Gotham Gazette Sat, 19 Oct 2019 10:26:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Penn Station Needs a Complete Overhaul. We Must Start Now. Cuomo Penn Station

(photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)

For decades, Penn Station has wreaked havoc on the lives of hardworking New Yorkers, and seriously stained our city’s reputation as a global cultural and economic hub. But all hope is not lost; the door is opening for significant improvements to finally be made.

We’re now just a few short years away from the opening of Moynihan Train Hall and East Side Access. These two important projects, which will temporarily reduce the number of passengers travelling through Penn, present a brief window for significant station improvements.

Transit experts have spoken extensively about the serious safety concerns within Penn Station—from overcrowded platforms, to a lack of accessible exits and signage on what to do in the event of an emergency. The recent announcement of an overhaul of the LIRR corridor and 7th Avenue entrance is a good first step, but there are a host of other improvements that should also be considered.

And beyond safety, it’s a matter of dignity, utility, and a vision for the future of the city we want to live in. Commuters shouldn’t have to settle with what we have.

They’ve seen a variety of great layouts and amenities – that work, by the way – at Washington D.C.’s Union Station, Boston’s South Station, and transit hubs overseas.

We need to look at Penn Station and the surrounding area in Midtown West comprehensively to solve this problem in a way that makes sense for commuters, residents, workers nearby, and New York as a whole.

Leading architects and designers have already created many informed and inspiring renderings and plans for what a new Penn Station could look like. While these designs are all different, they largely address the core issues of overcrowding, platform capacity, and accessibility.

Let’s be clear, Penn Station is not the way it is because of a lack of technical or planning knowhow.

It’s a political problem that can only be solved by bold, willing leadership that is committed to seeing this through from beginning to end.

It also means having a frank conversation about the future of Madison Square Garden, which sits atop the station—severely limiting natural light, air, and the ability to expand capacity.

For our leaders, fixing Penn Station must come down to our values as New Yorkers. We allowed our subways to enter a state of extreme disrepair that forces commuters onto already packed and delayed trains, or for some, abandoning the system all together. Deadlocked street traffic and slow bus speeds are the direct result of the failure to fix what’s going on underground. This is what happens when problems are left to fester.

If leaders don’t believe Penn Station is worth the investment of taxpayer dollars, they should be upfront about that and let voters know where they stand. If it’s a core issue they support, elected leaders should make it clear by calling for the creation of a Penn Station task force that would convene this year.

This task force should resemble the model used to evaluate congestion pricing and it should offer tangible next steps for a comprehensive fix—not a patchwork solution.

2019 has already been a unique year in Albany, with 39 new faces between the Assembly and Senate. Long Island was particularly active during the campaign season with several incumbents who were defeated—and is home to a major constituency that relies on Penn Station. As we rebuild our airports at JFK and LaGuardia and inaugurate new bridges like the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge spanning the Hudson, Penn Station must be our next big fix.

If we don’t get to work to fix Penn Station now, it won’t ever happen. It’s time to act.

State Senator Brad Hoylman represents parts of Manhattan, including Penn Station. On Twitter @BradHoylman.

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Penn Station Needs a Complete Overhaul. We Must Start Now. Thu, 06 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Simple, Big Solutions for Penn’s Problems

The original Penn Station was an architectural masterpiece. The most ironic part about removing it in a “monumental act of vandalism,” though, is that as a transit facility the original Penn Station had serious flaws. In fact, the platforms and tracks haven’t been significantly altered in more than a century.

Unfortunately, those flaws are growing more obvious by the day. Narrow, crowded platforms and grossly inadequate stairs and escalators are a constant source of delays, dangerous overcrowding and frustration for commuters. But most importantly, Penn Station is not actually a station for most passengers – it’s a terminal. The difference is not merely semantic; in a terminal, trains must cross each other as they enter and leave, making it far less efficient than a through-running station. Even when this doesn’t cause delays, it severely limits capacity and ensures every train has to travel more slowly in Penn.

