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Schumer Wants Focus on Penn Station (updated)

In somewhat of a prologue to our panel discussion on Tuesday, Senator Charles Schumer told a Crain’s Breakfast Forum today that the city should focus on Moynihan Station and the extension of the 7 line before developing the Hudson Yards. According to a report from Crain’s:

The senator reiterated his call for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to take over management of the struggling Moynihan Station project, a new transit hub at the Farley post office. He said plans should proceed assuming Cablevision won’t change its mind about renovating the current Madison Square Garden instead of building a new arena at the Farley site, but that “parallel tracks” should be laid in case the company changes its mind. Progress might inspire it to do so, he said.

Mr. Schumer said Cablevision has told him it is willing to move its Wamu Theater, formerly known as the Felt Forum, which would allow a project to bring natural light into the dreary Penn Station below. He added that Amtrak should immediately free up 200,000 square feet at the station, which it owns, by moving “clutter” to a building it owns just south of the cramped transit hub.

The senator proclaimed a Port Authority takeover “likely to happen” and said that the agency, unlike the Empire State Development Corp., has $2 billion available and the expertise to bring Moynihan to fruition. “ESDC is not capable of being a major development agency here,” he said bluntly to approximately 300 businesspeople at a midtown hotel.

Mr. Schumer called on the city to create a special zoning district around Penn Station with density bonuses to encourage commercial development. Adding more office space will position the city to take advantage of the inevitable economic upturn, he said.


According to the Observer, Mayor Bloomberg responded to Schumer's comments at a press conference this afternoon, indicating that the city "would never agree" to the Port Authority taking over the project. “We certainly would never agree to the Port Authority being in charge of it because they can’t get done what they have to do downtown and the Port Authority’s first job has to be downtown and I don’t see how they could satisfy us at this point in time that they can take on that and do everything else,” he said.

Here is a video of the Mayor's comments.

Read “Schumer Calls for West Side Development,” by Erik Engquist for Crain’s


Tuesday Night: Next Steps for Planning and Development on the Far West Side

In moderating our most recent panel discussion on Moynihan Station, Alex Washburn, chief urban designer, NYC Department of City Planning, and a former aid to the late Senator Moynihan said, “Senator Moynihan wanted to rebuild Penn Station not just to give us a wonderful station, not just even to give us an icon, but I think most importantly to prove to ourselves that we can get things done, that we can build again, and that that will open up our future.”

Tomorrow night, a group of experts will convene at the Municipal Art Society for a discussion about how realizing Senator Moynihan’s vision by building a new train station could open up the Far West Side and help secure the future of the city.

Charles Bagli, economic development reporter for the New York Times, will moderate a panel discussion entitled “Moynihan Station: What Needs to Happen Next.” Panelists include: Kent Barwick, president, Municipal Art Society; Richard L. Brodsky, assemblyman, New York State Assembly; Anna Hayes Levin, chair, Community Board 4; and Daniel A. Biederman, president, 34th Street Partnership.

Among the issues that will be discussed:
o Who should be in charge of Moynihan Station?
o The impact of troubled Hudson Yards negotiations
o How should we prioritize the public projects on the Far West Side?
o How ARC fits into planning the Far West Side
o The future of Javits Center

Click here for registration info


National Train Day and More on the Rail Boom

On Saturday, May 10 – 139 years to the date after the “golden spike” was driven into the final tie that created the nation’s first transcontinental railroad – Amtrak held the first ever National Train Day at Penn Station in New York and Union Stations in Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

The Harlem Globetrotters made an appearance at Penn Station and the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) live-blogged the event at Union Station in Washington.

On Saturday, the Times gave more cause to the celebration when it reported a surge in mass transit riders across the country. According to the article, transit managers are predicting growth of 5 percent or more this year, the largest increase in at least a decade.

Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots.

“In almost every transit system I talk to, we’re seeing very high rates of growth the last few months,” said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.
“It’s very clear that a significant portion of the increase in transit use is directly caused by people who are looking for alternatives to paying $3.50 a gallon for gas.”

We’ve also included links to weekend stories about the Amtrak announcer at Penn Station and a repair project on the Northeast Corridor.

