New York City‘s Pennsylvania Station (usually just referred to as Penn Station) was the site of one of the world’s most notorious architectural crimes,
Serving more than 600,000 commuter rail and Amtrak passengers a day, it is the busiest passenger transportation facility in the Western Hemisphere. Entirely underground, it sits beneath Madison Square Garden, between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue and between 31st and 34th Streets.
“Penn Station was one of the great railroad stations of the world, but now it’s not fit for the greatest city in the nation,” Governor Cuomo said. “That’s why we are creating a world class train hall at Moynihan and today we are announcing a new East End Gateway to bring more access, safety and light. Passengers will be able to come in that entrance and avoid the front of Penn Station, there will be less traffic and you’ll have access to the subway and the LIRR. It will be a gateway to a world class facility. This is not a proposal – we are getting to work now.”
It was buried into this cramped space after the original Penn Station building—a Beaux-Arts beauty designed by McKim, Mead & White—was demolished in 1963. Many historic preservationists consider it the most egregious act of wanton destruction by a mayor and city planners in the history of the United States.
The ensuing controversy catalyzed the historic preservation movement in the United States, and new laws were passed to protect heritage from misguided urban planners. Less than a decade later, the gorgeous Grand Central Terminal was protected from similar demolition by the city’s new Landmarks Preservation Act.
So, while the functional, underground portion of the station remains, the formerly-grand entrance became an ugly, mostly-hidden architectural atrocity. As has been reported earlier here in REVITALIZATION, the entire station is being redeveloped, but the design of the most visual aspect, the entrance, hadn’t been decided upon. Now, it has.
On May 13, 2019, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled final design renderings for the new main entrance to Penn Station. The new entrance will be located at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue, providing much needed direct access to the Long Island Rail Road Main Concourse and the New York City Subway.
“These improvements at Penn Station’s main entrance will improve the commute for travelers and enhance public safety,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “The project, which includes direct access to the Long Island Rail Road Corridor, will ease pedestrian traffic and improve the overall experience. We’re committed to providing expanded transportation options for New Yorkers, and continuing to invest in transformational projects that support public transit and boost the economy.”
The project, which will begin construction in June, will eliminate congestion by doubling customer access and egressing capacity to the LIRR level when it is completed in 2020, enhancing safety and security for passengers. The Governor also announced that the overall Penn Station redevelopment master plan – which includes the creation of the Moynihan Train Hall – continues to move forward, which will fully transform Penn Station into a modern, world-class transportation hub.
The entrance is part the overall $3 billion Penn Station redevelopment master plan, which is moving forward and includes additional work to redevelop the remaining areas of Penn Station , as well as completely transforming the old Farley Post Office building into the new Moynihan Train Hall. As part of the master plan and in collaboration with the MTA, beginning this summer, a functional and operational assessment will take place to develop additional plans to reconfigure the station. This assessment will then be complemented with extensive community engagement to refine the plans.
“Building a new Penn Station entrance is a huge step toward giving our millions of customers the transit hub they deserve, and making the everyday experience of using the LIRR and Subways safer and easier,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye. “Thanks to the commitment of Governor Cuomo, this is just one component of the work we’re doing to modernize the LIRR and Subway system, with hundreds of transformative projects systemwide, including upgrading signals, expanding ADA accessibility, and expanding the LIRR with a Main Line third track. My daily commute takes me through Penn Station as I switch from the LIRR to the Subway, and I personally look forward to the benefits this new entrance will provide.”
The entrance will be the main entry point for passengers and is scheduled to open in December 2020. Passenger traffic has more than tripled since the current Penn Station was built, increasing from 200,000 to 650,000 passengers daily. Currently 250,000 people take the LIRR every day, along with 235,000 daily customers who use New Jersey Transit. In addition, 115,000 people use the station each day solely to enter or leave the A/C/E and 1/2/3 subways or to patronize the on-site retail.
Presently, the Penn Station entrance on 34th Street is the only direct way to enter the LIRR level, and the concourse and its existing egress facilities are highly congested, with congestion certain to increase in the future. By creating the new entrance at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue, the project will relieve this potential congestion and the serious safety concerns it creates. In doing so, the new entrance helps prepare the transit system for the implementation of Central Business District tolling, which will increase ridership as it reduces congestion in Manhattan and provides critical funding for further improvements.
The new entrance will connect passengers directly to the LIRR Main Concourse from 33rd Street and 7th Avenue, and will include three escalators, a stairway and an elevator. The project will widen the LIRR 33rd Street Concourse from its current 30 feet to 57 feet to allow easier access to trains and reduce potentially dangerous crowding. The design will also increase the ceiling height to 18 feet across the entire concourse, eliminating the 7 and 8-foot high areas that have, for decades, made the station experience feel cramped and less spacious. Lighting will be improved and more intuitive wayfinding will be provided to passengers. LIRR customers will also have new direct sight lines to track level and there will be additional retail and dining options in the concourse as well.
Kathryn Wylde, President & CEO, Partnership for New York City, said, “Penn Station is in desperate need of repair, and this new entrance at 33rd Street – in conjunction with the new Moynihan Train Hall and LIRR corridor – will be an integral part of its long-overdue modernization. We applaud Governor Cuomo for his focus on modernizing our infrastructure at a time when our federal government continues to ignore our country’s aging buildings and transit systems.”
The project is estimated to cost approximately $600 million, with $170 million of the total being allocated from the current 2015-19 MTA capital program. The remaining funds are being allocated by the State of New York.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “Penn Station opens New York City up to hundreds of thousands of people each day. Those who use it deserve a station as vibrant as the city itself. We look forward to working closely with the Governor, the MTA, local officials and the community to make the vision a reality.”
Five decades after the mindless destruction of the original and iconic Pennsylvania Station, the Moynihan Train Hall will once again provide New Yorkers a grand entrance in a McKim, Mead and White architectural marvel. The train hall is also set to open in December of 2020 and will bear the name of one of its great champions – the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Renderings courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office (architect was not named in the announcement).