Home Penn Station What we talk about when we talk about Penn Station

What we talk about when we talk about Penn Station

by Benjamin Kabak

Even empty as it was before Sandy, Penn Station won’t win any beauty contests. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Aaron Donovan

New York City and its residents have had a long and torturous relationship with Penn Station, both new and old. The destruction of the original McKim, Mead & White head house spurred the start of the preservation movement, and architectural critics and transit planners haven’t been too sure what to make of the current iteration. Today, as we face capacity concerns that would have bedeviled the original Penn Station decades ago, halting efforts to reconstruct and reconfigure the Amtrak, LIRR and NJ Transit hub have drawn no clear consensus.

The latest news concerning Penn Station is actually about its upstairs neighbor Madison Square Garden. The arena looms over Penn’s rail service both literally and figuratively, and right now, its short- and long-term future is up for debate. The arena’s special occupancy permit is up for renewal, and as the Dolan’s are asking for a perpetual permit, Community Board 5 members and some of the city’s urban planning critics are calling for a ten-year permit that would allow for Penn Station’s future and an arena relocation plan to work itself out.

“The 10-year renewal is an attempt to create a planning period to figure out another location for the Garden,” Raju Mann, head of CB5’s land use committee, said to DNA Info. “The reason we would like MSG to relocate is because the Garden sits atop Penn Station, which is North America’s most important train station, but is unfortunately woefully over capacity…The goal is to try to figure out how we can improve transportation and also build a great new arena.”

Now, it’s not an inherently bad thing that Madison Square Garden is atop Penn Station. It further incentivizes patrons to take transit instead of their cars and allows for easy access to and from events. Moving Penn Station west to the Hudson Yards area, as many have advocated, would inevitably lead to an uptick in automobile traffic along the West Side and a decrease in rail usage. (The 7 line extension, however, may mitigate some of the traffic concerns.)

In The Times today, Michael Kimmelman expands on this argument and comes out firmly against a perpetual permit. His defense is centered largely around the need for a larger and prettier Penn Station.

On their own New Jersey Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak have banded together to hire the design and engineering firm Aecom and James Carpenter Design Associates to devise ways to bring a little light and air down into the bowels of Penn Station. But so far the plans, hamstrung by the arena, seem only to recommend modest changes and perhaps the partial closing of 33rd Street at Seventh Avenue, to create a small pedestrian plaza. Serious change to the area, to heal one of most painful wounds the city has ever inflicted on itself, must involve the Garden.

Its owners, the Dolan family, have been pouring a billion dollars into upgrading the arena. New York taxpayers are effectively footing part of the bill. In 1982 the New York State Legislature, worried that the Knicks and Rangers might leave town, granted the Garden a tax abatement that last year alone saved the Dolans $16.5 million, according to the New York City Independent Budget Office. In 2008, by which time the abatement was estimated to have cost the city $300 million, the City Council recommended that it be ended, but the state legislature declined.

Penn Station was designed half a century ago when some 200,000 riders a day used it, but now 650,000 do, and that number is growing. With the Garden on top of it, relief is not likely. The City Planning Commission, which recommended the demolition in 1963 of the old Penn Station, now has, for the first time since then, a chance to atone by giving the permit a time limit. The permit that has just expired was for 50 years. Several years ago the Garden entertained a proposal by developers to vacate its site and move to the back of the post office. Having just spent a fortune on improvements, the Dolans probably have no desire to entertain a move now.

But a decade of wear and tear should help to amortize their investment and make the notion of a new home more palatable, especially compared with the endless prospect of sinking yet more millions into an already decrepit building. The Garden has already moved twice since its establishment, in 1879. Another move, one that sustains the arena’s mass-transit link, could provide an opportunity to build what the Garden should be, the newest and best sports and entertainment facility in the city: an architectural landmark as opposed to an eyesore, lately made to look even worse by the arrival of the spanking new and striking Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The problem with any discussion around Penn Station is the way the dialogue is framed. Kimmelman’s line that any new Penn Station has to “heal one of most painful wounds the city has ever inflicted on itself” is tough to reconcile with transit planning. While Penn Station is ugly and dingy and, at best, utilitarian, the problem with the station isn’t necessarily the way it looks; the problems, rather, are the tunnel leading to it.

While Penn Station may require larger corridors and while we may want nicer views, some natural lighting and soaring ceilings, train capacity is far more important, and plans to move the Garden to the post office or to convert Penn Station into Moynihan Station across the street do little — if anything — to add train capacity. Instead, critics are arguing to spend billions on a new train station head house and more on a new arena because Penn Station is ugly.

