The one building that has changed the demographics of Washington Heights and Inwood is located on Broadway and 178th Street. The George Washington Bridge Bus Station was initially conceived, constructed and opened to replace the sidewalk depots near Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. The bus station offers commuter services to New Jersey, upstate New York, and long-distance bus travel via the George Washington Bridge.
Prior to the construction and opening of the bus station, buses went on the bridge and ferries plied the Hudson River. In 1942 a float bridge collapsed on one of the ferry-boats at Dyckman Street and the Hudson River, which sounded the death knell for ferry service crossing the river from New Jersey to Northern Manhattan. The ill-fated accident was a blessing for the bus companies in New Jersey to expand their service over the George Washington Bridge.
The Hill Bus Company, which was the forerunner of the Red and Tan Lines, operated from Englewood to Tenafly, New Jersey, thus the term “Over the Hill” was added to their service to get to the top of the Palisades. Hill combined their operations with the Rockland Coach Corporation to operate over the George Washington Bridge to connect New York City with New Jersey and upstate New York.
The Hill Bus Company and Rockland Coach Lines were owned by the Dorf and Katz families, but in time the families sold out. Other bus companies operating over the Bridge in the past were the Public Service of New Jersey, Manhattan Transfer, and Public Be Pleased. Public service was partially owned by the Prudential Insurance Company and Public Service Electric and Gas Company of New Jersey.
Prior to the opening of the bus station, there was a depot at 167th Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue. The bus route in Manhattan from the depot was north along Saint Nicholas Avenue to 179th Street, then west to the bridge, where there was a stop on the ramp just west of Fort Washington Avenue.
Coming back to New York City from New Jersey, the first stop was 178th Street and Fort Washington Avenue, where the passengers departed the buses and connected with the Independent Subway “A” service at 175th Street. The buses continued to Broadway then south to the depot at 167th Street.
The bus station was the brainchild of the Italian engineer-architect Dr. Pier Luigi Nervi, and was officially opened on January 17, 1963. It was Nervi’s first record of work in the United States. Dr. Nervi was noted for designing and constructing the 1960 Olympic stadium in Rome and other world-renowned sculptures.
The building covers one city block (400 feet by 185 feet) and has three levels, with a direct passageway to the Independent Subway “A” train station at 175th Street. It was constructed over a twelve-lane highway known as the Trans-Manhattan Expressway. The construction cost was $15,400,000.
The 26 triangular sections, 92 by 66 feet each, are made up of poured concrete and steel, 14 of which slope upward from a row of columns in the center of the building forming a butterfly effect. The sides of the raised roof section and the rest of the bus station have exposed concrete that forms openings to facilitate ventilation. This form complements the design of the George Washington Bridge. The bus station received the 1963 Concrete Industry Board’s Award as the structure that represented the best in conception, originality and applicability in concrete for both design and construction.
During the construction of the bus station and the Bridge Apartments, several nostalgic accounts have come from community residents who remember what they had seen and done during that period. One resident recollected that as a child he played in the trench that was to become the Trans-Manhattan Expressway. Another resident recalled Broadway between 178th and 179th Streets being closed to traffic one evening. Beams for the overhead ramps connecting the service building with the bus station were placed by cranes. The service building has parking space and space for the buses to turn around to go to New Jersey. The service building is located between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue east of the bus station.
With the renovation of the Port Authority Bus Station at 41st Street and Eighth Avenue, many of the long-distance bus companies, such as Leprechaun Lines, Mohawk Lines, Trailways, Shortline and Greyhound either moved downtown or went out of business. Greyhound Bus Service returned to the station in October 2003 as an added stop to their bus routes. Casser Tours and Domenici Tours used to rent space for their tours leaving from the bus station.
In the past, many residents from the community and the Bronx enjoyed taking buses to Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Boston, West Point, Bear Mountain and Jones Beach. There is bus service to Atlantic City. Of the 10 ticket windows used for the purchase of tickets, about half are being used. During the summer months, the bus station is used as a staging area for the Fresh Air Fund so that city children can have a summer vacation in the country.
Other commuter routes to New Jersey and New York State are operated by Rockland Coach (Red and Tan) and New Jersey Transit. Rockland Coach is now part of Coach USA. These companies operate on a regular basis to local towns and to the various shopping malls, such as the Paramus Mall and Garden State Plaza in New Jersey and the Nanuet Mall in Rockland County.
