The old Penn Station — that long-lost symbol of the city’s historic preservation movement — turns 100 this year. As City Room’s Michael Grynbaum meticulously detailed, the first passengers to ride the Pennsylvania Railroad passed through the doors of the famed building back in 1910, and while the city tore down the iconic building, today’s iteration is one of the busiest transit hubs in the nation. Yesterday, city and state officials used the Penn Station centennial to celebrate the groundbreaking for another project. Phase I of Moynihan Station, newly renamed Moynihan Moving Forward, is now, well, moving forward.
At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Governor David A. Paterson, Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — a veritable who’s who in New York politics — gathered to commemorate the start of the $267 million project. Just a few hours earlier, LaHood and Paterson had signed a grant agreement providing for $83 million in federal funding through the Department of Transportation’s TIGER program. Still, even as the back-patting spread in earnest, this project is far from complete and questions about both its usefulness and overall integration into the plans for the 34th St. area abound.
“This is an historic day for New York: not only the 100th Anniversary of Penn Station but also the birth of another,” Paterson said. “Today we break ground on one of New York’s most important transportation projects. While the size and scope of the project may have changed over the years, its goals have remained constant. This critical infrastructure project will create thousands of jobs for our construction workers and foster economic growth.”
While the state’s governor declined to mention the transportation benefits inherent in the project, Sen. Schumer, who led the effort to secure the TIGER grant, put them front and center during his remarks. “Moynihan Station is poised to be one of the greatest transportation and infrastructure legacies of our generation. Transportation infrastructure is the life-blood of New York and investing in it is a tried and true job creator,” he said. “The construction of Moynihan Station will create jobs, upgrade aging infrastructure, and leave behind an economic engine for the entire region. This project will bring together large numbers of people who can live and work in close proximity, which is New York’s secret formula for success. Our public transportation systems must continue to expand in sync with our population and job growth and confidence in the future.”
The Phase I construction — which I’ve covered in depth over the past few months — is modest in scope. While the entire project would realize a new train terminal inside the old Farley Post Office building, Phase I consists of better access points and cosmetic upgrades for the preexisting rathole that is Penn Station. As the press release lists, the first phase includes: “the expansion and enhancement of the 33rd Street Connector between Penn Station and the West End Concourse, which lies under the grand staircase of the Farley building” as well as “the extension and widening of the West End Concourse to serve nine of Pennsylvania Station’s 11 platforms, new vertical access points and passenger circulation space and entrances into the West End Concourse through the 31st and 33rd Street corners of the Farley building.” These most celebrated of all entrances will be opened by 2016.
Planning for the second phase, says the governor’s office, is “well under way.” In other words, don’t hold your breath. Still to prove that point, the Moynihan Station Development Corporation released the renderings with which I’ve decorated this post. If or when the $1.5-billion Phase II sees the light of day, it will at least look nice.
Yet, the project still suffers from a lack of planning. Basically, Moynihan Station is the very definition of putting lipstick on a pig. It takes a recognize urban problem — the ugliness of the current Penn Station — and spruces up the Amtrak depot. It doesn’t offer up more track capacity into or out of the city, and it doesn’t really integrate the New York City end of the ARC Tunnel. In fact, there’s no small irony to the fact that this groundbreaking came just a few days before the two-week ARC Tunnel review is up. At Penn Station, it’s almost as though the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing, and one of those hands is planning to spend a significant amount just to make everything look nicer.
Another lack of cohesiveness here is that the #7 extension doesn’t, and won’t, come down as far as 34th street. With no rapid transit infrastructure on the far west side (and the supposed opening of the Gimbels passageway from 7th to 6th Ave), its going to be a really long walk to get from Moynihan to anywhere. People will continue to use the old Penn Station.
What do you mean? The 7 extension will terminate at 34th and 11th Avenue…You don’t want it to swing around and connect back to Penn, right?
A short shuttle in the west side yards connecting penn station to the javits and the future 7 extension would be really useful and relatively cheap.
The track layout does not support that “really useful and relatively cheap” shuttle. Building it while maintaining existing infrastructure would be neither easy nor cheap.
Useful? Now there I think you’re right. The original plan for the #7 extension would have had it traveling down Eighth Avenue, and then along 34th Street to the Javits Center. Among many other benefits, this would have provided the one-seat ride between Penn and GCT that the city so sorely lacks.
That design was rejected as impracticable, due to the density of the existing infrastructure along Eighth Avenue.
Off-topic, but considering that the 7 extension tunnel extends down 11th Ave to 25th Street anyway, future expansion should have it just continue south under 11th Ave and the West Side Highway and then loop back east under 14th Street to meet the L and the A/C/E at 8th Ave. Direct transit access to Chelsea Piers and the Meatpacking District, and an excuse to re-open the closed pedestrian tunnel under 14th b/t 7th and 8th.
