Archive for Manhattan
As the movement to reimagine and replan Midtown West takes shape and calls for some solutions to the Penn Station morass grow, the Department of City Planning is considering limiting the renewal term on Madison Square Garden’s occupancy permit to 15 years. The move — not without controversy — comes after a recommendation of 10 years from the Community Board and a request of an unlimited term from the Garden’s owners. A 15-year term would force the city to confront the problems of Penn Station before the end of the 2020s.
“While Madison Square Garden maintains that the arena special permit should continue in perpetuity, we believe the term is warranted due to the uniqueness of the site and the importance of Penn Station to the city,” Amanda Burden, director of City Planning Department and chair of the City Planning Commission, said.
Matt Chaban of Crain’s New York broke the story following the vote this morning, and his reporting provides some context on the next steps:
It’s been nearly a decade since efforts to move the Garden surfaced. Early talks involved city, state and federal governments, the three railroads that use the station, two developers and the Dolan family, which controls the Garden. Under that plan, the Garden would have moved across Eighth Avenue into the old Farley Post Office. It fell apart in 2008 under bureaucratic inertia and the wreckage of the real estate bubble. “We are recommending today that the commission call for a renewed, multiagency initiative to improve Penn Station,” Ms. Burden said.
Her notion of a 15-year permit drew vocal support from fellow commissioners, who will officially vote on the plan later in May. “I think 15 years, in my view, was a good decision and the minimum of what we could do because 10 years is too short and does not give the Garden enough to relocate,” said Commissioner Angela Battaglia, who had been skeptical of a limited term during past commission hearings…
Manhattan Commissioner Anna Levin reiterated the need to use the permit to jump-start the negotiations around the arena. “I’m fully in support of the general direction of the 15-year permit,” she said. “But we’ve got to rally the troops to get this to happen. It goes beyond these walls.”
Should a deal fall through, the special permit calls for a commission to reassess the area around the arena, perhaps creating more entrances on the plaza surrounding the Garden. The arena would not be responsible for such changes, but it would have to make way for them. “If such a plan does not come to fruition, making improvements to the station with Madison Square Garden at its current location will become critical to the future of Penn Station,” Ms. Burden said.
Various stakeholders expressed varying degrees of acceptance. The Municipal Art Society, which is seemingly more concerned with a great public space than a train station that can meet demand, still hopes for a 10-year permit while Madison Square Garden lashed out at the Commission’s decision. “Adding an arbitrary expiration for reasons unrelated to the special permit process or requirements would not only set a dangerous and questionable precedent, but would also hinder our ability to make MSG and New York City the long-term home of even more world-class events, and would harm a business that has served as a significant economic driver for the city for generations,” the arena’s owners said in a statement.
If the late-May vote upholds the 15-year permit and if the City Council does as well, the next decade and a half becomes a critical one for the region’s rail infrastructure. As I’ve mentioned a few times this year, the fight over MSG and, subsequently, Penn Station should not be about the above-ground elements. We can’t resurrect the old Penn Station, and we shouldn’t be sinking billions of dollars into a station house as we are with PATH at the World Trade Center site.
Rather, as Scott Stringer carefully elaborated, Madison Square Garden’s future must be tied to underground improvements. We need more track capacity, bigger platforms and a train station not interrupted by support columns that hinder passenger flow. MSG, already one of the country’s oldest arenas, has moved in the past, and it can move again if better transit connections warrant it.
Today’s announcement is the first real salvo in this fight, and the permit has clear a few hurdles before becoming law. Then, the battle of form vs. function over Penn Station will start to play out as well. For now, though, the move is a welcome one if we are to expand rail access into Manhattan, and the City Council should follow suit.
When last we checked in on the Sandy-ravaged South Ferry station, three months had elapsed since the storm, and the new southern terminal of the 1 train was in ruins. Work had yet to begin in earnest on the station reconstruction, and the photos were a stark reminder of the destructive power of salt water. Nearly every inch of the new station had been touched by the storm surge, and no one seemed to know when conditions would return to normal.
On the six-month anniversary of the storm, NBC News has again ventured underground to check out the conditions below the surface. Their piece — aimed at a national audience — rehashes a familiar story with with some small updates. Carlo Dellaverson offers up a tale of a station that needs to be rebuild nearly from scratch. “It’s a complete gut job,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said. “Every component of the station needs to be replaced.”
