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program series


MAS Video: What Makes a Train Station World Class?

On April 30, the Municipal Art Society hosted a panel entitled “World Class Train Stations.” Major themes of the discussion included the concept of “civicness” in station architecture, sustainable design, retail, political and financial challenges, and other issues related to building a new Moynihan Station.

Christopher Brown, author of Still Standing: A Century of Urban Train Stations traced the development of the urban train station from its beginnings in the 1820s to the end of the 1950s using his visual survey of stations from St. Louis to Istanbul. Architect Andrew Whalley, partner at Grimshaw Architects, drew on his experience as partner-in-charge of Paddington station and Waterloo's Eurostar terminal in London to discuss the design of today’s train stations worldwide. The program was moderated by Alexandros Washburn, chief urban designer, New York City Department of City Planning, and a former aid to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

World-Class Train Stations from MAS on Vimeo

Watch other videos from our Spring Program Series:

Re-Discovering Rail

The Struggle to Build Penn Station


Wednesday at MAS: Grand Central Terminal & The Urban Railroad Station

Please join us tomorrow for the final event in our spring program series, "Can New York Build Another Great Train Station?"

The Heart of the City: Grand Central Terminal & The Urban Railroad Station

Wednesday, May 28, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m., at the Municipal Art Society

Great railroad stations are often not just gateways to cities, but are the beating hearts of cities. Midtown Manhattan is unimaginable without Grand Central Terminal, which defines Midtown’s circulation patterns, gathers and dispenses people, moves the masses with a functional elan that is inseparable from the aesthetics of its architects’ visions. It is the great object lesson in how cities are made livable when neither form follows function nor function follows form, but when they are one and the same. Join Francis Morrone, architectural historian, for a look at Grand Central in comparison to the old Pennsylvania Station as well as some other American stations, and with an eye to what the projected Moynihan Station could mean for the future of New York.

$15, $12 MAS members. Reservations and prepayment required. Purchase tickets online or call 212 935 2075.


New DC/NY High Speed Rail Link?

During the first of our series of programs on Moynihan Station, Walter Zullig, counsel emeritus to Metro North Railroad said the “federal government has abdicated its responsibility” in supporting rail and, as a result, we lack a world class passenger rail system in the Northeast Corridor.

That may be changing according to an ambitious bipartisan proposal in Congress to allow private companies to develop a high speed passenger rail link along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.

Last week U.S. Rep. John L.Mica (FL), the Republican leader of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, was in New York touting the proposal to a group of international finance experts at the Dow Jones Infrastructure Summit. According to a press release, Mica recently introduced legislation, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (H.R. 5644), that requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to solicit proposals from the private sector for engineering, financing, and development plans for a high speed DC/NY link, to be followed by similar projects across the U.S.

A map of the proposed rail link:

Here are some recent quotes from Mica:

“With the promise of a trip time from center city Washington to center city New York of under two hours, this legislation would foster a renaissance for the heavily congested Northeast Corridor by opening it up, for the first time, to private sector transportation investment and expertise. The private sector must be part of the solution if we as a nation are going to solve the problem of how we finance our tremendous infrastructure needs,” Mica said.

“Three-fourths of chronic aviation delays in this nation are a result of congestion in the New York area airspace. Air traffic control modernization is still years away, yet even then modernization will only improve aviation congestion at the margins,” Mica said. “True high speed rail, beginning in the Northeast Corridor between Washington and New York and followed by other corridors around the country, can offer an efficient and environmentally friendly transportation alternative and relieve congestion across the United States.

The Associated Press reports:

In response to a suggestion that the Air Transport Association, a trade group for the U.S. airline industry, would not support such a proposal, Mica underlined the urgent need to update the rail system.

"We'll drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century," he said.

The upgraded rail network is merely the tip of the iceberg, though, of changes that Mica deems necessary to modernize the nation's highways, tracks and bridges. Funding for the projects remains a major hurdle. He estimates that about $1.5 trillion must be spent over the next five years just to maintain the current system.

Mica suggests that a partnership between public and private financiers is the key to getting some projects, including the high speed rail network, off the ground. Next, Mica said the regions that require the most help need to be identified and plans on how to connect individual state networks need to be laid out.

"All you need is the rules of the game, and then you can play," he said.

Amtrak ceo Alex Kummant downplayed the idea of involving the private sector when he spoke to the Associated Press on the sidelines of a hearing on the bill last week:

"I'm open to any innovative ideas," he said. "I just think we need to be really honest with ourselves on what the British Rail experience really was."

The privatization of Britain's state-run rail service in the mid-1990s proved unpopular and critics blamed it for poor service and safety problems. Many aspects of privatization were subsequently undone.

Limited-stop trains on Amtrak's Acela Express service already make the New York-Washington trip in 2 1/2 hours, and the tens of billions of dollars it would take to create a two-hour service might be better spent elsewhere, Kummant said.

We would like to see some comments about this idea. Let us know what you think.

Details on the legislation from the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure:

The bill is a five-year reauthorization of Amtrak, and includes the essential provisions of H.R. 5644, a bipartisan bill Mica, Shuster and others introduced in March. Although the Amtrak Acela currently provides passenger rail service between Washington D.C. and New York City, the route’s average speed of 83 mph pales in comparison to speeds of successful systems in other countries, where fast and reliable high speed rail plays a vital role in transportation. French and Japanese trains, for instance, hit speeds of 200 mph and more, making these systems attractive alternatives to driving or flying.