I believe that is exactly the idea. Whether we would see it in our lifetimes is a whole other story. Once you disassemble the TBM and take it out of the ground, the start-up costs for putting it back in again are enormous.
Huh. Are you sure it’s not possible? Dedicate one track on one side of the West Side Yards, build a platform, reverse trains coming in on that track…
You’re right. I stand corrected.
No doubt there will be those for whom the Seventh Avenue exit from Penn will be much more useful. There are also many for whom Eighth Avenue works equally well, so a new station will definitely serve a useful purpose.
I am dismayed, though, that the project does not create any new transit capacity. I don’t mind investing in grand above-ground stations (e.g., I support the Fulton Street project), but there ought to be actual transit improvements to go along with them.
Well, it’s mostly designed to alleviate the passenger-circulation crush at Penn Station.
If Amtrak can be moved into the Farley Building at reasonable cost, it would really eliminate said crush.
With ARC cancelled, the next step is what it always should have been: developing through-routed NJT/LIRR services. This would increase capacity without the need to add any platforms. (Replace all contra-peak LIRR trips with NJT extensions. Yes, it requires catenary on the LIRR.) After that, we can try one more time for Alternative G, the Grand Central-Penn connection with the new tunnel under the Hudson….
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Thanks for posting the graphic. This is the best rendering I’ve seen regarding what this phase is supposed to accomplish.
My own wish is that they would demolish the useless Manhattan Mall and use that site as a concourse. Between this and the new NJ Transit entrance to the south, it almost seems like they are intentionally funneling people to the least useful parts of Manhattan.
I don’t have a citation now, but I believe that Vornado’s master plan for domination of the region includes demolition of the Mall of Manhattan and replacing it with something even larger, that is somehow connected to the massive tower they want to replace The Hotel Pennsylvania with.
Incidentally, walked by that mall literally hundreds if not thousands of times and am not sure I’ve even been inside it once.
I’ve been inside. I’ve been to the Penny’s. (I know, the horror!) It serves it’s purpose. And I’m sure generates plenty of sales tax for us. And is in a lovely historic building.
It’s too bad to be losing these beautiful old buildings, the Hotel Pennsylvania included in that. Although the design of the Hotel is without the original penn station across the street. They were built to answer each other visually.
I’m all for adding more density, but losing some great old buildings in the central core isn’t always the best sustainable, job generating solution.
The community board voted (unanimously I believe) to save the Hotel Penn, but they were overruled by the city council.
whenever i have out of town guests, particularly transit minded out of country guests, they always wish for a simple connector between Penn and GCT, as well as an internal passageway from Penn to Herald Square.
I agree with Ben. Given the amount of money going into ARC (maybe) and the new Moynihan, and the age of Madison Sq Garden, it really does make sense to rethink this. It would be a much better idea to tear down the garden and build a new stadium in the hudson yards development over the rail yards. That would clear the area for a brand new Penn Station. Calatrava? Maybe Moynihan could be a supplementary facility, but to spend all this money and still have the same crappy Penn Station seems absurd.
When the new station idea was first floated it was round when the new Union Station opened in D.C. and I was wowed at the time. But since then I’ve come to wonder why we need this functionless monument when so much else needs doing. (Not that there’s ever a good reason to spend public money for no reason.)
In fact, I think the early 90s renovation of Penn station, with the new entrance from 34th st, was not bad and if it’s necessary to accommodate more travelers there there must be other ways, less expensive ways, to do so. The platforms are terribly dark and close and dingy and uncomfortable feeling, but they are not much better in Grand Central. And there is no way to go backward and recover the light-filled shed type station so common in Europe, unless you demolish Farley or the Garden. Every once in a while someone talks about demolishing the Garden and rebuilding somewhere else but I do not see that actually occurring.
It’s like poetic justice that this is the legacy of a politician I felt extremely ambivalent about. It’s lofty aspiration and many laudable personal qualities but at ground level, at the detail, practical level, I just think, WTF, same as when I used to actually listen to Patrick Moynihan speak rather than read or hear what his fans said about him.
I guess as someone raised in Chicago under the ethos of “make no small plans” I find this terribly depressing. This idea that we can’t spend public money to create beautiful, soaring majestic spaces. (Of course we do it for airports all the time, and then wonder why rail isn’t as well appreciated as we build one more functional, but drab, station after another.) Europe and Japan and China are still building gorgeous, inspiring rail stations for no other reason that the experience of the commonwealth is still important.
It’s a valid and valuable philosophy and I’m not opposed at all to the sentiment, but even beautiful, soaring (publicly funded) majestic spaces should have some practical use. An expensive cathedral of (commuter) transportation on the west side with no HSR–let’s get real–when Metro North for some reason can’t smooth the trackbed on the Harlem Line makes no sense at all to me. Building and spending big just for the sake of building and spending big. I’m no Tea Party-er but you know…. Train access to the East and West sides of Manhattan from either side of the island, now that would be something worth spending some money on.
