be built”, without much thought given.

  • tom murphy

    Two thoughts

    First, these ‘stones’ look like rejects from another site that somebody peddled to MTA. Remember the anti-terrorist revolving doors that proved too heavy for the floors at Police Plaza. How much did Kerik pocket for them?

    Second, anyone see the pix last week of the cement truck that crashed into the gates of Leinster House, the Irish parliament building. The driver wasn’t a ‘terrorist’, just an unemployed construction worker protesting bank bailouts. They had to give the guards new underwear.