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admin 24.02.2014

In the long term, hardly any resident of, or regular visitor to New York avoids Penn Station. Penn Station’s culinary shortcomings are, of course, products of more than just sub-par cuisine and insectoid infestation—problems, likely unsolvable, of light, air and architecture, to name just three.
Strangely, as Manhattan gets steeped more and more in products and places luxurious, curated and sterilized, it is the evaporation of such environs—albeit mostly with more historical and cultural cache—that many lament. So far the plan has received all cheers, but a historic opportunity requires a serious conversation. Late last month, the New York City Council told Madison Square Garden it has 10 years to find a new location. Some brief background for the unfamiliar: the splendid original Penn Station was demolished in 1963 and replaced with the current stadium-station complex. There's unanimous agreement that the current Penn Station, a drab underground tunnel trapped below the Garden, is a monstrosity unbecoming of a great city.
The 10-year clock for moving the Garden and planning a new Penn creates a historic opportunity for whoever becomes the next mayor of New York. But no one seems to be asking where all the people who currently move through the Garden will go. To conclude: every New Yorker, if not every frequent Northeast Corridor traveler, wants a better Penn Station. There it squats, obdurately begrimed in the lee of Madison Square Garden, a fetid nexus for passengers making Manhattan transfers, as well as those bound for more far flung locales.
The news was a clear sign that the city intends to advance ideas for building a new Penn Station, which exists on the same site.


If billions are spent merely giving Penn a facelift, it's reasonable to wonder how much money and motivation will be left for the crucial work of actually improving regional mobility. A broad plan for a renovated Penn Station district, released this summer by the Municipal Arts Society, estimated that 10.4 million square feet of new office space in the area would "be readily absorbed" within 30 years. The Garden does smother Penn Station right now, but that situation also means there's a direct, underground connection between the two venues. Without, even, a few reliable stores of lousiness—reminders that life is not always, relentlessly, oppressively but a proverbial dream?
In the end, the most iconic arena in the Northeast went up against the most congested travel hub in North America, and lost.
But opponents of that plan convinced the council to reconsider — most notably, Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, who called the present Penn Station a "calamity," and the Municipal Arts Society, which solicited lovely renderings of a new one. Indeed, so far the news of a potential new Penn Station has been received with loud cheers and little criticism. Every day, several hundred thousand people move through Penn Station to ride Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, Long Island Railroad, and six New York City subway lines.
The Garden has moved several times in its history, and if it has to move once more, it will certainly thrive in its new home, too. With 320 events a year at the Garden, which holds about 20,000 per event, that's 6 million more people who would flood already crowded midtown streets if the arena moved.
Even Amtrak’s Acela riders find nothing to show at Penn Station for their exorbitant fares but a grim, half-scrubbed corral reserved for their waiting.
Maybe it’s the way the board controls the crowd, excited and tense to see their gate scroll up next to the train just minutes before boarding.


The construction of Moynihan Station across the street from Penn will create a new home for Amtrak travelers, but that project has financial obstacles of its own, and Amtrak accounts for a rather small percentage of Penn traffic. Such expectations may need to be tempered, especially since nearby areas of Hudson Yards and Midtown East will also be creating vast amounts of office space during the same time period. But for the billions it will cost to remodel Penn Station and move Madison Square Garden, the city could pay for a number of key transportation projects with greater potential to enhance mobility. Kimmelman and others have suggested giving the Garden a new waterfront space just south of the Javits Center, a few avenues west of its current location atop Penn Station. What additional transport projects will be required to accommodate this new foot traffic — over and above the costs of a new Penn Station itself? And as Times transit reporter Matt Flegenheimer observed yesterday, in a delightful little feature, the dining options at the subterranean depot are very of much of a piece. What's less clear is how much of that increase was tied to improved accessibility, which requires transportation improvements in addition to a new physical station, and brings us back to question number one. These include a long-awaited tunnel across the Hudson, future phases of the longer-awaited Second Avenue Subway, or the "X line" subway route through the outer boroughs (where more and more commuters are heading anyway). That would give the Garden an attractive space near Hudson Yards, the High Line, and the emerging 7-train extension.



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