I don’t even believe NYC is at all impoverished when it comes to beautiful public spaces.
Do you have source links for these images? Are they posted somewhere else?
Yep. They’re available online right here.
Ben, I agree that there is, sadly, no overall coordination with other planned or proposed projects in and around Penn Station, but I think you’re being overly critical of this project. The current Phase I is really just a way to package necessary upgrades to the ventilation system at Penn Station with the modest in scale but difficult in execution expansion of pedestrian circulation space in the West End Concourse. The whole point was to do the work that would provide the clearest benefit first (providing new exit/entrances to the LIRR, Amtrak and some NJT platforms) and which could get federal funding. Phase II is intended to be funded partially or fully by the transfer of air rights to the adjacent Vornado tower development and by the development of the non-train related spaces of the Farley building – but they’re wisely waiting until the commercial real estate market rebounds before going forward. Considering Phase I is planned to last 6 years (because construction will be limited to late nights and weekends to not affect train traffic), I think the unstated plan is that Phase II will be built concurrently and open about the same time.
However, all that said, I really think there needs to be a master plan for Penn Station to address the needs of the three current railroad operators (plus Metronorth) and to plan for various expansions, from ARC to Amtrak’s additional tunnels, to high speed rail and a connection to Grand Central. Some personal ideas that aren’t even being discussed right now include building new platforms along the existing tunnels east of Fifth Avenue (which was considered in both the East Side Access study and the initial ARC studies), building a new station for LIRR trains in the LIRR yard to serve the Hudson Yards development, and the expansion of mainline railroad services within the five boroughs with Penn Station as the hub to alleviate subway overcrowding and provide rail service to new areas.
The building may look like a train station, but it’s still a post office. This means it’s not very accessible, and doesn’t have high passenger throughput as a primary consideration. For instance, to get into the building, you need to climb stairs outside, making it inaccessible. This was not true of the old Penn Station and is not true of the new Penn Station, Grand Central, or any modern majestic European train station.
What the more competent European and Asian cities do is most definitely not spend $2 billion to turn a post office into a train station. If they spend big bucks, it’s on bringing together existing disconnected lines or stations, for example Berlin Hauptbahnof, which replaced the Cold War-era makeshift stations. Even the Stuttgart 21 project, a takings-heavy $3.5 billion boondoggle that attracted massive political protests, includes major transportation benefits, namely turning Stuttgart into a through-station.
As the pictures show, access to the new concourse will *not* require climbing stairs. It will be at ground level.
Both pictures show stairs going into the main entrance. Yes, there are smaller entrances. But if the intention is to build entrances with the same look and functionality as those of Penn, they shouldn’t sell the project as a majestic train station; they should sell it as a new modernist station underneath a majestic building that’s unusable as a station.
The current postal hall (up those stairs to the “main entrance”) is *not* where the main concourse will be.
While talking about Berlin Hauptbahnhof – the whole thing was not just a pretty station, but placed at an existing east-west connection; and included a new north-south tunnel. The North-South Tunnel has a capacity of 500 trains a day, on 8 tracks. The East-West connection has 6 tracks. 2 of those are for the S-Bahn and run 627 daily trains right now. In total, the the station right now sees 1200 daily trains on a total of 14 through-running tracks.
The new Stuttgart station is planned to see 850 trains on 8 tracks.
Now how many tracks does a new Penn Station really need? Why are billions spent (EA,ARC,Post Office) without having an integrated plan including through-running?
Penn simply doesn’t need new tracks, and if the link to GCT and through-running are implemented, could even have tracks removed.
Now, through-running really should be job one. How to get the LIRR and NJT to cooperate on this? It requires fairly complex schedule coordination, and quite probably deserves catenary wiring for the LIRR.
Moynihan’s Eighth Avenue side will still at least have access to the A/C/E trains, but extending the station further towards Ninth Avenue without mass transit access will simply be an annoyance for many passengers. Better to spend the money on widening the existing trackage/platform area, either southward between 31st and 30th Streets or northward between 33rd and 34th Streets (a more logical option, since that block is already partially integrated into the Penn Station complex).
Additional tracks/platforms between Seventh and Eighth would make modification of the ARC to connect up with the existing Penn Station more feasible, especially if the LIRR’s East Side Access to Grand Central allowed for the redirection of a few rush hour trains away from Penn, freeing up even more space for NJT trains.
It’s a little-known fact that the lower concourse of Penn is so laden with back offices (why?) and concessions that barely half of its floor area is used for passenger circulation. Move the back offices to less constrained real estate, kick out the concessions if necessary, and only then start encroaching on other blocks.
It might be deeply logical to move those back offices into the Farley Post Office.
[…] into two parts. Phase 1 includes better egress points into the current Penn Station, and it is currently funded and ongoing. Phase 2, which will cost upwards of $1 billion, involves moving Amtrak’s operations into the […]