To me, that’s not a solution to the real problem of transit capacity. Rather, it’s a solution to fixing something that went wrong fifty years ago. As a $4 billion train hub with no added capacity grows in Lower Manhattan, we should be more mindful of our approach to building transit-related structures. Let’s increase rail capacity before we drum up more plans to build something that looks nice at ground level.

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Alex B. February 14, 2013 - 11:43 am

I’d be curious to see how much space you could create if you:

a) Leave MSG in place, exactly as it is.
b) completely gut the remainder of the station, from the MSG arena floor down to the train platforms
c) reconfigure that space to be more functional

Would it be a grand space with natural light like Grand Central? Doubtful. But I bet it could be a hell of a lot more functional in handling crowds.

Also, the rail capacity constraint seems to the the Hudson tunnels, not the station itself. Sure, there are some vertical circulation constraints between platform and concourse that need to be resolved, but the largest train constraints seem largely operational.

Nathanael February 16, 2013 - 8:04 pm

Penn Station actually has plenty of track capacity. Yes, another pair of Hudson tunnels are needed, but feed them into the west end of Penn Station and you’re fine.

The problems with Penn Station are all about *passenger circulation*.

It needs wider platforms. It needs more waiting room areas. It needs more elevators. Et cetera.

Nathanael February 16, 2013 - 9:44 pm

Oh. Answer to your question. The problem with the platform width is hard to fix while the supporting pillars are where they are. That’s why you need to knock down MSG to fix it properly.

marv February 14, 2013 - 11:43 am

Stop trying to fix penn station, it is a reasonable station for its intended capacity.

Build (as has been recommended) a Hoboken-Downtown-Brooklyn connection.

Have Jersey Transit take ownership of the atlantic avenue tracks and have Jersey Transit (and some amtrack trains?) go as far east as Jamacia or even Valley Stream.

Capacity issues at both penn and tracks leading to it get solved as more commuters get off at downtown.

AG February 14, 2013 - 12:27 pm

Not sure if having Jersey transit run it is a good idea… but I absolutely agree about the need for connection. Lower Manhattan needs a commuter rail hub in addition to subway and PATH. That would also help in airport/rail connectivity.

Bolwerk February 14, 2013 - 1:47 pm

Rather than always arguing about who runs what, we should have agencies that play nice enough so that it doesn’t matter very much.

Bolwerk February 14, 2013 - 11:53 am

I agree that the major problems with Penn probably aren’t even Penn itself, but where it is and our expectations for it. As a long-distance railroad station, it’s reasonably adequate location-wise. People who come can handle the long time it takes going the last mile to get to wherever in the city they need to go. As a commuter station, it’s pretty awful. It’s too far from where many commuters work. If you’re coming in from Long Island, do you really want to take a two-seat subway/bus ride just to get to the northeastern part of Midtown?

Function is another matter. I figure it should be treated as a stop, for the most part. It shouldn’t be a terminal station, except maybe selectively for Amtrak. Better transit connections would help a lot. I don’t know if the 7 will help though. Something bold (but maybe completely infeasible) would be to turn an extra Penn platform into a subway terminal for easier transfers to commuter and LD rail.

AG February 14, 2013 - 12:33 pm

what you say is correct… however remember the millions of square feet of office space currently being built (and millions more planning stages) of that area of the westside … it will be closer to where many ppl will work. Of course – better connections would also be better.

Bolwerk February 14, 2013 - 12:38 pm

Yeah, it will be incrementally more useful. Yet a topic on this blog now is upzoning Midtown East. The east side will be growing too. Luckily, I guess ESA takes care of some of that problem.

I’m not sure it’s entirely outlandish to think that maybe it would be good if long distance riders can get to the east side more easily, but that’s another matter.

Bolwerk February 14, 2013 - 11:54 am

I think the aesthetics matter is really over-played. It’s ugly, but so what? It’s busy and confined enough where we don’t even want people meandering there longer than they have to. It doesn’t need a GCT-style oyster bar.

There are enough traffic and aesthetic problems with that neighborhood that warrant fixing more than anything that’s wrong with Penn.

AG February 14, 2013 - 12:24 pm

The old Penn – cannot and will not be re-created if MSG moves. It is foolish to think so. I absolutely agree that is ridiculous to spend billions and billions to make something “look nice”. Farley Post Office is a gorgeous building and is right across the street. Spend the money to do that (which Related is willing to do if BMCC gives them a land swap downtown). Moving MSG would only increase car traffic because other than Grand Central and Atlantic Terminal – there are no comparative transit hubs. MSG is in use almost every day. Also – moving it won’t create capacity. If public money is to be spent – then spend it in ways that would increase capacity.

