Exciting Potential, and Some Questions, on Proposed Penn Station Overhaul

Yesterday’s exciting announcement by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of plans to overhaul Penn Station marks a significant step forward in addressing the complex challenge of fixing the transit hub. As Gov. Cuomo noted, Penn Station is a miserable warren designed to serve a fraction of the half a million commuters who pass through its jammed corridors and platforms every day.

While many details won’t be known for months, Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to bring light and air to the station will substantially improve the Penn Station experience, and inject new life into the neighborhood. It’s especially significant that New York State and Amtrak are working together on options for the station complex, and that the improvements to Penn Station are being considered in concert with the development of Amtrak’s future home in Moynihan Station across Eighth Avenue.

The funding for these initiatives will depend on how developers respond to the options Gov. Cuomo unveiled yesterday. The governor is taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the planned Gateway rail tunnels, which will double capacity under the Hudson River, to think big. We look forward to seeing how the real estate community responds to his challenge. 

The eventual revamp of Penn Station will be an important contribution to the lives of commuters and visitors and to the civic life of the city and region. Yet there is a limit to how extensively both Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, the aging sports-and-entertainment arena above it, can be overhauled and modernized in their current configuration. In particular, Moynihan and Penn stations will need more capacity at the track and platform level to handle more riders. It is unclear how the new proposal will achieve this. Both facilities were designed for an earlier era, and RPA continues to believe that a long-term solution should involve the consideration of a new home for Madison Square Garden.

The Penn Station proposal follows another important decision by the governor to build a third track on part of the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line, a critical step that will improve commutes and give a boost to Long Island’s economy. We applaud Gov. Cuomo’s focus on the metropolitan region’s fraying infrastructure, and welcome his leadership on these issues.

Photo: Nancy Borowick