The high speed rail provisions in the Amtrak legislation include:

• The Department of Transportation will solicit proposals for development of a high speed rail link along the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and New York City;

• Proposals will include engineering, financing, and development plans for the DC/NYC corridor;

• Proposals will require DC to NYC express service of no more than 2 hours;

• DOT will convene a Commission of state, local, federal, rail and rail labor stakeholders to evaluate the proposals and report its recommendations to Congress;

• Congress will evaluate the Commission’s report and take the necessary action to commence work on the corridor;
• The DC/NYC link will serve as a pilot for similar projects across the United States, and the DOT Secretary may request proposals for other corridors after selection of the Northeast Corridor proposal;

• Guarantees labor protections; and

• Requires a study to examine how to achieve maximum economic utilization of the Northeast Corridor.

Read “US Rep: High Speed Rail Will Ease Transport Woes,” by the Associated Press

Read “Bill Would Open Door to Private, High-Speed Rail,” by Sarah Karush for the Associated Press


MAS Video: The Struggle to Build Penn Station

On April 23, historian Jill Jonnes delivered a fascinating presentation on the construction of Penn Station and its tunnels, the subject of her recent book: Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic. The event was part of the MAS’s spring program series: Can New York Build Another Great Station?

With the aid of some amazing photographs rescued from the depths of the Pennsylvania Railroad archives, Jonnes recounted the “titanic battle with nature” that culminated in the construction of the original Penn Station.

Now you can watch a brief video of the highlights:

Learning From The Past: The Struggle to Build Penn Station from MAS on Vimeo

Join us on Wednesday, May 28 for our next event: "The Heart of the City: Grand Central Terminal & the Urban Railroad Station."

And check out our walking tour on May 31: "Finding Your Way: Penn Station vs. Grand Central."

Watch “Re-Discovering Rail,” a video from our April 9th panel

Read “Jill Jonnes Bucks Up the Moynihan Station Crowd”

Read “The Struggle to Build (New) Penn Station”

Read “ARC: 100 Years Later, An Attempt to Re-Conquer Gotham”


MAS Hosts “Next Steps” Panel, Patterson Wants Summit on Big Projects, and other news

Last night, the Municipal Art Society convened a panel to discuss next steps for Moynihan Station and the priorities for the Far West Side.

Panelists included: 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; and Kathryn S. Wilde, president and CEO, Partnership for New York City. The moderator was Charles Bagli, reporter, The New York Times.

Pointing to a projected map of the Far West Side (pictured below and available for download here), Kent Barwick noted a lack of planning and coordination. “We’re dealing with mostly state projects being built by people who apparently don’t run into each other in the halls of Albany,” he said. It is essential that the public sector build the infrastructure to create the conditions for development – and “there is no theory in which Farley (Moynihan Station) is not the first step,” said Barwick. This is the challenge inherited by Governor Patterson and “if New York doesn’t grab this opportunity it will be a shame.”

“I still think moving MSG makes sense,” said Anna Hayes-Levin. She admitted that the Garden is currently out of the picture, but she said establishing some real leadership at the state level could bring the Dolans back to the table. “That’s what was missing before,” she quipped.

Meanwhile, up in Albany, Governor Patterson signaled that he is taking important steps to establish a strong role in Moynihan and other key projects. According to the Daily News, Paterson said that he wants to convene a summit involving the key parties of the projects in need of “real serious conversation” – Moynihan Station, Ground Zero, Hudson Yards, and Javits Center – an idea proposed by the New York Times in March. "I think they can be resurrected," he said. "That's why I would like to bring all those parties together to perhaps decide where are the priorities, No. 1, and secondly, what is achievable, and thirdly, what is not achievable."

Today, the editorial boards of the New York Times and the New York Observer jumped into the tussle between Sen. Schumer and Mayor Bloomberg over who should be in charge at Moynihan. In “Saving Moynihan Station,” the Times declared: “It is time to give the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey the lead role rebuilding this major gateway.”

There are many compelling reasons for giving this job to the Port Authority. It appears to have $2 billion to contribute, a very healthy start. Also, the Port Authority, which builds and maintains major public facilities, has hundreds of engineers, planners and experts. Transportation is their thing — bridges, ports, airports and, yes, train stations.

Today’s Port Authority also has the political leadership — and the transparency — needed to move forward successfully on this complicated project.

The Observer said the vision for Moynihan Station remains intact and should “keep moving.”

Both Moynihan Station and Hudson Yards would bring sizable, long-term benefits to the city’s economy. The main thing is to get them both fully on track now, while Mr. Bloomberg is still mayor. There is no guarantee his successor will share his vision and commitment to the large-scale, transformative, private-public projects that bring out the best of New York.

According to the Observer, Mayor Bloomberg today pointed to the gubernatorial roller coaster in Albany to explain the troubles for his economic development agenda - all the more reason to get behind Governor Paterson's efforts to get projects
under control.

“The chaos in Albany was not good for us,” he told reporters. “I’m not disparaging what they were trying to do, it’s just that when you change administrations, it does slow things down, and nobody expected when the administration changed a year and a third ago, that a year and a third later, they would go through the same process.”

This is a tune the mayor has been singing for a few days now—in London, he was more explicit, saying, “When Eliot Spitzer came in, he basically stopped every project that the Pataki administration negotiated, saying he wanted to look at it.”

We will have plenty more from last night’s event in the next few days.

Read “Saving Moynihan Station,” from The New York Times

Read “Keep Moving on Moynihan Station and Hudson Yards,” from The New York Observer

Read “Gov. Paterson Wants Sachs Break,” by Kenneth Lovett for The Daily News


MAS Video: Re-Discovering Rail

Re-Discovering Rail: The Smart, Green Alternative from MAS on Vimeo.

This video is from our April 9 panel discussion with Don Phillips, former transportation reporter for the Washington Post, and Walter Zullig, counsel emeritus for Metro-North Railroad.

We'll be posting videos of our April 23 and April 30 programs soon.

Read "MAS Panel Recap: What if They Gave a Crisis..."


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


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?”


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.