The NBC producer has more:
As communities rebuild and residents return to their homes, dozens of workers at the South Ferry station are taking the very first steps toward getting the station back online, starting with scrubbing mold from virtually every surface. Before the storm, 30,000 people passed through South Ferry each day, shuttling between Staten Island and Manhattan and around the labyrinthine streets of New York’s financial district.
Now, the stillness of the station is unsettling. The 90-foot platform sits empty, with strings of construction bulbs lighting two tracks and tunnel walls still covered with debris and dirt from the storm. Drywall and tiles have been ripped up by construction workers to expose the film of mold that quickly built up in the dark, humid space after the storm hit six months ago. The air is thick and pungent.
But the greatest damage inflicted from Sandy is not visible. The salty ocean water that flooded the station eighty feet below street level corroded nearly every piece of equipment in the space, adding considerably to the cost of recovery. Over 700 relay components – devices critical to the signaling systems of trains – were destroyed. A separate room of signaling equipment at the end of the platform flooded to the ceiling and is now a “complete loss,” said Joseph Leader, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s chief maintenance officer, who is overseeing the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the station.
The MTA has attached a $600 million price tag to the reconstruction efforts, but details on the timing and process are still being hashed out. When push comes to shove, the agency is likely to strip the station down to a bare cavern and start the construction process all over again. Engineers will have to figure out how to harden the station to protect against future storms and future storm surges, and straphangers will have to face the reality of the loop station for a few years at least.
For now, the top priority is mold abatement. When I was there in January, the smell of the water-logged station was pervasive. Soggy ceiling tiles marred crew rooms and fried computer equipment sat where the storm waters had deposited it. The recovery and rebuild will be substantial, and when it’s all over, the second round of $600 million spent at South Ferry should last longer than the first. Otherwise, we’ll just keep paying for this station with tax-payer dollars storm after storm after storm.
With the reopening of South Ferry set for tomorrow morning at 5 a.m., the MTA has released a seven-minute video of B-roll footage from the loop station. Take a trip through the tunnels, watch gap-fillers in action and enjoy the pan through the gussied-up station. Meanwhile, for a trip down memory lane, the last time we had video from South Ferry, it looked like a bunch of scenes out of a disaster movie.
The 1 train’s old South Ferry loop station will reopen at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning, the MTA announced this afternoon. The loop will operate for the foreseeable future while the newer two-track South Ferry terminal undergoes extensive repairs following its destruction at the floodwaters from Sandy’s storm surge. Those repairs should take a few years and will cost around $600 million according to estimates.
The reopening of the old loop marks the first time the MTA has closed a station only to reopen it later, but the agency did make a few key improvements. By removing a wall and building out an additional passageway, the connection between the R at Whitehall St. and the 1 at South Ferry remains in place. (I’m not sure, however, how useful such a transfer truly is.) However, only the first five cars at South Ferry will open at the curved station, and station egress points are limited. Still, just over five months after Sandy washed away the nearest subway station to the Staten Island Ferry, a temporary, imperfect solution is better than no service at all.
In a few days — some indeterminate time next week — the MTA will recommission an old station when the 1 train’s old South Ferry loop station reopens. With a new connection to the R train at Whitehall and some restored mosaic work, the reopened southern terminal will be just good enough, if far from perfect.
Late yesterday, the agency posted a series of photos ahead of next week’s reopening. There is still no set date for the first train to service South Ferry, but it’s going to arrive as April does. Staten Island Ferry customers will rejoice, but the station will come with warts and all. It’s still just a five-car loop; it still isn’t ADA-compliant; it still features narrow platforms and few egress points. Yet, a subway station is a subway station is a subway station, and with the new South Ferry terminal years away from restoration, reactivating the loop is a welcome move.
So what exactly goes into restoring a subway station not in service for nearly four years? From the mundane to the intricate, the MTA offered up a checklist. Cleaning, of course, is top on the list as is painting and installing new signage, electricity, better lighting and a PA system. The MTA had to refurbish the gap fillers, repair wall tiles, build a new staircase and entryway, repair some escalators and reinstate fare control and the station entrance. It’s quite the laundry list of tasks, and it all happened within five months of Sandy.
