Quick Note: Why the Focus on Penn Station?

Penn Station is in the news again: the Municipal Art Society ran a public competition for a rebuilt station house, involving proposals by four different architectural firms. This does not include any track-level improvements at all: only the concourses and above-ground infrastructure are to be rebuilt, at a cost of $9.5 billion according to one of the four firms. The quotes from the architects and other backers of rebuilding use language like “great train station” and “gateway to the city,” and this is where the subtle hate of the city’s actual residents lies: why the focus on Penn Station? Why not a subway station?

The headline figure for the ridership at Penn Station is 600,000-650,000 a day, but this is a wild exaggeration. First, this includes both entries and exits, so the real number is half that. Second, about half of the number comes from subway riders, who these discussions always ignore. And third, there is a large number of passengers transferring between commuter rail and the subway who are doubled-counted; at subway stations, passengers transferring between lines are not even single-counted, since the subway counts entries at the turnstiles. Taking an average of boardings and alightings when both numbers are given or just boardings otherwise, Penn Station has 100,000 weekday LIRR riders, 80,000 weekday New Jersey Transit riders, and 170,000 weekday subway riders between the two stations. However, people transferring between the subway and commuter rail are double-counted.

In contrast, not counting any connecting passengers, there are 195,000 weekday Times Square subway riders. Without detailed data about transfer volumes at each station we can’t compare the two, but since the proposals for a better Penn Station focus only on the mainline station, the number of passengers served is certainly less than that of Times Square passengers.

Indeed, every single problem that the architects are trying to fix with Penn Station exists at Times Square. Times Square has low ceilings. The corridors between different lines and between the platforms and the exits are as labyrinthine as at Penn Station. In my experience rush hour passenger crowding levels within the station itself are comparable. Most platforms are wider, but nobody is proposing to widen platforms at Penn Station, and the 42nd Street Shuttle platforms are narrow and curvy and have been this way since 1918. The tickets are all integrated because the trains are all run by one operator, but again nobody who proposes to replace Penn Station is talking about the separate LIRR, NJ Transit, and Amtrak fiefs.

There are some legitimate changes that could be done if Penn Station is knocked down and rebuilt: instead of a hack involving paving over platforms to increase their width, the platform level could be rebuilt, two tracks at a time, with six approach tracks in each direction each splitting into two platform tracks, giving twelve tracks on six platforms; the train box appears about 140 meters wide, enough for 15-meter-wide platforms (compare 10 meters on the Chuo Line platform at Tokyo Station, where 28 trains per hour turn on two tracks).

However, the technical issues here are a lot less important than the fact that city leaders, architects, and even transit commentators assume that it is more important for New York to have a great train station used by 200,000 suburban commuters than for it to have a great subway station used by (at least) 200,000 city residents. It speaks to the utter hatred most city leaders have of the people who live in what they consider their fief or perhaps their playground. For most people in the city, there are more important transportation facilities, and even on a metro area level Penn Station isn’t unusually important.

This leaves the argument that Penn Station is a gateway to the city. But if the point is to impress a few thousand tourists, why not spend the same money on improving tourist amenities at Times Square, building more hotels? Or maybe building free housing for tens of thousands of homeless people (both the ones at Penn Station and the ones in the rest of the city) so that they stop being homeless and disturbing the rest of the population? If the point is to have great art, why not spend the money on employing artists to produce more work or to improve the aesthetics of the city’s ordinary spaces?

Of course, none of those options involves city leaders getting together and building important edifices with plaques with their names on them. So at the end the idea is to tax actual city inhabitants $10 billion to build a monument to the vision of city leaders. Large corporations pay their executives hundreds of millions a year in stock options and bonuses; governments cannot pay top political power brokers this way, so instead they spend large quantities of money on monuments that glorify them.


  1. Henry

    A large part of it is the fact that the destruction of old Penn was the modern impetus of the landmarks conservation movement in New York, so there’s this whole “if only we could do it all over again” mindset.

    Low ceilings are a feature of all underground stations on the subway, so that’s not as much of an issue, and any reengineering of Times Square or other major subway stations is infinitely more complex than a Penn redesign, since Penn is a set of parallel platforms and the concourse above it, while Times Square with its numerous passageways and intersecting tracks is more like an interwoven basket.

    Throwing money at Penn isn’t a good idea when we have numerous other priorities (SAS, outer borough transit improvements, station rehabs), but at the very least, it will have more benefit to transit riders than the giant boondoggle that is WTC PATH.

    • Alon Levy

      Penn is easier if you assume away everything that’s on top of it. Times Square is at least under a square rather than a skyscraper and a stadium.

      • Adirondacker12800

        TImes Square is tiny. The station stretches for blocks. Unfortunately it stretches for blocks under very busy streets which precludes the possibility of ripping things down and starting over.

        • Stephen

          Funny you should say that, because at this very moment there’s actually a lot of work happening to the streets around Times Square, because they’re making the temporary pedestrian plazas permanent. Probably a missed opportunity to add a few more entrances and exits.

          • Henry

            The heart of the station also happens to be directly under one of the iconic wedge buildings facing directly into Times Square, so you’d need to somehow work around a famous building (and an ROTC recruitment center, but we can probably lose that without an outcry) in what is America’s most iconic intersection.

          • Peter Brassard

            They can always add entrances later, if they’re able to. The station is mostly south of 42nd Street, which makes incorporating plaza renovations as part of the station problematic.

            Times Square Station is fairly decent. Before the renovation 15 to 20 years ago, it was really depressing and constrained. Before the upper level corridor adjacent to the 7th Avenue line was built, it was only possible to get in or out of the 1,2,3 train platforms by an exit at either end of the platforms. Other corridors and stairways throughout the station were half the width or less than they are now and everywhere were cables tacked up on ceilings with peeling paint and mold. Everything was smaller and darker and filthy.

            The Shuttle platforms are still weird. There’s room for improvement there. But overall it’s not a bad station.

            Union Square, 34th St Herald Square, and Grand Central were similarly bad and are much better today.

    • Adirondacker12800

      PATH is vitally important to Penn Station. It means people in New Jersey get off the train someplace other than Penn Station. Moderately important to the NYC subway too because they aren’t on the NYC subway either. Whether or not the new station is worth 4 billion dollars is a different question.

      • Peter Brassard

        PATH is another subway. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t incorporated with the IRT, BMT, and IND when the systems were consolidated. The reaching for a new Penn Station is a way to compensate for the tragic blunder when the old station was demolished 50-years ago. Those kinds of resources could go a long way to improving the subways and commuter rail service and connectivity. Minor things like re-opening the pedestrian tunnel under 33rd Street from the 6th Avenue/34th Street PATH/Subway Station to Penn Station would be a start. Extending or constructing new lines subway lines in Brooklyn, Queens, and Hudson County would be another. And what about a GCT/Penn Station link or a least a single additional tube under the Hudson?

        • Adirondacker12800

          PATH is a commuter railroad that looks like a subway and happens to give subway service to parts of Jersey City and Hoboken. It can’t be integrated into the subway. It’s got IRT loading gauge and the IRT doesn’t have any spare capacity laying around that PATH trains could use. No you can’t substitute PATH trains that are 8 cars long for IRT trains that are 10 cars long, The IRT needs the capacity those two cars provide.

          • Henry

            PATH is a subway except in name only – heck, it runs 24/7, unlike most subway systems. Problems with integrating PATH also include the fact that PATH is physically hemmed in at Herald Square, and the fact that PATH is completely CBTC.

            The only reasonable thing that is feasible would be extending from WTC PATH to City Hall (6), and even that is tricky due to the web of underground lines and various Dutch settlement ruins in the area.

          • Joey

            The biggest obstacle to connecting PATH to the 6 in Lower Manhattan was the multi-billion dollar transit center which was built without any consideration of that possibility (or for that matter, the possibility of PATH doing anything but turning around and going back across the Hudson).

          • Adirondacker12800

            The LIRR runs 24/7, NJTransit and Metro North curl up and go to take a short nap in the dead of night. The PATH platforms point north/south at the World Trade Center and are much lower than the IRT. If you wanted to connect to the 7th Ave line south of Chambers, maybe. But by the time they were buidling the 7th Avenue line… they were building the 7th Ave line because the original IRT was bursting at the seams.

  2. Joey

    Why does SOM’s proposal show the main tracks at different levels and an odd looking four track box above the lower level?

    • Adirondacker12800

      I’d hazard a guess that SOM thinks someone cares that the Flushing line will go to Penn Station. Or that it’s even technically feasible.

  3. Steve S.

    I agree with Henry–the focus on Penn Station is driven by nostalgia for New York’s old Baths of Caracalla. I think another part of it is that Penn Station is New York’s intercity station, a function it shares with e.g. Boston South; Philadelphia 30th St.; Chicago, D.C., Denver, and Los Angeles Union; Seattle King Street; etc., but not with Times Square (or any other subway station, for that matter). That is not to say that subway stations cannot be made beautiful, but rather it is to point out that–not just here but in Europe–primate intercity stations have historically filled a “gateway” role in ways other station types don’t, and so we’ve lavished them with a higher aesthetic caliber.