D in B February 14, 2013 - 1:05 pm

The Post Office may make a nicer station, but the designs show the entrances would be on the side and sidewalk level making the grand front stairs useless. People don’t want to walk up to go down.
Plus the Post Office is a very long block farther away from current Midtown office buildings.
The current Station sucks and is ugly but better lighting and logical signage would help a lot. That would probably cost billions and take 15 years though.
We will forever pay for the supreme sin of tearing down the most beautiful station America ever had.

AG February 14, 2013 - 11:36 pm

actually all the construction of office space is taking place to the west of Penn… and if ppl can’t walk they shouldn’t live or work in NYC. They should live somewhere where they walk out into their driveway and then jump out right in their office park and walk into their office.
Again though – yes it’s a tragedy what happened to the original station… but there is no turning back. Wasting billions won’t help.
If ppl are only concerned with light – LED’s can do some amazing imitation of sunlight. Money is better spent on capacity… not being “pretty”.

Alon Levy February 15, 2013 - 6:51 am

Yes, the city is trying to build more office space west of the station, but the center of employment is and will always be to the east.

On top of that, the subway is also to the east – 8th Avenue is equally accessible from both sites, but 7th isn’t.

AG February 15, 2013 - 6:27 pm

well actually the city isn’t building anything… it just rezoned the area. There many millions of feet of commercial space that developers are working on (more than the WTC site) in Hudson Yards and Manhattan West. Never say never. Midtown actually has more finance jobs than lower Manhattan – which is something ppl never thought would happen. Lower Manhattan has a thriving residential population (bc of all those de-camped financial firms) which ppl thought would never happen.

in reality though – whether the most jobs is to the east or not – I stand by my statement that it would be an incredible waste of money to spend billions more so people don’t have to walk one city block. those persons shouldn’t work in NYC. I used to get out at Columbus Cicle and walk to 11th Ave. I also used to get out at Grand Central and just walk up to 49th. I found it to be great exercise… and a better way to “know the neighborhood”.

Bolwerk February 16, 2013 - 11:22 am

I don’t know what extra block you’re talking about exactly, but the one pertinent to Moynihan Station is an extra block in the wrong direction. The station would be a waste even without that factor, of course, but that factor is a bit of a money shot to the face.

That said, there is something to be said for not wasting people’s time. If 100,000 people a day have 2 minutes of their time wasted walking an extra block needlessly, that’s still a waste of upwards of 3000 man-hours to the NYC economy.

AG February 16, 2013 - 8:05 pm

spend billions more to save 2 minutes per person??? that’s laughable… but I guess that’s why debt rules this society.
walking a block is “wasting people’s time”? then this is a soft-spoiled society.
would Farley be the best solution? no… but it is the most sensible considering the options and money necessary to do them.

Bolwerk February 16, 2013 - 8:38 pm

Well, I wasn’t suggesting that. I just said it’s worth considering small increments in time add up. However, it’s not that laughable. 3,000 man hours valued at $50/hr of productivity for the economy times 250 working days per year is 37,500,000/year, which is $1B in about a quarter of a century – and the way that savings is invested could have an even bigger impact. There is certainly no (financial/economic) reason to scoff at 2m of time saved spread over hundreds of thousands of people.

Still, there are simply better uses for the money than Moynihan/Farley. The offensive thing about Moynihan/Farley is they’re spending money to waste people’s time.

AG February 17, 2013 - 1:19 pm

Except – I don’t consider this a waste of money:

o building two new entrances to Penn Station’s platforms from West of Eighth Avenue
through the corners of the Farley Building,
o doubling the length and width of the West End Concourse,
o providing thirteen new “vertical access points” (escalators,elevators and stairs) to the platforms,
o doubling the width of the 33rd Street Connector between Penn Station and the West End Concourse, as well as
o other critical infrastructure improvements including platform ventilation and catenary work.

That’s all Phase I – which the contract has already been awarded. It will help.

Nathanael February 16, 2013 - 8:07 pm

Moynihan is intended to carry *Amtrak* service. You know, to Toronto, Montreal, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, etc.

It’s absolutely, 100%, needed. The extra block is irrelevant to someone travelling from DC, Boston, Cincinnati, Raleigh, etc.

It’s not intended for commuters and won’t be used for commuters. The commuters will stay in the rabbit warren.

AG February 16, 2013 - 8:21 pm

i agree with you… but won’t commuters be able to access Penn from there…??

Bolwerk February 16, 2013 - 8:44 pm

It doesn’t especially matter. It’s intended to make Penn less crowded (at best) and (at worst, only) prettier.