So as I ponder these photos and the station virtually on the eve of its reopening, I have to wonder why everything else in the subway system seems to take so long. With right pressure from Board members and politicians, the MTA reconstructed South Ferry in a few months. Everything else seems to take forever.
Madison Square Garden in its current form should be granted only a ten-year operating permit, and New York City must develop a comprehensive plan to redevelop Penn Station, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said today. As the World’s Most Famous Arena’s ULURP application winds its way through the torturous seven-month review processed, Stringer’s office released a non-binding, 18-page report calling upon New York to get serious about improving Penn Station both at ground level and underground.
While I’ve been skeptical of the architectural arguments against MSG, Stringer’s report strikes the perfect middle ground between the aesthetics — or lack thereof — of Penn Station and the need to do a serious assessment of rail capacity and the region’s future transportation demands. “It is time to build a more spacious, attractive and efficient station that will further encourage transit use, reduce driving into the city and spur economic growth throughout our city and our region,” Stringer said. Borough President said. “While we need to ensure the Garden always has a vibrant and accessible home in Manhattan, moving the arena is an important first step to improving Penn Station.”
The Penn Station problem, as I’ve written lately, is often tough to discern in media coverage. Some prominent city historians and architectural critics have grown too obsessed with rectifying a 50-year wrong. They want to promote the Moynihan Station venture as penance for Penn Central’s decision to tear down the Beaux Arts Penn Station, and they want to move Madison Square Garden to build something that looks majestic. That solution doesn’t address the fundamental problem: Penn Station rail capacity is maxed out. The platforms are too narrow, and the trans-Hudson rail tubes are too few. How can a new MSG and a new Penn Station improve rail capacity into and through New York City?
To that end, Stringer has an answer, and he lays it out in the ULURP recommendation [pdf]. Noting that both Moynihan Station and the Penn Visioning plan do not “go far enough, nor address the physical constraint of the Garden on meaningful improvements to Penn Station,” Stringer first calls for improvements at the track level. Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel will work, he says, only if platforms are wider, and to widen platforms, MSG and its support columns must go. “While moving Madison Square Garden,” he writes, “would potentially lead to a new, modern head house serving as a grand gateway into New York City, the true benefits in moving the arena would be increased below-grade flexibility that would allow for efficient track design.”
Thus, says Stringer, it’s time to develop a master plan for area. Involving all stakeholders — MSG, the city, the state, the feds, the MTA, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, area business — will be a challenge, but the future economic development of the Midtown area and the city on the whole depend on it. “Master plans for regional and mass transit improvements can take years, sometimes decades, to implement,” Stringer says. “The city must begin to create a master plan now and not wait until the system is so congested as to be broken.”
Of course, we can embrace Stringer’s call for action readily, but what of the other stakeholders? Madison Square Garden has, at various points over the past decade, endorsed plans to move the arena, but recently, its owners spent around $1 billion in arena upgrades. A ten-year occupancy permit coming on the heels of a 50-year lease isn’t quite what they had in mind, and already we can see the signs of a brewing battle. Here’s their statement:
“Virtually all special permits are granted without artificial expirations. In addition to this, MSG meets all required findings for this permit and operates in a city where no sports arena or stadium has a time limit to its use. Given these circumstances, we have the reasonable expectation that we will be treated like every other applicant. Yet the Garden – a company that has recently invested nearly $1 billion in its Arena and helps drive the city’s economy by supporting thousands of jobs and attracting hundreds of annual events– is being unfairly singled out because of a decision that was made 50 years ago – to demolish the original Penn Station. Adding an arbitrary expiration for reasons unrelated to the special permit process or requirements would not only set a dangerous and questionable precedent, but would also hinder our ability to make MSG and New York City the long-term home of even more world-class events, and would harm a business that has served as a significant economic driver for the City for generations.”
There’s more than a kernel of truth in this statement especially surrounding the issues with the demolition of Penn Station. But while Madison Square Garden’s location makes it a very transit-friendly arena, there is no denying that it will inhibit rail infrastructure expansion and transit growth. Something may have to give, and Penn Station’s expansion is more important than the Garden’s maintaining its current spot.
So what’s next? Community Boards 4 and 5 have both endorsed a ten-year permit, and Stringer’s office has as well. None of these recommendations are binding, though, and the ULURP process next lands on the tables of the City Planning Commission before facing City Council. MSG will put on a full-court press before a ten-year permit becomes officials, but the end of MSG may be inevitable. Stringer’s recommendations provide a clear course forward, and they should be endorsed and adopted by the city while the team is right.
