Fixing Penn has been a fond dream for decades, but each attempt has foundered on the shoals of inertia, conflicting agendas, and shortsightedness.
The catalogue of plans has seesawed between thinking big and making do. Some planners insist that passengers deserve more uplifting architecture, even if the guts of the system are rotting. Others hold that building a new Penn Station without addressing the deeper dysfunction is like fitting out your house with gold-plated faucets but forgetting to replace cracked pipes.
Here, then, are a baker’s dozen plans, spanning four decades, organized from worst to better. “Best” is still out of reach.
The big idea: The Regional Plan Association, which specializes in we’re-all-in-this-together solutions, sees Penn as a node in a dysfunctional network that stretches across three states and three bureaucracies — NJ Transit, Metro North, and LIRR — that barely communicate. The RPA’s answer is a logical — which is to say, utopian — bundle of recommendations: Merge the different agencies into a single commuter rail system; build Gateway, and feed the extra capacity through Penn South, a new wing between 30th and 31st Streets.
Would it work? The fact that this list is self-evident and overdue doesn’t make it any more achievable. The Penn Station saga is a story of generational denial. New York is the patient who, told his respiratory system is shot, decides to maybe get a new haircut — eventually.
Read more in New York Magazine.