Twenty-five years ago, we could tolerate these inefficiencies, but passenger counts from Long Island and New Jersey have skyrocketed. Any major investment plan for Penn Station must be focused on solving the cause of commuters’ misery. Amtrak’s Gateway Program and the new Moynihan Station, if optimized, could do so.

Phase 1 of Gateway would add two new critically-needed tracks between Newark and Penn Station. Phase 2 of Gateway, though, includes a new terminal station—Penn Station South. This would require the demolition of an entire city block at a price tag of $8 billion to build another inefficient terminal, and do nothing to alleviate conditions in the existing station. Those funds are better spent on improving Penn and regional connectivity.

This alternate plan would remove the need for Penn Station South, provide additional economic opportunity for the entire region and the opportunity to invest in projects that create smoother and smarter commutes. Through-running is the key to unlocking the ReThinkNYC vision.   Highlights of that vision include: 

  • First, build new facilities in the Bronx and New Jersey so it is possible to operate Penn Station as a through station. NJ Transit trains could be extended to Queens, the Bronx, and then along existing Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Lines; similarly, Metro-North and LIRR could be extended to New Jersey.
  • Next, widen and lengthen Penn’s existing platforms – and use the 31st Street side of the station for eastbound trains and the 33rd Street side for westbound ones, regardless of final destination. Universal “smart” ticketing between the systems can help erase arbitrary distinctions.
  • This would allow nearly 50% more trains to use the station.        
  • NJ Transit would no longer need to use Sunnyside Yards, making it possible to instead build a major station across the East River that would have access to all of the region’s 26 commuter rail lines, Amtrak, both Penn Station and Grand Central, and seven subway lines. Sunnyside could be the new East Midtown.
  • In Port Morris, the light industrial neighborhood east of the Bruckner Expressway and south of Hunts Point, commuters could catch NJ Transit and Metro-North – and an extended Second Avenue Subway serving the Bronx.
  • An AirTrain under the East River to an expanded LaGuardia Airport would provide a quick, convenient single seat ride for millions.  

New Yorkers once dreamed of, and then built, big projects. Now, in this post-Robert Moses, post-urban renewal era, planners are taught to think “politically” smaller. This approach has prevented us from addressing transportation systemically and holistically. It’s time to think big…again.  

Jim Venturi is Principal and Founder of ReThink Studio. On Twitter @jimventuri and @RethinkNYCplan.

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Simple, Big Solutions for Penn’s Problems Tue, 01 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
New Jersey is About to Elect a New Governor. Why It Matters to New York Cuomo Christie NY NJ

Governors Cuomo and Christie (photo: Governor Cuomo's Office)

After competitive primaries, the New Jersey gubernatorial race is now between Republican Kim Guadagno and Democrat Phil Murphy. As the candidates head toward November's Election Day, New Yorkers may want to pay attention to the race and how each major party candidate might affect New York if elected.

Given the proximity and relationship between the two states, particularly in relation to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the fact that New York's workforce includes many New Jersey commuters, the next governor of New Jersey will have significant sway over key infrastructure, transportation, economic, public safety, public health, and other decisions that affect New Yorkers.

The Port Authority emcompases the Newark, JFK, Stewart, and LaGuardia Airports as well as the PATH train, bus terminals, bridges and tunnels, and the ports themselves, and gives the governors of both New York and New Jersey shared responsibility over interstate transportation. Both governors have the ability to select individuals for the Board of Commissioners, and reject any actions by them.

A variety of matters have led transportation to become a key part of the discussion in the New Jersey gubernatorial race, and it is one that has essential ties to New York.

"It's good that transit is such a big issue in this race, and it's a big difference from when [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie first won," said Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. "First of all, no one talked about transit issues in the gubernatorial race when Christie was running against [Jon] Corzine - no one quite appreciated the crisis that was looming, even though it was pretty predictable."

Christie canceled the ARC (Access to the Region's Core) project in 2010 in an effort to save taxpayers the weight of paying for it, after projections by the Federal Transit Administration found that the nearly $10 billion needed to complete it could have gone up almost 50% by the time the project was finished. The precursor to the Gateway Program, ARC would have built a new tunnel under the Hudson River and a new station near Penn Station, after it was decided that connecting the new tunnel to Penn's failing infrastructure was impossible.