Read “Over the Bustle of the Everyday Commute, Her Voice Has Guided the Way,” by Vincent M. Mallozzi for The New York Times

Read “Straightening Out the Northeast Corridor,” by Ken Belson for The New York Times

Read “Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit,” by Clifford Krauss for The New York Times


Next Tuesday at MAS: Moynihan Station: What Needs to Happen Next?

The construction of Moynihan Station is the single most critical civic project planned for New York City this decade. Penn Station, this country’s busiest transportation center, is overcapacity and inefficient. A modern, state-of-the-art train station would revitalize the surrounding district and be the most effective catalyst for development on the Far West Side of Manhattan. What will it take to fully realize Senator Moynihan’s vision?

Panelists include: Kent Barwick, president, Municipal Art Society; Richard L. Brodsky, Assemblyman, New York State Assembly; Anna Hayes Levin, chair, Community Board 4; and Daniel A. Biederman, president, 34th Street Partnership. Moderator: Charles Bagli, reporter, The New York Times.

Tuesday, May 13, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m., at the Municipal Art Society
$15, $12 MAS members. Reservations and prepayment required. Purchase tickets online or call 212 935 2075.


Nation Building: Train Station Building

We have written before about the critical need to invest in this nation’s infrastructure
(here, and here and discussed it at our April 9 panel ). The Sunday New York Times “most e-mailed” story is Thomas Friedman’s opinion piece on this crisis and the election.

In his article he explains that while the rest of the world is investing in “nation building” and their infrastructure, we are not. He says, “If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.”

He continues, “We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.”

Read “Who Will Tell the People?” by Thomas Friedman for The New York Times


Paterson Poised to give Moynihan Project to Port Authority -- Chris Ward to head agency.

The Observer is running two stories today suggesting that Governor Paterson is poised to tap Chris Ward as the head of the Port Authority, the agency that he proposes to oversee the development of Moynihan Station. According to Eliot Brown, Christopher O. Ward, currently the managing director of the General Contractors Association of New York (member of the Friends of Moynihan Station), could be appointed Friday afternoon.

According to Em Whitney in “Paterson Sympathizes With the Dolans Over M.S.G. ,” Paterson is moving the project to the Port Authority because that agency “has a better chance of getting it done quickly, and I hope that we can start construction quickly enough that we can reverse plans that exist.” The reversal of “plans” he refers to are MSG’s plans to renovate their current arena instead of constructing a new arena in the Farley Post Office. MSG staying in place prevents the construction of a new Penn Station. According to the article, it seems that the Dolans pulled out of the project because of the pace of development, “I think the Dolans finally got fed up with the delays,” Paterson said.

While it may be a little early to be optimistic, this move could be good news for the Moynihan project. The Port Authority can provide additional funding and has experience in completing large complex transportation projects. We will certainly have more information and analysis of the possibility of PANYNJ taking over the project as it develops.

Read “Gov. Paterson Ready to Tap Chris Ward as Port Authority Director,” by Eliot Brown for The New York Observer
Read “Paterson Sympathizes With the Dolans Over M.S.G.,” by Em Whitney for The New York Observer


MAS Panel Recap: Is Green the New Civic?

On Wednesday at the MAS, architect Hugh Hardy introduced a wide ranging panel discussion entitled “World Class Train Stations,” which featured Christopher Brown, author of Still Standing: A Century of Urban Train Station Design, and Andrew Whalley, partner at Grimshaw Architects and designer of Waterloo and Paddington stations in London. The moderator was Alexandros Washburn, chief urban designer, NYC Department of City Planning, and a former aid to the late Senator Moynihan.

The night was full of big questions (“What makes a train station world class?”), thoughtful answers (“the clarity of use”), philosophical ponderings (the station as theater stage), and some classic Moynihan anecdotes. It provided enough content to feed New Penn Station for weeks.

We decided to start with a recurring theme of the discussion: How do we define "civic"?

Brown noted that the architecture of train stations is often a functionalist response – and it is possible for a station to fulfill its function, but not rise to a civic level. He also pointed out that it is easy to mistake Beaux Arts grandeur for “civicness” and asked the audience to think about how our notion of civic virtue is changing. “I don’t know what civic means anymore,” he said.

