Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday proposed permanently closing a midtown block of 33rd Street to create a grand entrance for Penn Station.
The new station entrance aligns with the development of the $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall and Cuomo’s larger efforts to better serve the more than 650,000 daily commuters that stuff into musty, overcapacity Pennsylvania Station. The station entrance project would require city cooperation to turn what is now a temporarily closed 33rd Street into a round-the-clock pedestrian plaza from Seventh to Eighth avenues, with the new entrance placed on the block just off Seventh Avenue.
“The subway system, the LIRR, Penn — they were built for a much smaller population. We have now double, sometimes triple the volume going to these facilities and it just can’t manage,” said Cuomo at a news event announcing the entrance. “And that is the congestion problem. It’s a commuter’s nightmare. It is also a safety concern.”
Several conceptual renderings for the entrance were unveiled, each featuring a different glassy overhang for what would be a new access point for Long Island Rail Road, Amtrak and subway commuters on the 1,2,3, A, C and E lines. The project is one of seven new entrances planned for the Penn-Farley complex to double the number of access points to the nation’s busiest transit hub.
“Penn Station serves as a gateway to New York City for hundreds of thousands of people each day,” said Seth Stein, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The governor has put forward a compelling vision to enhance the quality of the station and improve the safety of all who use it.”
Cuomo, who controls the MTA, touted what he described as a holistic effort to transform Penn Station into a “world-class” facility — at least for his constituents in New York. The state also plans to expand the LIRR concourse from 30 feet to 60 feet and raise ceilings that are 7 to 18 feet tall.
Transportation advocates in attendance stressed that, though a more dignified commuter experience is welcomed, it must come with an increase in train throughput and service improvements. The LIRR is currently on pace to deliver its worst annual on-time performance in nearly two decades.
Nick Sifuentes, the executive director of the tristate Transportation Campaign, described Madison Square Garden as the “elephant in the room,” sitting squarely in the middle of the redevelopment of Penn. In 2013, the City Council extended the Garden’s special permit for another 10 years, to give time for the venue to find a new home.
“Moving Madison Square Garden allows for expansion of Penn by creating more space for commuters and safer access points,” said Sifuentes.
“No one is saying Madison Square Garden is not important, but we need to start talking about a new location so that it’s not smack in the middle of the most important train project happening in the city,” he continued.
James Dolan, executive chairman and chief executive of The Madison Square Garden Company, said in a statement that, “We support the governor’s desire to improve Penn Station for the benefit of all New Yorkers and look forward to continuing to work collaboratively to achieve this goal.”
Joseph Lhota, the MTA chairman, is on the board of directors of the MSG Company, raising conflict of interest concerns among some good government groups. A spokesman for the MTA, Jon Weinstein, said in a statement that “the chairman is recused from these matters and is not involved at all in any issue that involves Madison Square Garden and the MTA. