There has been a fair amount of news and opinion pieces about Penn Station over the last several weeks. But, unless you read the Daily News, you probably missed most of them. So here’s a recap.
Former New York City Transit President Andy Byford created the biggest stir by challenging the State to actually improve transit at Penn Station, not just “aesthetics.” He said we have a “golden opportunity to create through running.” That would allow trains that now dead end in Penn to continue on to other destinations. Byford opened the through running “Elizabeth Line” in London in 2022 while he was in charge of that city’s transit. He called the Line “a game changer” that encouraged new business and housing while improving transit.
Byford described Penn as “kind of an embarrassment.” He said raising ceilings, widening corridors, and putting in some light boxes is not an answer. “Why not just fix the damn thing once and for all?” he asked. Moving the Garden is best, he said, but “at the very least” rearrange tracks and allow through running.
New Yorkers considered Byford a hero…a “train Daddy”…during his time here in New York and he earned similar praise in London.
The Daily News ran Byford’s entire statement on July 28. He made it while calling into an online seminar sponsored by Re-Think NYC that looked at alternatives to Amtrak’s plans for an $11 billion dead-end terminal. The Amtrak plan would destroy homes, businesses, and historic buildings on the block south of Penn Station.
Byford now works for Amtrak but said he was speaking personally. It was a brave statement that shows how deeply he believes we can do better at Penn without destroying the area around it. The Conservancy has always believed that.
A companion Daily News editorial criticized Amtrak and New Jersey Transit for opposing through running and proposing “a wasteful new terminal that no one wants to go to.” Crain’s also reported Byford’s comments.
Yesterday’s Daily News prominently featured a call by architect and author John Massengale for a public say about a new Penn design. He described the Station as “a rundown bus depot underneath one of the ugliest buildings in New York.”
Governor Hochul issued a call in late June for architects and engineers to send in designs and ideas for station improvements. If any were submitted, she hasn’t said so. There are four plans in circulation now. Massengale favors Re-Think NYC’s plan but says the public should vote for a favorite.
Re-Think NYC and Re-Think Penn Station would move Madison Square Garden and rebuild in the classical style of the original McKim Mead and White design. Private developer ASTM assumes the Garden stays. But they would encircle it in neo-classical design and create a grand Eighth Avenue entrance by paying Madison Garden to remove its theater. None of these plans call for demolishing the blocks around Penn Station. The New York Times covered ASTM’s plan announcement on June 28. Michael Kimmelman, Times architecture critic, called for the public to take a look at the ASTM plan on July 10.
Governor Hochul has stuck with the MTA.’s vision. She never commented on the other plans though did say that moving the Garden was not her priority. She has never answered critics of the modest MTA plan. Never responded to the widespread opposition to her plans for tearing down six blocks around the station. While Hochul publicly “decoupled” leveling the blocks from any Penn Station improvements, she has refused to kill the plan.
There was a July 27 State Supreme Court hearing on the lawsuit the Conservancy supports that challenges what is known as the State’s General Project Plan, or GPP. State attorneys said then that the plan is staying in place even though the original idea of building giant commercial towers has collapsed. We believe State’s plan was illegal from the start and that the State can’t continue to threaten homes and businesses while it searches for a new plan.
Community Board 5’s Layla Law-Gisiko, who also heads the City Club, attended the hearing and bemoaned how difficult it is to fight the State. In an August 1 Daily News op-ed, she called the GPP “horrid.” “It has no demonstrable merits. It is abhorred by all who understand it, except for the few stated to benefit from it.”
Don’t be misled by the normal summer doldrums. We need to continue to fight to kill the GPP and we need to back Byford and demand a real public debate on through training.
Peg Breen, President