    Secondly, as you point out, Penn Station’s optimal improvements involve wider platforms at the cost of track count. Since it is a through station, and it’s extremely rare for through stations to need more than six tracks to handle traffic, this makes sense. But Penn Station does also function in part like a stub station for the two commuter rail agencies using it, and these agencies use wholly different tracks in the complex, which artificially bloat the track count. Whatever the PRR’s operational paradigms were when they built it, agency turf now seems to require at minimum sixteen separate tracks in Penn Station*. Fix that issue, and then we can bring the track count down to a more reasonable level–like ten.

    Finally, it may interest you that, despite boosters’ bloat, Penn Station has similar overall ridership as its European equivalents, like Milan Centrale or Köln Hbf (i.e. around 300k boardings/yr).
    * Six tracks each for NJT and LIRR, to be treated as stub or run-through stub tracks; four for Amtrak.

      • Mike

        I’m pretty sure by “equivalents” he means train stations with similar passenger levels and similar number of tracks. The fact that these smaller European cities have similar rail travel to New York shows the disastrous underinvestment in the US Rail system.

        Also, it’s not quite an order of magnitude difference. Cologne is similar to San Francisco, In which the city itself is the largest part of a combined metro area with other cities (Oakland and San Jose vs Dortmund, Dusseldorf, and Essen). Milan is similar to Boston or Philadelphia, where dense inner suburbs have significant population that doesn’t count toward the city proper.

      • Tom West

        Well, if you want cities the size of New York, consider London. Penn has about 90m passengers/year; GCT has about half that. Call it 150m/year total.
        In London, you have Waterloo (47m), Victoria (38m), London Bridge (26m), Liverpool Street (28m), Charing Cost (19m), Euston (18m), Paddington (17m), Kings Cross (14m), St Pancras (11m), Clapham Junction (11m), Stratford (10m), Cannon Street (10m). That’s 261m/year, and I’ve excluded those with under 10m/year. (Usage figures include only trips ending at the station).

        • Mike

          or Paris, where Gare du Nord gets 190m, Gare St Lazare 100m, Gare de Lyon 90m, Gare Montparnasse 50m, Gare d’Austerlitz 30m, and Gare de l’Est 25m

  4. Mike

    Catching a train at a commuter/intercity station is a bit different than catching a subway train. Longer waits at the train station bring with them a desire for better facilities.

    • Alon Levy

      It all depends on how reliable and memorable the schedule is, how fast people can get from the street to the platform, and what the pedestrian throughput of the access points is. Passengers who can reliably show up to the train station 3 minutes before departure and board will do so; they (we) have better things to do with their (our) time than loitering around a station admiring the architecture. Maybe there’s going to be a larger margin of safety if it’s an intercity trip with infrequent service, but for frequent commuter rail, forget about it.

      • Adirondacker12800

        You can’t get there 3 minutes ahead of time if you suburban train is running once every 30 minutes. And no you can’t coordinate the suburban trains with the intercity trains because there’s 20 plus suburban lines coming into Manhattan. There are going to be people hanging around waiting for their train.

        • Richard Mlynarik

          You can’t get there 3 minutes ahead of time if you suburban train is running once every 30 minutes

          It’s hard to imagine why not. Because Americans are uniquely incompetent or stupid or have have some profound deficit in reading clocks? (The “AM-PM” business suggests there is an issue somewhere.) I generally show up less than two minutes, and as frequently as 30 seconds, before the advertised departure times of suburban trains in California … where “every 30 minutes” is an inconceivable never-attainable luxury

          Or is it just because you can’t stop typing random meaningless phrases?

          • Aaron M. Renn (@urbanophile)

            The problem is that your business seldom coincides with departures. With the subway, you go there whenever you finish and the next train shows up in three minutes. With a commuter train you go to the station and your next train shows up anywhere up to 30 minutes later (using our example), so you’re hanging out. Also, typical the subway is easy and short walking distance so you don’t need to have time buffers to get there, unlike Penn Station.

          • Alon Levy

            If your commuter train leaves on a fixed schedule, you can stay in your office or apartment until you need to leave. When I walk to Providence Station or New Haven Union Station, I show up about 3 minutes before departure because I know how long it takes me to walk. I leave myself more buffer time when I take the subway to Penn Station or South Station, but it’s still closer to 5-10 minutes than to 30.