I still haven’t really seen any particularly compelling arguments for it. The best way to deal with Penn seems to be to end its use as a terminal during peak times, and limit it at all times. Besides, Amtrak shouldn’t be further away from commuter trains for the same reason it shouldn’t be further from the 1/2/3/B/D/F/M. Shit, a lot of Amtrak’s advantage of airlines is the last mile is so much easier.

John-2 February 14, 2013 - 2:41 pm

Given modern construction techniques, and Vornado Realty Trust’s plans to build their 100-story building across Seventh Avenue it would be interesting if any new plan could combine the Garden and the office space from 2 Penn Plaza in a tower above the Seventh Avenue side of Penn Station in neo-classical style (arena on the lower floors, offices above), which would then open up the area where the Garden currently is to recreate something akin to the original McKim, Mead & White design.

If you’ve got a 100-story tower looming on the east side of Penn Station, you’re not getting morning light through any glass enclosed ceiling anyway, but with the Farley Post Office to the west, you would have afternoon/evening light for something like that on the Eighth Avenue side of the building.

Nothing’s likely to happen anyway for a decade or more, and its understandable why the Garden wants to stay where it is, because of both the rail and vehicular connections to New Jersey and Long Island nearby, as well as the four subway trunk lines within range of the site. If you can recreate half of old Penn Station on the side where the long-distance trains depart while improving the space and flow in the LIRR area, you’d still be way ahead of what’s been in place for the past 45 years (as of this past Monday).

Benjamin Kabak February 14, 2013 - 2:43 pm

I still think we’re focusing on the wrong thing: When push comes to shove do we really care how much daylight there is or isn’t coming in through a few windows? That’s one of my points. In this instance, we need functionality over form.

John-2 February 14, 2013 - 3:20 pm

Functionality first — if you’re going to deal with any future volume increase in passengers, especially if the Gateway proposal ever sees the light of day, you’re got to speed up movement though Penn, which would call for a bigger atrium with more obvious sight lines and departure boards, so that people can see where they need to go any get there without having to perform some intricate zig-zag ritual though the hallways or waiting area.

The other question is how do you do it while satisfying the demands of the current occupants? It’s a similar problem they faced at Ground Zero — How do you get 8 million square feet of office space formerly on a 16-acre pad into an eight-acre pad, once you set aside half of the site for the 9/11 Memorial? That’s one of the main reasons the new WTC development has dragged on, because to get back at least the ability to regain all that office space, you had to expand the site south to Albany Street. The Garden wants to stay atop the only real four-directional transit hub in Manhattan, and Vornado isn’t going to give up it’s office space without getting the same amount of space elswehere in the area.

Nothing’s expanding out in any direction at Penn unless Gateway does include buying all of the block between 30th and 31st streets. But with the current advances in construction materials and design, it could be possible to stack both the Garden and the office space 2 Penn has on top of each other, so the Dolans don’t lose their prime location, Vornado doesn’t lose its office space, and half a block on the Eighth Avenue side could be freed up to rebuilding a train station that doesn’t feel like a rat hole and could actually source natural sunlight for part of the day.

Josh February 15, 2013 - 12:50 pm

But that’s a LOT of money to spend and a LOT of construction to do without accomplishing any improvement in actual transit SERVICE.

Nathanael February 16, 2013 - 8:08 pm

Functionality first means wider platforms. The narrow platforms are the single biggest problem with Penn Station. With wide platforms, a great deal of the circulation problems would be eliminated.

That’s actually very hard to do, unfortunately.

Alon Levy February 19, 2013 - 11:37 pm

There are way bigger problems with Penn: single-file lines at Amtrak, non-integrated concourses, track numbers that are announced just before departure, too few access points to the southern platforms, overly complicated interlockings leading to slow station throat speeds.

Jim February 14, 2013 - 12:24 pm

The Garden isn’t the problem. The piece that’s directly under the Garden — the piece that contains the Amtrak waiting rooms and ticket offices — isn’t a bad space. It’s not well laid out, but it has potential. The upper level at the Seventh Ave end, which is under an office building or two, and the whole of the lower level, which is what everyone points to when they refer to the maze, are terrible. Especially the LIRR main space.

Better wayfinding, hell, any wayfinding at all, would create some improvement on the lower level. Clearing it out entirely and making it the main platform access would be better. Clearing out some of the retail, particularly on the Seventh Ave. side, creating more open space on the upper level, would help. If one could stand on the upper level and see half a dozen street accesses and five or six accesses to the lower level, the sense of being a rat in a trap would evaporate. If one could come up from the platform into the lower level and see three or four accesses to the upper level and two or three accesses to the subway from wherever one happened to emerge, there would, despite the low ceilings, be less of the claustrophobic feeling that now overcomes the traveler.

