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TSTC: 1,100 Pedestrians a Minute at Penn Station Entrance

With so much focus on trains, tracks, and platforms it can be easy to forget about the critical state of the pedestrian environment around Penn Station. In fact, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s “Penn for Peds” initiative up to 1,100 people use the Penn Station entrance at 32nd St. and Seventh Ave each minute during a weekday rush hour. In a Mobilizing the Region post, TSTC cited a recent pedestrian survey from the 34th St. Partnership and raised concerns about the impact of ARC, the new station under 34th St., on the already crowded area:

The Partnership’s district stretches from 10th Avenue to Park Avenue and is bounded by 30th and 36th Streets, but its busiest three locations were all around Penn Station. They were the northwest corner of 34th and 7th, which 14,340 pedestrians passed through during its peak hour; the northwest corner of 34th and Broadway with 16,776 pedestrians; and the Penn Station entrance at 32nd and 7th, whose busiest hour saw 69,240 people enter and leave the station.

Tri-State launched its Penn For Peds campaign not only because of existing congestion and safety issues, but also because planned public and private developments will further increase foot traffic in the area. Not least of these is the ARC Tunnel project that will double NJ Transit capacity to Midtown Manhattan and expand Penn Station below 34th Street. According to project environmental documents, both the 34th St./7th Ave. and 34th St./Broadway intersections will be hit by unacceptable pedestrian crowding.

In addition to the 34th Street Partnership’s pedestrian count, the MTA’s 2007 subway and bus ridership report found that three of the six most-used subway stations in the city (in terms of ridership) are in the area: the Herald Square station and both the 7th Ave and 8th Ave Penn Station stops.

One way to help alleviate the horrific pedestrian congestion on the sidewalks would be to reopen and rehabilitate the existing tunnels connecting Herald Square – and even Bryant Park – to Penn Station.

Read “1,100 Pedestrians a Minute? Just Another Day at Penn Station,” from Mobilizing the Region

More on Penn Station’s underground tunnels

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City Wants Gimbel’s, Other Penn Station Tunnels Reopened

Today, Eliot Brown of the Observer reports the Department of City Planning “is seeking ways to create an expansive pedestrian network of tunnels and walkways in the area around [Penn Station].” We recently provided a bit of history and some photos of Gimbel’s and the Sixth Avenue underground and received several interesting comments in return.

The MAS believes the Moynihan Station project provides an opportunity to create a lively underground network in the Penn Station/Hudson Yards area similar to Rockefeller Center. Re-opening and rehabilitating existing tunnels will alleviate the horrific pedestrian congestion on the sidewalks around Herald Square and enhance the connections between Penn Station and the subways. According to Brown:

The improvements the city is considering, the cost of which may be borne by private developers and landowners, include a reopening of the so-called “Gimbel’s passageway,” a tunnel that would connect Penn Station to Herald Square and the N, R, Q, and W subway lines on Sixth Avenue; a possible walkway along 33rd Street in a below-grade moat-like space on the northern edge of the Farley Post Office; and improving subway stations in the area.

Members from two community boards, among other attendees, were briefed recently by the Department of City Planning on the planned improvements being considered, which are preliminary and would be part of a zoning change connected with the Moynihan Station project. The planning department, led by director Amanda Burden, has previously expressed the desire for pedestrian improvements in the area, as have community and civic groups such as the Municipal Art Society.

On a related note, “attendees to the meetings with the Planning Department said they were told a building of 1,100 or 1,200 feet could rise on the east end of the Vornado Realty Trust-owned block just north of Penn Station, between 33rd and 34th streets. That would be 100 or so feet shorter than the Empire State Building.” It’s difficult to tell from the rendering, but the tallest of the new buildings appears to be on the block just east of Penn Station, between 32nd and 33rd streets.

Read “City Pushes for Warren of Walkways Under and Around Moynihan Station,” by Eliot Brown for The New York Observer

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“The Longest Pedestrian Subway Underpass in the History of Pedestrian Subway Underpasses”

We recently came across an entertaining New Yorker article from 1940 about the opening of the Sixth Avenue passageway (you can see our previous posts about the closed passageway here and here. “Anticipating by some months the happy day when the Sixth Avenue subway opens, we toured one of its interesting appurtenances this week, the longest pedestrian subway underpass in the history of pedestrian subway underpasses,” said the reporter. Here are a few excerpts:

It’s a passageway running from Thirty-fifth Street to Fortieth, connecting with both the Thirty-fourth and Forty-second Street stations. The idea is that it will relieve congestion at these points by distributing passengers over a greater area. If you add the length of the station platforms to the length of the underpass, you have something impressive – a stretch of more than nine blocks, from Thirty-third Street to north of Forty-second. There will be a catch to using this as a summer promenade, however. There will be turnstiles at the ends of both station platforms, so it will cost ten cents to make the entire distance. The arrangement should nevertheless be a boon to adventurous strollers in the summer of 1941…At the south end, once you’re through the turnstile, you will be able to wander on indefinitely underground: through territory of the BMT, the Hudson & Manhattan terminal, Saks-Thirty-fourth Street, Gimbel’s, the Pennsylvania Station – a whole world in itself.

