More than half a million commuters and visitors pass through Penn Station every weekday. They grapple with severe overcrowding during rush hour, grim corridors and unpleasant public areas. The New York metropolitan region has endured this depressing state of affairs since the original historic structure was torn down half a century ago.
Penn Station's problems aren't merely aesthetic.The rail hub is so space-constrained that it can't accommodate the rail systems that currently use it, including NJ Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak, or absorb future passenger growth, and new services such as high-speed rail. While large cities around the world -- and New York's own Grand Central Terminal -- have built and transformed rail stations into appealing destinations for tourists and shoppers, Penn Station isn't a magnet for west Midtown.
Penn Station can't be relocated because it is linked to a vast network of tracks and other infrastructure that run below the station. And its location beneath Madison Square Garden means it would be nearly impossible to bring substantial light, air and space into the existing facility. But for the first time since Madison Square Garden opened its doors on its current site, there is an opportunity to consider the arena's future. The Garden's special land-use permit, granted in 1963 for 50 years, expired in January and is being reviewed this spring by city officials. Under the City Planning Commission's standard practice, a new permit would give the owners of the Garden rights to the site on top of Penn Station in perpetuity. This could permanently block any attempt to improve the transit hub, saddling future generations with a failed Penn Station. New York deserves a world-class train station. It also deserves a world-class arena. Madison Square Garden is the country's oldest professional basketball or hockey stadium in operation.The building's façade and architecture are severely dated. The arena, which has been relocated three times since its inception on Madison Avenue in 1879, today faces growing competition from two other modern sports and events venues in the New York area.
Writing recently in the New York Times, architecture critic Michael Kimmelman observed: " Serious change to the area, to heal one of most painful wounds the city has ever inflicted on itself, must involve the Garden. ...The City Planning Commission, which recommended the demolition in 1963 of the old Penn Station, now has, for the first time since then, a chance to atone by giving the permit a time limit."
The city and the region have a unique opportunity now to rethink the future of both Penn Station and the Garden. We shouldn't let this moment go to waste.