            Then again, I also show up to intercontinental flights 60 \pm 30 minutes before departure when I’m not checking in luggage, so it’s possible I just cut it a lot closer than the average passenger.

          • Adirondacker12800

            If your twice an hour suburban train gets to the HSR station at :03 and :27 you miss the HSR train that leaves at :00 or wait 27 minutes for the one that leaves at :30. You can live dangerously and take the one that gets in at :03 and hope that someone in a walker doesn’t make the suburban train get in at :06 making you miss the :10 HSR train or pad your schedule so that you loiter around longer than you do for local trips. YMMV if you are going to the HSR station to use the Kodama for a station that only gets service twice an hour. There are going to be people loitering around.

          • Alon Levy

            Some, but not a lot of people. Most of the rail ridership in every transit city is on lines that get 10-minute off-peak service or better. It’s likely that a large majority of Penn Station intercity train travelers aren’t connecting from commuter rail. Destinations are centralized around Manhattan, so for people for whom New York is the destination rather than the origin, there’s very little need to use commuter rail. Origins are less centralized, but most likely the train’s mode share is higher for carless people in the city than for car owners in the suburbs, especially west-of-Hudson suburbs.

            Also, if your commuter train gets delayed 3 minutes because of disabled accessibility, something is wrong with your concept of level boarding. (Not surprising given huge train-platform gaps even on supposedly accessible stations, but you’d expect them to realize there are cities where wheelchair users expect to board a train from any door unaided.)

          • Adirondacker12800

            All of those insignificant amounts of people from the suburbs add up when there’s 20 different lines feeding into one central station.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            All of those insignificant amounts of people from the suburbs add up when there’s 20 different lines feeding into one central station.
            Oh, you mean like pretty much any regional centre in Mitteleuropa?

            Ooooh, NY Penn is so special.

            In the “special learning needs” sense of “special”..

          • Bert

            I’ll give you several reasons (some already mentioned here). First, because of capacity issues on departing commuter rail trains (in part due to inadequate frequencies in peak periods), in order to have a seat on the train, I must be in the waiting area at Penn Station when the track is announced (about 10 minutes in advance), or I’ll be standing up for most of my ride home. Hence, the stampede scene in the various LIRR and NJ Transit waiting areas every few minutes at peak periods. Even in off peak periods, lots of people have their preferred cars (close to the platform exit at their destination station) and prefer either an aisle or window seat.

            Incidentally, the differences in culture between GCT and Penn are instructive. In regular operations, not only don’t you see people waiting around for their track to be called at GCT, every single train leaves from the exact same track every single day. People just show up at GCT and stroll onto their waiting trains. MNR’s stellar on-time performance help here, of course. GCT, therefore, is a place for people to move through, rather than a place that needs to accommodate waiting crowds. Those who are waiting have a variety of high-quality distractions (retail and restaurants) that just aren’t available at Penn.

            Which brings me to my second point: LIRR and NJT are plagued by delays. LIRR and NJT riders expect delays. Showing up “less than two minutes” before a scheduled departure is great, but frequently I have to tack on 10 minutes or more because of a departure delay.

            If the Penn Station track/platform redesign could help move some of the waiting crowds from the mezzanines to the (wider and ostensibly better-lit and -ventilated) platforms, the experience would be a lot better in my opinion. I’m a New Yorker, used to elbowing my way onto a train or subway car when it arrives at the platform and the doors open. But the wait in the mezzanine is orders of magnitude more stressful. Even with through running at Penn, where the trains wouldn’t be dwelling like they do at GCT, the tracks could and should be advertised/announced well in advance of the departure (at least 20 minutes?) if the platforms were only wide enough to accommodate waiting peak period crowds.

            Last, on a day when things are running close to on time, I would venture to guess that a large number of regular commuters do just show up at Penn a few minutes before departure and just accept that they’ll be standing on the train (and therefore deriving some health benefit?) on the way home. Those waiting on the mezzanines expectantly gazing up at the boards seem to be a combination of day trippers/tourists, those who have travel to Penn Station by cab or subway, and therefore have to pad their arrival times, and those who just leave work or their appointment and head to Penn Station when they are done without consulting a train schedule. Yes, these people do exist, even when individual line headways are 30 minutes or more.

          • Alon Levy

            I think you underestimate the capability of modern train operating practices to run on schedule. In Japan, Germany, and Switzerland, track numbers aren’t announced just 20 minutes before departure: they’re printed on your tickets, and known months in advance. This persists even at stations that are much more constrained than Penn, which has 4 approach tracks fanning onto about 17 usable platform tracks (1-4 are incompatible with through-running given present infrastructure). In Japan the frequency is show-up-and-go anyway, but in Switzerland it’s not, and still nobody gets to the platform until right before departure since there’s no reason to.