"Whoever is the new governor is coming into a state with serious, serious problems," said Gelinas, whose focus areas include infrastructure, transportation, and fiscal policy. "[New Jersey] never recovered from the recession, the pension funds are really insolvent, and transit is one of these big problems."

"People are aware of this, but they're still not being told they are going to have to pay a lot more in taxes to fix this huge infrastructure backlog," Gelinas said.

Many New Jerseyans help strengthen the New York economy; those who work in New York pay income taxes here, and New York businesses depend on area transportation to deliver consumers from a wide area. New Jerseyans take advantage of New York attractions, including sports, parks, landmarks, arts, and culture.

Along with shared control of the Port Authority, the two governors must be able to cooperate during a crisis, such as in the case of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. In the aftermath, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and Christie, a Republican, came together to issue a joint statement on the "inexcusable" "continued inaction and indifference by the House of Representatives" to send aid, 66 days after the storm had hit.

Governor Cuomo's office declined to comment on the importance of the working relationship between the New York Governor and the New Jersey Governor. Cuomo and Christie have largely gotten along, with Cuomo refusing to criticize Christie over ARC or as Christie supported Donald Trump's candidacy. In 2014, Christie, as head of the Republican Governor's Association, refused to help Cuomo's Republican opponent, Rob Astorino.

Cuomo and Christie have not appeared together in public much in the last year-plus, but have repeatedly appeared to have a friendly relationship, including when they responded to the Ebola scare in 2014.

The Candidates
Democratic New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy has a policy agenda 28 items long, including issues such as "Getting Tough on Gun Violence," "Making the Economy Work for All of Us," "Lowering the Cost of a College Education," and what appears to be a major focus of the race, "Ending the Mismanagement and Building a World Class Transportation Infrastructure."

Specifically, part of Murphy's plan for transportation includes increasing investment by the state to "lower the burden on consumers" as well as completing the Gateway Project.

"If we don't get the economy right, we don't get New Jersey right, and that's the overwhelming central thesis of our campaign, and will continue to be," Murphy said on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show on June 7. "We have to grow this economy, and we have to make this economy and our society fair again," he said.

He went on to stress that his administration would be both progressive and fiscally responsible. "California has proven that," he said, also citing Minnesota and Massachusetts. Murphy has been endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden, who called this election the "single most important" impending vote, according to Politico.

Murphy previously served on the board of the NAACP, served as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, and helped launch The New Start Career Network, a group  that "provides free, personalized assistance to New Jersey residents, age 45 and over, who have been unemployed for six months or more." According to his website, as governor, Murphy plans to "increase oversight" of the Port Authority and NJ Transit, as well as complete the Gateway Project.

Murphy's media representative did not respond to requests for an interview discussing his campaign and the New Jersey-New York connection.

Republican Kim Guadagno, Chris Christie's 2009 running mate and Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, lists "Improving Education," "Cutting Property Taxes," "Making New Jersey More Military & Veteran Friendly," and "Fixing Pension and Health Benefits," "Audit Trenton," and "Growing Jersey Jobs" as her entire list of issues on her campaign website.

Guadagno has no mention of her plans for fixing transportation infrastructure listed on her website.

"It's too expensive to live here," Guadagno said on the same WNYC program. "Going into November our whole conversation is going to be about how it's too expensive to live here - we have to make it more affordable. We cannot raise taxes on the most taxed people in the country and we have to lower those taxes."

Guadagno made a pledge that if as governor she could not lower property taxes in the state, she would not run for reelection. She also condemns higher gas taxes, which Gelinas says could be the difference in being able to afford the infrastructure changes necessary for New York.

Guadagno's media representatives could not be reached; no one answered the phone number listed on her website (that had a full voice mailbox) and no email is listed.

Transit Issues
Dubbed the "Summer of Hell" by officials with Long Island Rail Road, according to the New York Times, starting July 10 people using the Penn Station transit hub on Manhattan's West Side (which faces New Jersey) will begin to see the effects of around 30 years of neglect. The station will be cutting down on a fifth of its regular traffic while necessary renovations are underway.