We set off through the tunnel with the blessing of the Board of Transportation; Mr. Herman Birman, a guide supplied by that body (who is tired of having Booth Tarkington fans kid him about his name); and a flashlight. Mr. Birman led us into the tunnel by way of an unfinished entrance to the Forty-second Street station. The passageway was dark and gloomy…The underpass is thirty feet across at its widest point; south of Thirty-eighth, it narrows to twenty-four feet. It is eight feet high all the way…There are no decorative effects whatsoever now, but the amateur subway artists, afforded such a golden opportunity, will probably take care of that soon enough.

South of Thirty-eighth, the underpass dips and Mr. Birman remarked that that stretch would be nice for roller-skating. The place will undoubtedly have to be policed to keep down sports activities…At the south end, we peered up through the scaffolding in a partly finished entrance and chuckled quietly at the pedestrians dodging traffic in the old-fashioned way. We then started on the return trip, which was completely uneventful.

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Photos of Sixth Avenue Underground Passageway

Last week, we brought you images and some basic info on the Gimbels passageway between Herald Square and Penn Station. In response, we received several comments about the Sixth Avenue underground passageway from Bryant Park to 34th St. If Sixth Ave and Gimbels are reopened it will be possible to walk underground from Bryant Park to Penn Station – and eventually all the way to the Hudson Yards development. One reader said:

”The pedestrian tunnel under Sixth Avenue between 34th and 40th Streets was closed to the public after a couple of murders were committed there. When the Sixth Avenue subway was built, the tracks had to be fairly deep below the street surface in order to pass under existing subway lines (42nd Street Shuttle and BMT Broadway subway). Rather than spending the money to backfill the excavation, the space was left open and the walkway built above the track level. There were intermediate stairways to the street at 36th and 38th Streets - now all sealed. It used to be possible to walk underground from Bryant Park all the way to 8th Avenue and 31st Street - I did it many times, especially on rainy days. When the subway station at 6th Avenue and 34th Street was rehabilitated a few years ago, the turnstiles/ fare controls were relocated blocking the free access route. They would have to be shifted again, at considerable expense, to create a clear passageway outside the fare controls should the walkway up to Bryant Park be reopened.”

Judging from some recent photos it looks like MTA uses the Sixth Avenue passageway to store sandbags, old signs, filing cabinets, benches, etc. It appears to be in decent shape. Any info on MTA’s plans?

Click on the image below to start the slideshow.
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Gimbels Passageway and the Penn Station Underground

On a bitterly cold day in New York underground corridors can be a godsend. The network under Rockefeller Center is the most extensive, but there are many more convenient one-block passages throughout the city.

At one time, Penn Station had its own network connecting to the Hotel Pennsylvania, Gimbels Department Store, the Farley Post Office, and other nearby buildings and subway stations. In fact, there was a weather-protected route from Bryant Park all the way to Penn Station.

The Moynihan Station project is an opportunity to create a lively underground network in the Penn Station/Hudson Yards area similar to Rockefeller Center. Re-opening and rehabilitating existing tunnels will alleviate the horrific pedestrian congestion on the sidewalks around Herald Square and enhance the connections between Penn Station and the subways. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has suggested creating a pedestrian thoroughfare on 33rd St. It’s also conceivable to imagine underground tunnels, possibly with people movers, connecting Bryant Park to the development at Hudson Yards.

The shuttered “Gimbels Passageway,” named after the Gimbels Department Store, connects 6th Ave. to 7th Ave. under the sidewalk on 33rd Street. Before it was closed during the 1970s, one could switch from the subway or PATH at Herald Square and continue to a commuter train at Penn Station without braving the elements.

“Brooklyn to Macy's Manhattan, Gimbels was beloved by many in its day but never mustered the sophistication and charm of its slightly more upscale neighbor on the other side of 34th Street,” wrote David Randall in a remembrance of Gimbels for The New York Times. “Its competitor had a parade, but Gimbels had something else: a bargain basement, the first of its kind in New York.”

The Gimbels bargain basement is now the food court of Manhattan Mall. Vornado, a co-developer of Moynihan Station, owns both Manhattan Mall and Hotel Pennsylvania and, presumably, now has the rights to the passageway in the vault space under the sidewalk on 33rd Street.

We found some pictures of it here. It looks like a dark and narrow cinderblock hellhole, but could be reworked and possibly widened. Retail, moving walkways, elevators, and escalators could help activate the space. Plus, we'd assume the developers would like to drive more pedestrian traffic to Manhattan Mall and its food court.

Please let us know if you have any photos of Gimbels or info on other Penn Station tunnels. We’ve heard about a tunnel to the New Yorker Hotel, but haven’t been able to find it on any plans. Also, what is the condition of the Sixth Ave. tunnel between 34th and 40th?


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