            As for punctuality, Metro-North is better than the LIRR there, but the difference isn’t immense. Metro-North achieves its punctuality by doing a lot of padding before the last station, so that it’s possible for an express train from Stamford to get to Grand Central 10 minutes ahead of time. It’s a matter of organization, mostly: schedules that prevent cascading delays, minor infrastructure investments that further reduce the ability of delays to propagate, platforms that are accessible without requiring an on-board wheelchair ramp, incentives for train drivers to run on time, avoidance of risky innovations like wrong-way running and wrong-way overtakes. All of this is beneficial to passengers independently of the Penn Station waiting experience and costs about 2 orders of magnitude less than rebuilding the station.

          • Adirondacker12800

            platforms that are accessible without requiring an on-board wheelchair ramp

            How many wheelchair ramps are there on the electric cars the LIRR or Metro North use? They don’t even have stairs.

  5. Benjamin Hemric

    Agree with the overall argument that it would be a terrible waste of resources to condemn MSG and other buildings in order to improve the capacity and safety of Penn Station. I think the station’s capacity and safety can be just as effectively improved via far less drastic measures and for far less money. Agree with many others who’ve said the whole initiative is a result of nostalgia (misplaced in my opinion — as someone who actually remembers the original Pennsylvania Station).

    However, as mentioned to Alon via Twitter, I also think the best comparison to use in this argument is not between Penn Station and the Times Sq. subway station, but between the current Penn Station and Penn Station’s “built capacity.”

    As mentioned to Alon, the previous high for Pennsylvania Station was 341,700 passengers in 1945. (Other previous highs were 338,100 in 1946 and 337,400 in 1944.) While this was wartime, or just after the war, so the station was unusually crowded, nevertheless people did not say that Pennsylvania Station was overtaxed or dangerous — just that this big old station was finally getting used.

    Also, contrary to the assertions of the MAS and others, Pennsylvania Station’s “built” capacity was not 200,000 passengers per day. Rather this is the number of passengers who used the station during its decline (and, to be fair, in the years leading up to its highpoints). For instance in 1966, the last year for which I have figures, Penn Station had a weekday average of 194,400 passengers. All throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the number of average weekday passengers hovered around 200,000.

    Now, it should be cautioned that during previous highs we are talking about a greater number of long-distance passengers, and today’s Penn Station likely handles a far larger number of commuters — people who arrive and depart at, more or less, the same time of day.

    However, the Pennsylvania station has been updated a number of times over the years with this change in mind. The addition of the New Jersey Transit concourse is the most recent example. Plus, as far as I know, there still seems to be plenty of room for low cost improvements, as the original Pennsylvania Station was grossly underbuilt for its two block site.

    Benjamin Hemric
    Twitter: True_Urbanism
    Sat., June 1, 2013, 7:50 pm

    • Alon Levy

      One question: what exactly do those numbers count? Do they count mainline rail only, boardings plus alightings (which compares with 360,000 today)? Do they count mainline rail plus subway, boardings only (which compares with 350,000 today)? Do they count mainline rail boardings only?

      • Benjamin Hemric

        I believe, but am not sure, that they include both boardings and alightings for [1] long-distance (Pennsylvania RR, New Haven & Hartford, PennCentral, Amtrak) , [2] LIRR and [3] any precursor to NJ Transit/NJ Transit, but no subway boardings / alightings — in other words believe figures are for all trains that actually use platforms inside Pennsylvania Station itself. Chart is “Annual Number of Passengers Using Pennsylvania and Grand Central Stations, 1902-76.”

        Year Pennsylvania Weekday Average

        1944 107,982,014 337,400
        1945 109,349,114 341,700
        1946 108,195,563 338,100

        1966 62,207,867 194,400
        [last year of actual figures]

        1975 (approx.) 65,600,000 205,000

        Benjamin Hemric
        Twitter: True_Urbanism
        Sat., June 1, 2013, 10:50 pm

      • Eric

        NYC is a big enough market that teams can’t threaten to leave if they aren’t given a new stadium.

          • Henry

            WIth the Meadowlands, the Coliseum getting an uplift, and the new Prudential Arena in Newark, there are plenty of less expensive options right outside the city limits.