Penn Station transports more passengers than any railroad station in North America, with over 600,000 commuters passing through every day either through the many different train services that pass through it. Many of these passengers consist of New Jerseyans who commute in and out of the city for work, some who have left the Empire State for the Garden State in an effort to find more affordable housing.

New Jersey Transit "is New Jersey's public transportation corporation." With over 5,000 square miles, it is the "third largest provider of bus, rail and light rail transit" in the country, connecting major areas like New York, Philadelphia, and New Jersey.

Among other places, NJ Transit operates out of Penn Station, as does the Long Island Railroad, or LIRR, the most used railroad in the country by commuters, "carrying an average of 301,000 customers each weekday on 735 daily trains." LIRR is run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which is dealing with its own crisis.

"The MTA is in a state of crisis," wrote Governor Andrew Cuomo in a recent statement that also gets at the New York-New Jersey transit relationship. "Historic underfunding leaves it with obsolete equipment going back to the 1940s. The bureaucracy is dysfunctional. The recent Penn emergency track closures on July 8 will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. The July 8 LIRR and New Jersey Transit cancellations will drive more people into the subway system, in the middle of the summer. There is no quick or small fix for the MTA. We are advancing $32 billion for the MTA capital plan – an historic amount – but it must be implemented: new cars purchased, new signals installed, new equipment acquired and new personnel hired."

Cuomo and Christie also worked together to send a letter to Charles Moorman, the CEO of Amtrak, on May 11 calling for "systemic changes" that "cannot wait," and which placed blame for the "continuing string of infrastructure failures at Penn Station" on Amtrak's "decades of underinvestment." However, some experts feel the blame is not entirely off of the governors themselves.

"One of the first things Christie did in office was to cancel the Hudson tunnel, that would have given New Jersey transit a lot more independence from Amtrak and a lot more reliability," said Gelinas. "He really did that for short-term points with his voters and [to say] 'Oh look, I'm saving money.'"

"He didn't think of the long-term repercussions at all," Gelinas said, "and so now we're seeing the long-term repercussions, and that's good at least that people are aware of this - that they're thinking about this more seriously now. As for the letter that Cuomo and Christie sent to's kind of a distraction."

Greg David, columnist for Crain's New York Business and director of the Business & Economics Reporting Program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, agreed, saying, "Everything that is going wrong there is the result of the two men's inattention to this. Amtrak has become a convenient scapegoat for their own mistakes - not that Amtrak hasn't contributed, but it's the most hypocritical thing."

The total cost of building that new tunnel is estimated at around $20 billion, half of which is supposed to be supplied by the federal government, while the other half is split between New York and New Jersey. Since Cuomo is responsible for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said David, and Christie is responsible for "starving" NJ transit for money, citizens should be questioning the actions of all major parties involved.

And it isn't just Penn Station or the current Hudson tunnel, referred to as the North River Tunnel (which was severely damaged during Superstorm Sandy) that is in a state of crisis; the bus terminal responsible for commuters between the two states also needs significant refurbishment, and bus traffic could become more consistent in the years to come.

"The 42nd Street Port Authority Bus Terminal is the world's busiest bus terminal," said Philip Plotch, professor and director of the Masters of Public Administration Program at Saint Peter's University. "But, it's falling apart and it can't fit all the people and buses that want to use it."

The key place the Governors of New York and New Jersey interact, according to David, is at the Port Authority where they have "equal control." According to Plotch, the 42nd Street bus terminal is a "weird dynamic" in which it resides in New York but is more important to New Jerseyans, since not many of the people who use it are New Yorkers.

"Everybody agrees that either you knock it down and build a new one, or you totally rebuild it," said Plotch. "New Jersey thinks it should be totally knocked down and started from scratch, New York is trying to not put as much money into it."