Washburn defined civic virtue as “the expression in form of the things that you value – the embodiment of what we consider important in our city.” He pointed out that the acanthus leaf was an inspiration for the long colonnade of Corinthian columns on the Farley Post Office – an icon of the Beaux Arts notion of civic – and argued that our society’s present concerns about sustainability and the ecology of things is somewhat of a symbolic return to the acanthus leaf. Sustainability is a civic gesture – and an expression of green is the new civic.

It turns out that defining “civic” is a matter of practical importance. After all, “the principle public purpose of the proposed Expanded Moynihan Station Project is a civic project to create an iconic and monumental, and more efficient, transportation gateway to and from New York City,” according to the Draft Scope of Work. And the development rights sought by the developers depend upon the creation of a station with “iconic and distinctive civic architecture,” a train hall with “civic grandeur” and “civic amenity,” and the achievement of certain “civic standards.”

Green design is most certainly a civic gesture. Whalley showed the audience several examples of energy efficient train stations, including Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station (which requires no mechanical ventilation in its train hall!).

But he also noted that a “truly sustainable” train station is not just a place for transport. It is a vital node of the city, a public place and social center, and a symbol of its aspirations.

So how will New York define civic?

Join us for our next program on May 13: Moynihan Station: What Needs To Happen Next?”


Observer: Venture Wants to Give Govt-Backed Loan to MSG

Eliot Brown reports that Related and Vornado (the Venture) have asked the city and state to back a loan to build a new MSG in the annex of the Farley Post Office.

In this option, the state and city could be saddled with the cost of the arena—said to be in the range of $900 million to $1 billion—should the larger redo of Penn Station ultimately fall apart.

The plan for a Penn Station remake, part of a larger proposal named Moynihan Station, seemed to all but fall apart when Madison Square Garden said it was staying in place and proceeding with a $500 million renovation of its arena. Without moving, a complete redo of the station was all but impossible. The Garden said it pulled out because it did not see any realistic hope of the plan coming together any time soon, given the hundreds of millions in unsecured funding.

Under the developers’ latest proposal, the developers could potentially start building the new arena for the Garden before the larger Moynihan plan ever came together, as the state and city would assume the risk on the money for the arena. Previously, the developers wanted to wait until the project came together before proceeding with the arena, as it would cost them hundreds of millions with potentially no gain should the deal have ultimately fallen apart.

A spokesman for Madison Square Garden, Barry Watkins, said the Garden was proceeding with its renovation and had no plans to move.

Read “Vornado, Related Try to Lure Garden Back to Moynihan Station Table,” by Eliot Brown in the Observer


Getting the Word Out to Penn Station Commuters

Around 500,000 people travel through Penn Station each day and, as the New York Times recently editorialized, these “veteran commuters deserve some hope that the new Moynihan complex is not just another urban fantasy.”

To that end the MAS has been distributing our spring program brochures and chatting it up with Penn Station riders. We’ll be there again next Tuesday – and we would really appreciate your help.

Last week, we distributed several hundred MAS spring program brochures outside Penn Station during the evening rush hour. As one staff member offered each person a brochure, she asked,

“Would you like a better train station?”

“God, yes!” said one woman.

“Of course!” said another.

“Do you think it can happen?” asked a businessman. The staff member told him about Jill Jonnes’s recent talk concerning the tremendous obstacles that were overcome when the first Penn Station was built. “Things were no easier then,” she said, paraphrasing Jonnes, “we just have a different set of problems today.”

A few people walked by, then doubled back to get a brochure once they understood the message.

Please join us in Penn Station next Tuesday, May 6, and volunteer a bit of your time between 4:30 - 7:30 p.m.

E-mail for more details if you would like to volunteer.


NBC News: Amtrak Boom Hampered by Infrastructure Problems

On Tuesday, the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams ran a segment on Amtrak’s rising popularity and the challenges it faces as it looks to improve and expand its existing lines. This includes an expansion of the popular Acela line and a “wish list” of expansion projects – including expanding the Northeast Corridor to Charlotte. But much needed infrastructure improvements to existing services are severely threatened by the lack of support from the federal government. “For the cost of 2 or 3 highway interchanges we could develop a corridor between two major cities,” said Alex Kumant, Amtrak CEO. The segment was part of an ongoing NBC series on America’s infrastructure crisis, an issue frequently discussed on this blog.

Link to NBC Nightly News segment

Read “MAS Panel Recap: What if They Gave a Crisis