          • EngineerScotty

            Of course, the NFL has extensive revenue sharing and depends far more on TV than gate receipts than other sports, so the physical location of NFL franchises is less important–as citizens of Green Bay, WI can attest. But it’s been a LONG time since the Raiders and the Rams bolted Los Angeles, and still there’s no hint of an NFL team moving there.

      • Alex B.

        The reasons to build a new arena are mostly economic, being able to get more revenue out of sports fans. MSG just effectively did that with their renovation, adding new luxury seating areas, new concessions, and so on.

        Building a new arena might have been an easier way to accomplish the same goal, which is why MSG was on board with moving to the Farley Annex several years ago. However, they decided the delay and restrictions were not worth it, so they opted to renovate in place. Since they own the arena outright, why not? Building a new arena would be nice, but not worth moving to an inferior location.

        Lots of other newer arenas in the NBA and NHL undid lots of bad decisions from the 60s and 70s. In DC, the teams moved from a suburban location to a downtown one. Same in LA. MSG’s building is of that same vintage, but with the urban location. As a plus, MSG’s architecture allows for a fair amount of flexibility in renovating, due to the large, column-free space (unlike, say, trying to renovate old Boston Garden).

        The Farley location made decent sense for MSG, but the plans that involve relocating the arena to the waterfront or to Javits would all represent a serious loss in value for MSG. Since they own the arena and the air rights, why would they accept an inferior relocation offer?

        There was a chance to get MSG to move as a partner, but that window closed once they started their renovation. Now, any plan that involves moving MSG will likely require buying them out at considerable expense.

        • Adirondacker12800

          The reasons to build a new arena are mostly economic, being able to get more revenue out of sports fans.

          Privatize the profits and socialize the losses eh?

          For most metro areas it’s a wash or they lose money on it. If it’s such a fabulous idea I’m sure private investors could be found. If you believe everything your read on Wikipedia there’s only one NFL stadium that privately financed. The Meadowlands and that has two NFL teams sharing it. It’s welfare for rich straight white guys.

          • Alex B.

            In general, that is true for sports stadia. However, I wasn’t referring to the particulars of this deal and who is funding it.

            I don’t see how socialized losses applies in this case. MSG is privately owned, they funded the renovation with private dollars. So, so long as their property rights are secure, there are indeed investors willing to put up money.

            If people want MSG to move, they either need to buy them out with public dollars through eminent domain (because the arena is indeed private property) or entice them to move willingly with public subsidy. That is just the reality of any deal that would be brokered.

            Even if you take the most antagonistic position towards MSG (call it a hostile takeover) and aim to simply buy them out through eminent domain, that is likely to be the most expensive option. And a large part of the value of their property is not the quality of the arena, but the location and the proximity to the subways and to regional transit.

          • Adirondacker12800

            And a large part of the value of their property is not the quality of the arena, but the location and the proximity to the subways and to regional transit.

            They are free to call the housemovers, have them jack it up and move it someplace else. They don’t own the air rights they lease the air rights and the lease comes up for reenwal now and then. They also got temporary zoning variances to build it there and they come up for renewal now and then. You make a risky investment you face some risks.

          • Alex B.

            Actually, they do own the air rights. Originally, it was a lease. But they have owned them outright since 1985.


            It is MSG’s operating permit that was up for renewal. It would be rather difficult for the city to deny MSG an operating permit for property they own, assuming they are in compliance with all other regulations. Which gets back to the issue of takings: you can’t just tell them to buzz off and demolish their arena without compensation for their rather valuable property.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The article says ” …. did not own the arena but instead held a 50-year lease from the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Today, however, the company owns the property outright, as it or its predecessors have since 1985..” That means they own the stuff teetering over what’s underneath.

          • Alex B.

            Right, they own the arena and the air rights it sits on, and they own it outright. Meaning, if you want to move the arena, you need to buy MSG out. Period.

            Each of these design proposals assumes the relocation of the arena; and therefore assumes away the biggest initial hurdle to making such a redevelopment happen.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Meaning, if you want to move the arena, you need to buy MSG out.

            Nope, the lessor just has to wait for the time specified in the lease where the lessee has to vacate or renegotiate on the lessor’s terms. If the lessor’s terms are vacate or vacate they have to vacate. That point is farther in the future than when it would be good for them to vacate and they would have to be compensated for that. But they can’t squat there in perpetuity.

          • Alex B.

            There is no more lease. The arena was originally built via a lease, but the lease was bought out in 1985 by MSG’s then-parent company and unified with the Garden’s current operation company in 1993. They own the ‘land’ now fee simple. There is no lease.

            Click to access ULURPMSG.pdf

            See page 3 of the above link.