Yes, right now the limiting factor for Penn Station capacity is the tunnels. But once there are new Trans-Hudson tunnels, then the platforms will become the limiting factor. To some extent they are already: they’re too narrow. More wider platforms necessitate station expansion. Tearing down the Garden doesn’t do anything for expansion. Neither does rehabilitating the post office.

Berk32 February 14, 2013 - 12:40 pm

You hit it right on the nose 100%

(one can dream that there will eventually be more hudson river tunnels, right?)

Someone February 14, 2013 - 8:42 pm

-ARC (cancelled)
-7 Subway Further Extension to Secaucus (cancelled)

Hmm… looks like Christie and Cuomo are really against mass transit in the vicinity of the Hudson River.

AG February 14, 2013 - 11:10 pm

you forget that Cuomo went ahead with the Tappan Zee bridge replacement without rail as originally planned.

Berk32 February 14, 2013 - 11:48 pm

there was never an actual 7 extension plan – just some ideas being thrown around

Eric F February 14, 2013 - 2:01 pm

I think that’s a very good point. The office buildings, which themselves look dowdy, are at least as much of a problem as MSG. Ideally, those buildings would be demolished and the light and air let in. Buildings of modern design and larger stature can be built in the surrounding area.

I also think there’s an implicit view that a deserving structure must be ornate, and I think that’s incorrect. I’d like to see a light-filled, airy, modern structure put up, but it needn’t be festooned with greek revival aspects. I’m having a hard time thinking of local examples, but some of the newer hockey arenas seem to fit the bill pretty well. I think it’d be a mistake to try and replicate the parthenon on 7th avenue.

SEAN February 14, 2013 - 4:42 pm

Those office buildings include publisher McGraw Hill & studios for WPLJ & WEPN. I doubt any of them would move willingly.

If more LIRR trains transition over to Grand Central in the future, some capasity relief can happen at Penn. However that doesn’t help on the issue with the Hudson tunnels as one tube each way isn’t enough. I’m a bit surprised that nobody at NJT mentioned diverting more NJCL trains to Hoboken. As it stands now, there are three rush hour trains from Bay Head to Hoboken each way. Having more trains in Hoboken can also releave some Penn Station capasity. Yes, I realize I’m creating transfers in both Hoboken & newark, but it maybe a reasonable compermise until more Hudson tunnels are opened.

A second benefit of such a service plan allows for aditional connections between the Downtowns of Newark & Hoboken.

Nathanael February 16, 2013 - 8:10 pm

Good summary.

The only plausible way to widen the platforms is to tear down Madison Square Garden. You could do it without doing so if you removed *half* the tracks, but even though Penn Station has excess track capacity, I don’t think you could manage with only half.

Henry March 21, 2013 - 8:25 pm

To widen the platforms, I’m assuming you’d have to move at least some support pillars, which happen to be holding up the Garden.

g February 14, 2013 - 1:58 pm

Penn needs new tunnels, new head house(s), and more platform space. I think doing a deep cavern for Amtrak and using Farley as their head house might be the best option. The rest of Penn can be turned over to the commuter rails and once MSG is obliterated a head house that is actually designed to carry the passenger loads required can be built.

Connections to GCT (into the ESA caverns) should also be strongly considered since there will be a window to accomplish this when Water Tunnel 1 is shut down for overhaul in the coming years.

Eric February 15, 2013 - 6:08 am

Deep cavern for Amtrak is an incredibly stupid idea. All deep caverns are bad ideas (high construction expenses, difficult access, a dead end meaning low capacity). For Amtrak it is even worse, because Amtrak has to run most of its trains along the length of the Northeast Corridor.

Nathanael February 16, 2013 - 8:19 pm

Amtrak needs more tracks and platforms than any other operator due to providing long-distance service. If you’re gonna put anyone in a deep cavern, you want to make the smallest possible cavern, so you want put the shortest-distance trains there: namely LIRR.

Alon Levy February 15, 2013 - 6:53 am

To add to what Eric said, any separation of commuter and intercity rail facilities is bad.

Nyland8 February 14, 2013 - 2:24 pm

There’s no way to revisit the Penn Station issue without being reminded of Bloomberg’s notion of sending the 7 Line to Secaucus. Penn’s greatest function is to take LI and NJ commuters and redistribute them throughout the subway system – and this is something that the 7 could have done spectacularly. More functional than the ARC project – and at a fraction of the cost!