Earlier this week, I railed against the New York’s attempts at using the WTC PATH Hub as some great symbol of New York. It may one day be a distinctive building, but $4 billion can buy around half a new Hudson River train tunnel. As the pot for transit infrastructure is seemingly limited and dollars for buildings compete with dollars for actual rail expansion, we shouldn’t be spending money frivolously on fancy building when the area’s economy truly needs transit capacity improvements.
At this point, though, Calatrava’s hub is a foregone conclusion. Too much of it exists for the city to reallocate the money to somewhere more deserving, and it will open in a few years, replacing a temporary PATH terminal no one has ever called inadequate. A few miles uptown, though, a similar battle over Penn Station, Madison Square Garden and the future of West Side rail access is brewing.
I last tackled this topic not too long ago. In mid-February, the controversy over Madison Square Garden’s occupancy permit first reared its head, and I opined on the meaning of Penn Station. A subset of New York’s architectural community cannot seem to move beyond the reality that the current Penn Station is no great shakes. They bemoan decisions made 50 years ago and call upon leaders to reimagine a rail hub as a great public space worthy of the architectural musings of The Times.
Now, as then, Michael Kimmelman has taken charge, and from the headline on down, his latest piece prioritizes Penn Station’s future potential appearance over rail access and capacity. “Seizing a chance to right a wrong” is his angle, and from that alone, we see he’s talking not about improving transit but rather about improving the outward appearance of Penn Station.
“New York is at a crossroads,” he writes in the lede. “After half a century a fleeting opportunity has finally arrived to address the disaster of Penn Station, the nation’s busiest and most appalling transit hub, and to reimagine a new West Side for Midtown Manhattan that could be a center for development and innovation.”
How goes the rest?
Because public officials haven’t wanted to derail Moynihan, they have soft-pedaled the figures, leaving many New Yorkers with the illusion that Moynihan will replace Penn Station and solve its problems. But just Amtrak will move there, not the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit. At the same time demands on Penn Station are about to explode, with the development of the Hudson Yards and the third phase of the High Line; the prospect of Metro North’s trains and its commuters coming into Penn Station after the completion of East Side Access; and Amtrak’s proposed Gateway Project, a first step toward high-speed rail, which could double the number of Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains coming into Manhattan.
It’s not only that Penn Station, designed a half-century ago in a declining city for what seemed then an unlikely capacity of 200,000 passengers a day, is now handling more than twice that number. It is also a shabby, hopelessly confusing entry point to New York, a daily public shame on the city. The station fails to conform to certain fire codes and safety regulations, local officials concede. Possible fixes being explored by Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road, which have hired the consulting firm Aecom, don’t address the big, systemic problems, because they can’t. Not with the Garden there.
But here’s the bright side. Madison Square Garden has moved twice since its inception in 1879, and its present building is its fourth. Yes, the Dolans and their customers benefit from the perch above Penn Station. But there are options aside from the Morgan building to which the Garden might move again, options linked to mass transit, that should be attractive to its owners and fans.
At a certain point, I’ve almost begun to feel bad for Penn Station. It’s certainly not the most scenic of train stations, and as an entry point in the city, it sure pales in comparison with Grand Central. But the scorn heaped upon it stems more from the mistakes of city politicians who didn’t stop private railroad companies from bulldozing McKim, Mead & White’s original than from anything else. True concerns over capacity and cramped quarters could be addressed by removing Amtrak’s office space and opening up the corridors. Worries over crowd conditions and the ability of the hub to handle demand could be allayed with investment in a new trans-Hudson tunnel. A fancy building should always come last.
But here we are in 2013 and fancy buildings come first. We put the transit design cart before the capacity horse, and all we have to show for it is a $4 billion porcupine in Lower Manhattan and prominent voices agitating for a takeover of the Farley Post Office. Let’s take those billions of dollars we spend on architecture and invest in rail. Future generations of New Yorkers will be far more thankful for the added rail lines than for a nice building.
We know the old South Ferry loop is set to reopen in April, and all signs are pointing to this impending recommissioning. While exiting at Times Square this afternoon, I spotted the above sign hanging on the wall. It’s a familiar one to riders of the 1 train, and it serves as a reminder that we’re getting back an old station with all of its warts.