            There is no lease, and MSG does not have to vacate. The only leverage the city has (aside from eminent domain) is the operating permit. However, if the city were to deny MSG an operating permit for no reason other than the desire to get them to move, it’s hard to see how a court would not find that to be a taking. And, if it’s a taking, the public will have to pay.

            To recap, here are the three basic options if you want to force MSG to move:

            1) Deny the permit, and head to court – it’s likely a taking; the public pays MSG. This ends up as an eminent domain case.
            2) Approve the permit, but buy MSG out via eminent domain. Clear case of public benefit, but MSG gets paid at fair market value for their property.
            3) Entice MSG to move (as was the plan prior to MSG’s renovation) with some combination of financing where MSG gets a new site for free in exchange for their old one.

            Before MSG’s renovation, maybe you could have convinced them to sink their own money into building a new arena if you gave them a site for free. MSG needed to upgrade their facilities. However, now that they’ve sunk $1b into their renovation, they’re going to want to amortize that investment out over many years, meaning that a) that capital to pay for a new arena is no longer on the table, and b) they’re going to want compensation if bought out of the current site (not just a site swap).

          • Andre

            Adirondacker – MSG does NOT have a lease. They own the arena and the land… but they need a special use permit. All sports teams have them – but there is basically no real chance at them expiring… and that is MSG’s argument. The arena itself is worth more than $1billion… so you can imagine what the total buyout would be. It’s a waste for cosmetic changes.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They own the ‘land’ now fee simple. There is no lease.

            You’d have to gather a whole flock of powerfully stupid railroad lawyers in one place for that to have happened.

            Someone should tell them, the interlocking morass of corporate structure that gives us the Garden, that National Railroad Passenger Corporation, New Jersey Transit Corporation, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and banks are using it for mortgages and liens. There’s three lots in the block bounded by 7th Ave and 8th Ave, 31st and 33rd Streets. Two large ones, one to the west of what I think is the closed taxiway. It’s owned by Vornado. The other large one is east of where I think the taxiway is, it’s owned by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation and a very small lot inset into that large lot that is owned by the National Railroad Passenger Company. I’m going to assume that is the NJTransit entrance.

            It’s block 781, lot 1, lot 2 and lot 10. And no the lawyers for the Garden didn’t forget to have the name on the property tax bill changed.

          • Alex B.

            There’s also lot 9001 in block 781, and that represents the air rights that MSG sits on. They own most everything from the street up, as if it were terra firma and not the air rights of a train station.

            From the looks of it, the lease was turned into a deed in 1985, finalized in 1986 – apparently sold off as part of Conrail and the Penn Central Holding Co. dumping assets prior to Conrail’s re-privatization. The deed was sold to MSG’s parent company, which then transfered the title to MSG’s operating company in 1993.

          • Adirondacker12800

            There’s also lot 9001 in block 781, and that represents the air rights that MSG sits on.

            It hovers in it. It not fee simple beyond the edges of the building.

          • Alex B.

            But that is the point – they own that envelope that hovers over Penn Station. The bottom line remains: if you want to move MSG, you’ll need to compensate MSG for their property in one way or another.

          • Adirondacker12800

            The platoons of lawyers who spent years on this didn’t design so that whoever owns the building could squat there in perpetuity either.

          • Alex B.

            Sure, and I don’t think anyone expects them to be there in perpetuity. But it doesn’t change the mechanism for getting rid of MSG: and that is buying them out.

        • Henry

          That’s sort of the financial carrot for them – just as Penn sold its air rights to profit from their increased value, the office space premium in Midtown Manhattan has gone up significantly since then, and will rise even further if they move out. Because let’s face it, the space utilization at Penn Plaza is a lot less optimal than it could be, especially since at least some of the plans being put out there call for more tall office towers.

  6. Adirondacker12800

    passengers transferring between lines are not even single-counted

    Nobody changes lines at Penn Station, they aren’t connected. They do at Herald Square but Herald Square isn’t part of the count at Penn Station is it? They don’t even change from local to express at Penn Station when the system is running normally. The stations at Penn Station aren’t set up to do that. They have an island for the express trains and side platforms for the locals instead of two islands.

    there are 195,000 weekday Times Square subway riders.