One stop in north Hoboken – near Steven’s ? – and another along the HBLR on it’s way to Lautenberg, would have offered tremendous relief to Penn, reduced some PATH traffic as well, to say nothing of biting into Lincoln Tunnel bus traffic to PABT. And there’s plenty of room out in Secaucus to put a little layover yard.

It was the right idea when the TBM was still in the ground – and it might still be the right idea – even with re-mobilization costs.

alen February 14, 2013 - 2:36 pm

leave it alone and finish the east side access project. a lot of people who use Penn go straight to the subway. having some LIRR trains go to Grand central will solve half the perceived problems.

Berk32 February 14, 2013 - 2:43 pm

The only problem this guy at the NY Times has (along with plenty of the commenters apparently) is the station is ugly. Doesn’t matter how much it costs… we cant have an ugly station, right?

The problem transit people have is mainly the bottleneck that is the tunnel connecting Manhattan to NJ. East Side Access does a great job increasing capacity from LI to Manhattan overall – but that solves a future growth problem – not the immediate problem that we’ve already reached with NY-NJ that’s only going to get worse.

alen February 14, 2013 - 2:37 pm

and maybe start running some NJ transit trains to grand central as well or make some kind of metro north/NJ transit connection

a lot cheaper than building a new station

Berk32 February 14, 2013 - 2:46 pm

neither of those are possible

Nathanael February 16, 2013 - 8:24 pm

“Alternative G” would have connected Penn Station through to the lower level of Grand Central.

It was an *extremely* good idea. But the disruption to expensive skyscrapers caused the MTA to just decide not to even think about it.

AG February 14, 2013 - 11:27 pm

well once East Side Access opens up – the plan is to run Met North to Penn in the freed up space… so there will be connection (though not for the Harlem line).

Someone February 14, 2013 - 3:34 pm

Just leave MSG as it is, and build a new station house nearby.

Berk32 February 14, 2013 - 3:45 pm

Nearby where? and how does it connect to the station?

Someone February 14, 2013 - 8:35 pm

Hudson Yards, or someplace like that.

AG February 14, 2013 - 11:26 pm

the Farley Post Office

Phantom February 14, 2013 - 3:53 pm

Modest proposal

Set a time, perhaps 15 years from now when you would:

a) demolish the Garden
b) demolish the office towers near it.
c) rebuild Penn Station essentially the way it was

Would it cost a lot? Yes. Would there be complexities? Yes.

But that would be a way to undo the crime of the century and reclaim this public space.

This bad history can be reversed.

Do it.

Berk32 February 14, 2013 - 3:56 pm

Who’s paying for it?
Where’s the $ coming from?

Only people who don’t understand where $ comes from suggests garbage like this

SEAN February 14, 2013 - 4:49 pm

Where’s the money coming from? I say China or the middle east.

Someone February 14, 2013 - 8:36 pm

Hmm… diverting $$$ from the Beijing Metro to the NYC Subway?

Seems like a good plan.

AG February 14, 2013 - 11:25 pm

well the chinese have some sense… the preserved “The Forbidden City”… had it been demolished – I don’t think they’d be as foolish as to waste money to try to replicate it.

Someone February 15, 2013 - 8:58 am

Hey! The Forbidden City is a sacred place. Don’t demolish it.

AG February 15, 2013 - 6:13 pm

No – I didn’t say to. My point is that ppl reverence the old Penn in the same way.

Someone February 17, 2013 - 3:09 pm

I know that. I was just saying what people would be saying if a revered place was destroyed (e.g. the Forbidden City).

Walter February 14, 2013 - 5:02 pm

The old Penn Station would have had many of the same problems the current station has, mostly because its the same station. Only the above-ground portions were actually demolished. It has narrow platforms, narrow staircases to those platforms, and not enough capacity.

Grand Central isn’t revered by engineers because it’s beautiful. It’s design and functionality sets it apart (think about GCT’s wide platforms and ramps). Penn Station was gorgeous, but was no hallmark of rail station engineering, and was certainly not designed to handle the commuter traffic it handles today.

Nyland8 February 14, 2013 - 5:41 pm

Regarding that issue, it seems to me that part of what amps up anxiety an order of magnitude is not knowing what track you’ll be boarding on until the last minute – and then having to rush to the proper escalator or stairway to get a seat. Likewise, when arriving in the morning rush, many must cram onto few stairways to race to street level, or the subways.

Why not sacrifice some of the retail space above the trains and put in more stairways to the platforms? If you decentralized the waiting area and doubled the number of stairways, then loading and unloading time could be halved – at least in theory.

That might mean somewhat less retail revenue to Penn Station – but make it much more efficient in people moving. And isn’t that really what everyone is looking for?