In September 1997, New Jersey Transit installed self-serving vending machines to purchase bus tickets. These machines are located near the Fort Washington Avenue entrance of the bus station and will facilitate passenger purchasing of tickets who cannot wait in line at the ticket windows.
There are new bus companies that are leaving from the lower level of the bus station. They are the Express Bus Service and the Vanessa Express. These companies go to many locations in New Jersey.
During rush hours, the bus station can accommodate 10,000 passengers. A typical weekday could average at least 17,500 passengers with 800 buses on various routes. In 1975 alone, the station handled 10 million passengers with 440,000 scheduled bus trips. Eleven years later in 1986, the ridership had declined to 5.5 million passengers with 261,000 scheduled runs. In 1997, the station handled 4.2 million passengers with 195,000 scheduled runs.
Passengers who use the station can connect with New York City Mass Transit. City buses go to and from the station to the Bronx and Midtown Manhattan. The M98 bus starts at 190th Street and Fort Washington Avenue, stops at the bus station’s upper platform for passenger connection to New Jersey Transit and Rockland Coach. From there the M98 continues to midtown Manhattan via the Harlem River Drive and Lexington Avenue. Passengers may also connect with the subway at 175th Street for the “A” train via an underground tunnel.
The main concourse has shops and services for the public. Such shops include OTB, a barbershop, pizza parlor, bookstore and doughnut shop. The New York National Bank, with ATMs and other banking services, is also available. Newsstands are on the main and lower concourses. On the lower concourse is a medical office operated by Health Plus. At the Fort Washington entrance of the bus station are the Bridge Dentists and the Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union. Blockbuster Video and Rite Aid Drugstore are at the Broadway entrance of the bus station.
The George Washington Bridge Bus Station has two exhibit spaces. One is near the Fort Washington entrance and the other is near the barbershop. These exhibit spaces are provided for artists and community arts groups.
The bus station has two memorial busts: one of George Washington and the other of Othmar Amman. The bust of Amman by Wheeler Williams was installed when the building was opened in 1963. It is located near the stairs going to the Broadway entrance of the station. The bust of Washington was cast by Frederick G.R. von Roth of Englewood, New Jersey. It was cast in bronze from the same mold as the equestrian statue in front of the Morristown National Historic Park in Morristown, New Jersey. The Washington bust was installed on February 21, 1967, and is located to the left of the ticket windows. Both statue and bust of Washington were cast in 1927 in Florence, Italy, by Mr. van Roth.
The bus station celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1988 with much fanfare and heraldry. A brochure giving the history of the station with descriptive stories containing old photographs of the community was made available to the public. In addition, a poster of the George Washington Bridge was printed to celebrate the occasion.
After many years of decline and neglect, the bus station has made a comeback. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has improved its much-needed appearance of the station and awareness to allow the community to make use of the building. Better lighting and an elevator for the handicapped and the elderly have been installed.
In an effort to meet the demands of the 21st Century, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued Requests for Proposals to modernize services and increase retail opportunities at the Bus Station. The deadline was set for April 27, 2006, with the selection of the proposals over the summer months. Renovation of the complex is scheduled for 2007. The Port Authority is hoping to increase the retail space to 300,000 square feet from the present 30,000 square feet.
The maintenance building to the east of the Bus Station when renovated will accommodate 100,000 square feet. This would bring in a large retailer like Home Depot or have it broken down for many smaller retailers. Years ago, the Port Authority had put forth an idea of having a multiplex movie theater on the site. Since the complex is owned by the Port Authority, the final arrangements for retail spaces have yet to be decided.
For more information on the George Washington Bridge Bus Station, log on to the Port Authority’s website. The bus station is located at 4211 Broadway between 178th Street and 179th Street. Greyhound bus information can be obtained by calling 1-800-231-2222 (English) or 1-800-531-5332 (Spanish), or log on to the Greyhound website. Schedules and fare information for New Jersey Transit buses from the bus station to New Jersey can be accessed online. Red and Tan, Rockland Coaches and Coach USA schedules and fares can be accessed from either redandtanlines.com or coachusa.com.