This sign will soon be going up in 1 trains across the city, and although it has a few more languages and some snazzy colors at the top, it’s a throwback to the days before the new South Ferry terminal opened. There’s still no official timeline on the when the new station will be rebuilt and rehabilitated, but at least ferry-bound riders and those trying to reach Battery Park will have convenient West Side subway service starting in just a few weeks.
To provide better train service to Staten Island Ferry-bound customers, the MTA will recommission the 1 train’s old South Ferry loop station, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today. The station — the first ever to be shuttered and then reopened — will require around $2 million worth of work and will see revenue service begin again during the first week in April.
According to Cuomo’s office — which has now begun to take credit for every bit of good news coming out of the MTA — reactivating the old loop will help ease commutes for more than 10,000 riders while allaying some of the crowding that has plagued the 4 and 5 trains in Sandy’s aftermath. Despite this move, the MTA will not drop its $600 million to reconstruct and harden the new South Ferry terminal.
“The MTA has a long, tough job ahead as it tackles the immense job of virtually rebuilding the new South Ferry terminal station that was flooded 80 feet deep during Superstorm Sandy,” Cuomo said in a statement. “For the extended period of time it will take for this work to be completed, we are returning the old station in the complex to service, making travel easier and more convenient for Staten Islanders and others who work and visit this area.”
According to Cuomo, it will take the MTA approximately two years to restore the new South Ferry station, and Staten Island politicians and MTA Board reps called upon the agency to do something sooner. Over the past few weeks, crews have been working around the clock in the old station, and a recent video clearly showed a station nearing recommissioning.
“As MTA New York City Transit assessed the extent of damage to the new South Ferry station, it became clear that the time necessary to repair it would be too long a period to deny our customers a direct link to lower Manhattan,” MTA Interim Executive Director Thomas F. Prendergast said. “We are working to ensure that all elements and systems are fully operational, safe and reliable before restoring service to the old station, but our primary goal remains restoring the new South Ferry station as soon as possible.”
To reopen the old station, the MTA built a new connection between the new mezzanine and the old loop station, thus maintaining the transfer between the 1 and the R at Whilehall St. Crews also had to refurbish the platform edge extenders and reinstall electrical feeds, closed-circuit television systems to monitor the platform, customer assistance intercoms, security cameras and radio communications in the dispatcher’s office. Remaining work includes rehabbing the fare control area and restoring and repainting lighting in the station and adjacent tunnels.
Furthermore, the problems with the old loop station have not been resolved. Doors in only the first five cars will open at South Ferry, and gap fillers will be used to bridge the space between the car doors and the platform. Additionally, the station is rather narrow and was not, in 2009 when it closed, ADA accessible. It’s better though than a two-year wait.
Considering the MTA’s turnaround time on this project, it’s something to see what the MTA and its contractors can accomplish in short order with the right amount of political pressure. Six months after Sandy and less than four months after officials starting making noises about it, the South Ferry station will be reopened after a prolonged period of time without train service. Now if only they could do something about that price tag for work at the new station.
With the new South Ferry terminal out of service for the foreseeable future, Staten Island politicians and MTA Board members called upon the agency to do something for those heading to and from the ferry terminal building. Although the MTA has resisted putting a public timeline on any action, work crews have spent the last few weeks doing, well, something to the old one-track South Ferry loop station.
The above video hit the Internet yesterday. One SubChat poster rode the 1 south from Rector St. and through the loop in an effort to check out just what’s been going on there. The videographer has shot two scenes down there in recent works, and it’s clear that some sort of assessment is going on. The gap-fillers are reportedly in place, but there has been no word of operating conditions. Crews have been seemingly trying to maximize space as well, and a photo reportedly of a new entrance made the rounds recently too.
I reached out to the MTA for comment on the old South Ferry loop and was told that the agency is, in the words of a spokesperson, “still assessing” the situation. There is, in other words, no official decision one way or another. Reopening the old loop would not preclude restoring the new station, and the MTA fully plans to do so. It would mean, however, service to and from South Ferry only in the first five cars of the 1 train, no wheelchair access to the station and creaky gap-fillers at a station smaller than anyone would prefer.
But train service to South Ferry in any way, shape or form, and we’ll know soon if this work is for the reactivation of revenue service at the 1 train’s old haunt or not.