Though not as important to New York voters, said Plotch, the bus terminal is important to New York businesses that rely on people from New Jersey both as employees and customers. "In New Jersey, it's the opposite," said Plotch, because New Jersey businesses are always trying to take back business from New York, whereas New Jersey voters who work in New York would rather have the problems fixed.

How the winner will impact New York
"So what about these two candidates? I would say that [Guadagno] doesn't have much of a serious plan yet," said Gelinas. "I mean, she said she wants to do an audit of New Jersey transit and the state transportation trust fund - that's fine - but she doesn't have much of a funding plan [for the tunnel]."

"I think Murphy has been a little bit more serious in saying that New Jersey transit needs a huge infusion of money," Gelinas continued. "He said he'll look at considering a new tax for the agency, but he also just talks about the federal funding for the big Hudson River Tunnel Project."

Ultimately, however, Plotch says there's no way to tell exactly who will have what effect until it happens, citing the difference between politicians during a campaign versus how they act in office as the reason voters never really know what they're getting.

"Neither of them is saying [they] are going to be raising taxes or borrowing a huge amount of money to make the improvements that are necessary," said Plotch. "No politician wants to go and say 'we need to raise gas taxes more' or 'we need to raise tolls more' or 'we need to raise fares more' or 'we need to borrow, even though we're one of the most heavily indebted states.' Nobody's going to do that on the campaign trail."

It remains unclear who is going to end up footing the bill for all of the needed infrastructure improvements, and how that bill will be split among New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. Which gubernatorial candidate would best figure out that funding equation for New Jersey is also not clear, especially given that relationships are essential, both across the Hudson and with federal leaders.

"No matter who wins, we need to get going on the funding package for this Hudson tunnel," said Gelinas.

Gelinas also said as far as New Yorkers go, unless there is a candidate willing to say "Washington is not going to pay for this, we're going to need to come up with this $5 billion, and we will have to pay more for our infrastructure," that there will be room for even more concern.

"If we don't see that," she continued, "then I think New York can worry a huge chunk of its workforce coming from New Jersey and providing a lot of Manhattan's workers, is still going to be unpredictable, with unproductive, unhappy workers."

by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

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New Jersey is About to Elect a New Governor. Why It Matters to New York Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
To Fix Penn Station, Think Smaller Cuomo penn station plan presser

Cuomo with a new Penn Station plan (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)

Governor Cuomo deserves credit for jumpstarting the Moynihan Station project this week, albeit under a different moniker. After decades of neglect, commuters and long-distance travelers deserve light, air, and dignity.

But Cuomo's plan neglects the deeper problems that have long plagued Penn Station.

In 1970, one railroad controlled the transportation hub. After it went bankrupt, New York State took over trains to Long Island, New Jersey took over trains to the Garden State, and the Feds took on the rest.

Chaos ensued. Some routine trips now required three different types of tickets bought in three different ways. Passengers boarded from three different concourses with three different departure boards.

And worst of all, three different railroads clogged the same number of tracks.

Crowds, delays, and frustration become the norm. And after Superstorm Sandy decimated Penn's tunnels, the three railroads bickered and dithered as riders suffered.

Even with a reinvented station complex overhead, the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and Amtrak will still share the mostly same tracks, cramped platforms, and underwater tunnels. It's unlikely that decades of dysfunction will disappear after the ribbons are cut.

And with ridership climbing and Sandy repairs looming, the trio can barely keep up with the status quo — let alone support the expansion that the economy demands.

Cooperation would help resolve these problems. Running commuter trains between Long Island and New Jersey — rather than terminating them at Penn — could double capacity while opening up jobs to those on both sides of Manhattan. Coordinated communications and ticketing could ease crowding and nerves. And other options, such as sharing services, would slow the rate of fare increases for riders of all stripes.

To truly fix Penn Station, Cuomo must look beyond the building. Cooperation among the railroads is the missing ingredient in the governor's plan.

Adrian Untermyer is Deputy Director of the Historic Districts Council and was named an Emerging Leader in Transportation by the NYU Rudin Center. On Twitter @untermyer.

To Fix Penn Station, Think Smaller Thu, 07 Jan 2016 23:50:06 +0000