Eric February 15, 2013 - 6:10 am

Crime of the century? The Holocaust was 20 years before the Penn Station demolition. The “Great Leap Forward” was a few years after. Let’s have a little perspective here.

Woody February 16, 2013 - 7:43 pm

I think he means in the very narrow context of architecture and public space in NYC, in which limited instance it may well have been ‘crime of the century’.

Otherwise, other major crimes might include Stalin solving the problem of the peasants in the Ukraine, fire-bombings of Dresden and Hamburg, the Japanese occupation of China, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, mass murder in Cambodia, genocide in Uganda, on-going atrocities in the Congo, and surely others if we wanted to think long and hard about it and get really depressed.

But I’m with you that trite overuse of vivid and powerful words and phrases can reduce their
pungent meaning.

AG February 16, 2013 - 7:52 pm

well prior to 1968 there was plenty of that stuff going on south of the mason dixon line right here in the U.S.

Michael K February 14, 2013 - 5:14 pm

Coming for someone who Parents and sister hold LIRR Monthly Zone 7 Railroad Tickets on a regular basis, 80% of LIRR riders will be going to the new GCT cavern rather than deal with Penn Station.

Dad works near Fulton St – will take the 4/5 instead of the current 2/3.

Mom works near GCT

Sister works on 6 and 50th and will likely walk to GCT North at Madison and 47th or 50th and Vanderbuilt.

Few people that I know are headed to the NYP area and the Origin/Destination Data seems to agree with me.

Nyland8 February 14, 2013 - 5:28 pm

Good! That means that some MetroNorth traffic can find open tracks at Penn. At the very least, half of those that run the Hudson Line could avail themselves of the underutilized Empire corridor.

My office is right near Penn Station, and I have a colleague who lives in Yonkers and has to walk to and from GCT twice a day. He’d be able to come into town a block from work.

The more balance we have in the regional system, the better for all concerned.

AG February 14, 2013 - 11:04 pm

I agree totally. And yes – the plan would benefit your friend in Yonkers. The plan is for Metro North to run some of the Hudson line trains down the West Side with new stations at W. 125th near the new Columbia campus and then 59th/60th street… and then into Penn

Berk32 February 14, 2013 - 5:36 pm

Anyone working near Wall Street could be better served going to Atlantic Ave (depending of course on the timing of your trains)

Michael K February 14, 2013 - 9:38 pm

There are few direct trains to Atlantic from the Babylon branch so either a transfer at Jamaica is needed to a local Babylon train.

(meaning no seat on leg 2 and a Hulu/Netflix/reading interruption)


a local direct train that does run too often…

Someone February 14, 2013 - 8:40 pm

No, the reason that people won’t want to go to Penn is that the majority of commuters don’t have the West Side as one of their destinations.

Michael K February 14, 2013 - 9:46 pm

So instead of saying “No”, you can say “i agree that most people dont work near penn station” lol

al February 14, 2013 - 8:47 pm

“Dad works near Fulton St – will take the 4/5 instead of the current 2/3.”

6 trains terminate at City Hall and dump riders onto 4,5. They’re already crush capacity during rush hr. That could result in dangerously crowded trains south of City Hall on 4,5. You might want to stay on 2,3 or get to A,C.

“Sister works on 6 and 50th and will likely walk to GCT North at Madison and 47th or 50th and Vanderbuilt.”

The walk will be necessary as 6 train is already crush capacity northbound out of 42nd st. They were idiots for deciding not to get Phase 3 2nd Ave subway built before ESA is running.

Michael K February 14, 2013 - 9:43 pm

Be that as it may, the 2/3 is pretty crush loaded now (though not like the Lex) and the 4/5 wall street stop has an entrance inside his office building – he takes the train to Atlantic sometimes to catch a 4/5 already.

TP February 15, 2013 - 10:40 am

Does anyone know what’s planned as far as scheduling service between Penn and GCT after ESA? Let’s say you live on Long Island and you *do* work near Penn Station and you currently have 4 trains an hour during rush hour. Will you now only have 2 because the other 2 will go to GCT? Or will there now be 4 per hour to each destination? Will ridership increase enough to justify more service to GCT without a decrease in service to Penn? Are there constraints in Queens or Long Island that would prevent that? It would be a really unfortunate unintended consequence if service frequency from some stations on Long Island to Penn were reduced by the project.