    There are 14 platform faces in the Times Square station. 8 at the two stations at Penn Station. 8 at Herald Square for a total of 16. 17 in Times Square if you count the Shuttle platforms

    The MTA says Times Square had 195,464 entries.
    The Penn Station/34th on the 8th Ave had 82,511
    The Penn Station/34th on the 7th Ave had 88,929
    Herald Square had 121,120 or a total of 292,560 entries on an average weekday.
    Through in 6thAve and 42nd/Bryant Park/Fifth Ave with it’s 51,962, for greater Times Square 247,426

    Shuttle platforms are narrow and curvy and have been this way since 1918

    Since 1904. The initial line opened, let’s call that the Broadway line. When it was designed Longacre Square was low rise residential. So they put in local side platforms at 42nd and Broadway under 42nd. Where the shuttle is today. Grand Central was an important stop so they put in local and express platforms. Under 42nd where the shuttle is today. By the time they are designing the the 7th Ave. line what is by then being called Times Square, because the Times built a skyscraper on the square and plans for Penn Station are well along. They want the express trains to stop at Times Square. So they build express and local platforms, on what will become the 7th Ave. line, south of the Broadway Line which continues to run, They do the same thing at Grand Central except that the second set of local and express tracks are north of the Broadway line. On what will become the Lexington Ave. Line. They convert it to what it is now overnight. Literally. There may have been a day or two without service on the shuttle. They never get around to getting rid of the wooden platforms on the Grand Central end and they catch fire in 1964. Which is why the Grand Central end looks so much newer. While you are contemplating all of this remember that the IRT had it’s local platforms lengthened from 5 cars to 8 soon after opening and then in the 50s to ten cars.


    Click to access GreatAsymmetry.pdf

    So what you are seeing at the Time Sqaure Shuttle station is an original IRT local station with the express tracks paved over and the Grand Central end is an express station that’s been heavily reworked over the years.

    • Alon Levy

      Penn Station’s headline traffic count includes the mainline station and both subway stations, so there are connecting passengers, they just count in both sets of numbers (mainline and subway).

      • Adirondacker12800

        that happens when your CBD is big enough that it’s faster to use the subway than walking across it. When it has a subway.

  7. Eric

    I’m not upset by the principle of spending money on Penn Station. I’m upset for the $9.5 billion price tag. That’s almost three times as much as the WTC stegosaurus!

    • Adirondacker12800

      Unclear how much of that is station and how much of it is iconic office tower that would be built with something other than tax money.
      The stegosaurus isn’t costing 4 billion,. It’s the shopping mall that’s eating up a lot of that. And two blocks of marble skinned passageway that’s going to connect it to the Fulton Transit extravaganza and the Winter Garden. Not that that is worth 4 billion but it’s not just stegosaurus and escalators.

      • Stephen

        The shopping mall, the Calatrava’d-out pedestrian passageways to the private office buildings (the WTC buildings and the World Financial Center), underpinning of the 1 train, general structural lining for the entire eastern side of the WTC site. There’s a lot that went into it.

      • Stephen

        Interesting to note that when PA head Tony Shorris was trying to aggressively cut costs in 2008 (which never panned out because of Spitzer’s sex scandal), he actually wanted to add more square footage to the retail space, to make back more of the money. Surprised me, since I figured the retail was wasteful. Maybe he was wrong, but maybe he was right.

  8. Loren Petrich

    $9.5 billion on a new station??? I almost couldn’t believe it. Building new tunnels under the Hudson River would be a MUCH better use of that money.

    • Adirondacker12800

      They wouldn’t be building the new station until after the new tunnels are built or well along in the process. … if for any other reason they can’t start ripping apart platforms until the new tunnels and new platforms are in service.

      • Andre

        and in 15 years that wouldn’t happen… maybe 50… and by then MSG would be willing to move again.

        • Adirondacker12800

          Amtrak is aiming for 2025. It won’t be 2025 but that’s the date they are aiming for.

          • Andre

            Amtrak expressed no interest in this (getting rid of MSG)…. they want to move to Farley and add space to the south.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They can’t start ripping down things until they have more capacity. Between then and now the Garden could go bankrupt and then they don’t have to worry about buying them out. The bankruptcy court and the creditors would get together and let them have it at a fair price. Or the city could come up with a site for the Garden V. or Martians could invade and give us teletransporter technology which makes the station obsolete.

    • Henry

      A lot of the cost of the station is eminent domain and property acquisition, which would still be needed as part of Penn South in the Gateway plan.

      ARC avoided that, but also created another issue by blowing up a giant cavern in Manhattan schist, which is pretty much the hardest bedrock in the world.

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  10. Michael Schaeffer

    ShOP’s proposal isn’t that bad. SOM’s too elaborate and very unlikely. Not sure how I’d rate the other two proposals. But I like ShOP’s the best.

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