NYC: Schumer Takes Charge for Moynihan

Senator sees federal stimulus funds being used for West Side train stationmoynihan

New York City’s Penn Station is its only Amtrak train station, as well as the hub for Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit commuter trains. Although it’s the nation’s most-used station, it is entirely underground after the magnificent original station was demolished in favor of the construction of Madison Square Garden, a basketball arena, in the 1960s. As art historian Vincent Scully put it, in the first building, “One entered the city like a god. Now one scuttles in like a rat.” For years, proponents of a new Penn Station have been pushing for the demolition of the sports facility or the reuse of the existing James A. Farley post office facility across the street for a new train terminal, but in the face of the huge real estate downturn, those plan seemed no longer in the realm of the possible. Now Senator Chuck Schumer is working to reactivate them.

That latter proposal, called Moynihan Station after Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a proponent of a new station, would renovate the facility into a grand new gateway to the underground tracks, with an above-ground courtyard, offices and shops. A proposal two years ago by a group of developers would have redeveloped the post office and torn down Madison Square Garden and built a new station as well as two huge new office buildings at a cost of $14 billion (analyzed by Regional Plan Association). The ambition of those developers will not be fulfilled until the next real estate bubble at the earliest.

But The New York Times reports that New York senior Senator Chuck Schumer is encouraging the state and city to ask for $100 million in federal stimulus funds to pay for the Farley building’s renovation. He also wants the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to contribute $1 billion to the project, which it has been asking to take over for years. Mr. Schumer does not envision using the state’s transit formula funds for the operation but rather thinks Amtrak should contribute some of its $1.3 billion – or that the state should apply for some of the bill’s $8 billion dedicated to “high-speed rail.”

Renovating the post office makes a lot of sense – it’s right on Eighth Avenue, just above the A, C, and E subway lines, as well as on top of some of Penn Station’s existing platforms. Providing new public space would be a great relief for the station’s users and make the experience there as nice as that at the wonderful Grand Central Terminal. But while I’m happy to hear Mr. Schumer enthusing about the potential redevelopment of the station, unless the Port Authority gets on board, $100 million isn’t going to be nearly enough to make this project possible. Mr. Schumer’s aptitude for grand gestures without much backing won’t get the project built; only the enthusiasm and financial commitment of New York’s government will.

Image above: James A. Farley Post Office, proposed for the new Moynihan Station

6 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • I hope he also takes on the poorly designed ARC tunnel and station that NJTransit and the Port Authority are planning to build. It will be a monumental blunder to spend over 9 billion dollars for a second tunnel to Penn Station that only NJTransit commuter trains can use, provides NO alternative for Amtrak if the existing 100 year old tunnels need to be closed, and delivers passengers to a terminal that is over 10 stories underground. It also fails to connect with Grand Central Terminal to provide through service options and deliver NJT passengers to the east side, where many of them are going. This project is once in a century, and we need to think bold, not timid. NARP has been advocating against the current plan and needs help on capitol hill to make these changes before it is too late.

  • I disagree with spending all that public money on renovating the James A. Farley Post Office into the new Moynihan Station.

    Who would this new station serve? Most people who use Penn Station work *east* of Eighth Avenue. The fastest and most direct path to the Penn Station platforms will remain the staircases and concourses that are under Madison Square Garden, between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue.

    Commuters run out of Penn Station in the morning to get to work on time, and then run back down into Penn Station in the evening to catch their train home. They don’t have much time to spare walking all the way across Eighth Avenue, up into Farley, and then down to the platforms.

    The only people who would use Farley are those who give themselves extra time in the morning and evening, and who might make use of the expanded retail option or public spaces in Farley. I don’t see them as being a significant number. Look at the EIS. Most of the trips generated into Farley are because of the retail, not because of the station itself.

    The most recent plan for Farley/Moynihan had New Jersey Transit (NJT) being the occupant, not Amtrak. But as I have outlined above, NJT riders would not be very likely to use the new station when there is a perfectly good, brand new, convenient NJT concourse right at 32 St/33 St and Seventh Avenue.

    Instead, it would make much more sense for Farley/Moynihan to be occupied by Amtrak. While many Amtrak passengers are making quick jaunts on the Northeast Corridor, I would imagine there are a fair share of Amtrak passengers who are taking longer trips, and who arrive at Penn Station early. They could use a beautiful Farley/Moynihan to pass the time until their train is called. Additionally, Amtrak uses a lot more infrastructure – baggage counters, ticket counters, waiting areas, etc, that would benefit from the space in Farley. But even so, I don’t think I’d support spending hundreds of millions of public dollars on a project to put Amtrak into Farley/Moynihan.

    What I support is what you noted that can not happen any time soon – the private developer proposal that “would have redeveloped the post office and torn down Madison Square Garden and built a new station as well as two huge new office buildings.” That plan would have resulted in the best of everything – a brand new, more efficient, bright, amazing Penn Station between Seventh and Eighth Avenues for the LIRR and NJT commuters (and for Amtrak customer platform access too of course), and a renovated Farley/Moynihan to be a grand open public space in the style of classic railroad terminals, presumably for Amtrak customers, and also for anyone else who has the time to spend before their train leaves. It would also serve people working and living in the neighborhood. And it would be built using private developer money, at least in part, but hopefully in large part.

    But since that project is most likely on indefinite hold, I would rather spend vast public money on real transit capacity improvements, of which Farley/Moynihan is NOT. Farley/Moynihan itself will not bring more trains per hour into New York City. Let’s spend the big public money on bringing more people and trains per hour into and out of and throughout New York City. The ARC project is a step in the right direction, even if I don’t necessarily agree with all of the details of the project as currently planned.

  • BrianW –
    Thanks for the comment, for the most part I agree with you. Importantly, Schumer’s plan says Amtrak should occupy the facility, not NJT or LIRR.

  • I agree with Brian, and I’d add that the new station would do nothing for the large numbers of people who reach Penn Station by the Seventh Avenue Subway. Looks like we’re back to stone soup:

    http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2008/03/you-dont-eat-stone.html

  • Kyle - Boston

    I’ve been in and out of NYP on several occasions, but I am not familiar with the subway line setup and the best access points. Although I do like the idea of using the old post office, it appears to not make much sense according access and work location points. An entirely new station would definitely be the best idea. Unfortunately, the horrible idea of tearing down the original Penn Station wasn’t realized until after it had already occurred.
    A new station would almost certainly be built in a modern, glass, steel etc…type of large building. I highly doubt the Beaux Arts style would be built again; I assume the costs would be much higher than a modern type of design. Are there any images showing what the new station would look like, based on the private developers plans?
    Considering it is New York, who knows how long it will take to have the real estate market back on its feet and this project take off?

  • You don’t need a new station. The existing Penn Station is very crowded, but it’s not that bad by the utilitarian standards of the subway. Most significantly, the main push for Moynihan Station seems to come from people who’re concerned with naming something after Moynihan rather than from people who’re concerned about improving transportation in New York.

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