Berk32 February 15, 2013 - 11:47 am

I assume the frequency will be roughly the same (probably a few more overall) – with people having to change at jamaica (just like they do now with trains going to brooklyn instead of penn)

AG February 15, 2013 - 6:11 pm

But that was the plan all along… many ppl who use LIRR work on the east side… and there are a finite amount of trains that can be run. there is also a finite amount of space. also – Metro North ridership has now overtaken LIRR – so the plan is to give them much needed slots at Penn. It adds options to most in the Tri-State who use commuter lines into Manhattan.

al February 19, 2013 - 11:44 am

Its called a transfer. You do it at Jamaica or Woodside.

Henry March 21, 2013 - 7:29 pm

I’ve heard that to make up for the lost trains to ESA, the Atlantic Branch will be converted into a shuttle service, but I’m not sure whether or not that’s true.

Kai B February 14, 2013 - 9:31 pm

For what it’s worth, I think it’s still much nicer than the PABT. But maybe I have a train bias…

Michael K February 14, 2013 - 9:44 pm

From a rider of the NJT 167, I hate the PABT and the inconsistent travel time with all my heart and soul.

Bolwerk February 15, 2013 - 8:18 am

The bus terminal is stupid for about the same reasons Penn as a terminal is stupid. But, we might be screwed on this one. The north Jersey bus network is too large, and the population it serves too dispersed, to be easily replaced by rail. Routing HBLR to cross 42nd to the east side vis-a-vis Vision42 might help somewhat because east side transfers could be made outside Manhattan – but Vision42 probably won’t go anywhere even without the interstate service.

Then, bus advocates have a religious certainty in the importance and effectiveness of PABT42.

Henry March 21, 2013 - 7:28 pm

There is a limit to the amount of transfers that people are going to make, and I highly doubt anyone is going to want to pay the three fares that bus->HBLR->subway would require.

Lo-V Lover February 15, 2013 - 3:02 pm

Great post, Ben. That’s why, thankfully, the first phase of Moynihan involves a bunch of functional pedestrian access improvements and none of the grand architectural elements.

I’d also like to add that the capacity problem is not just the tunnels leading to/from Penn Station, but also the number of tracks and platforms at Penn Station. So, like you said, before we spend a lot of money on making Penn Station prettier, let’s spend a lot of money on getting more trains into Manhattan (i.e. under the rivers), as well as getting more trains up to a platform.

Nathanael February 16, 2013 - 9:42 pm

Penn needs wider platforms. This requires a holistic design — since widening platforms involves rearranging the tracks, and crucially, rearranging the pillars holding up MSG.



Knock down MSG, and you could actually rearrange the tracks.

I’ve been having trouble coming up with a sane proposal which doesn’t require moving pillars.

Someone February 17, 2013 - 3:10 pm

Um… build more platforms…

Henry March 21, 2013 - 7:26 pm

This wouldn’t solve anything, because the main problem with most of the platforms at Penn is that the lack of access points creates bottlenecks at stairs, and the platforms are so narrow that any additional stairs would have to be the width of one or two people, which wouldn’t really solve the problem.

Trains empty in about one or two minutes, so the main constraint on capacity is platform width, which prevents the adding of stairs and the like. (Sometimes, less is more.)

AG February 17, 2013 - 2:27 pm

But Nathanel – the only way to pay for knocking down MSG and completely re-doing the current Penn was to allow a multitude of skyscrapers to be built to pay for it. When that wasn’t going to work – they proposed a version of Fulton St. So there still would have been constraints.

There is no public money anymore for it… Besides – MSG just spent almost $1 billion on renovations – so they’d have to be compensated accordingly. That’s before any work is even done. Even MSG themselves (who originally supported the swap) realized the “dollars didn’t make cents/sense”

Simon February 19, 2013 - 6:01 pm

The trouble with through-running at Penn Station is that you’ll find it difficult to get 1500 people onto a train in 100 seconds at the same time as 500 are trying to get off, and maybe another 1500 are standing on the platform while waiting for other services. For a subway or an RER this may be practical, at Penn possibly not, at least with the current rolling stock.

(AIUI the current eastbound service is 38 trains per hour, i.e. a train every 95 seconds. Realistically you’ll probably want 90 seconds between a train starting to move and the next arriving. Two through platforms per direction means the absolute maximum dwell time is 100 seconds; even with three you have a maximum of 160. In practice you’ll have less because other constraints prevent an absolutely uniform flow of trains into Penn Station.)

Alon Levy February 19, 2013 - 11:43 pm

There are four tracks heading east of Penn Station.

The current rolling stock already empties at Penn in about 90 seconds. I timed it. Of course at a station that busy you’d have more than one platform track per through track; the RER doesn’t do that, but German regional trains (with fewer doors per train, same as on the LIRR) do it with two platform tracks per through track.


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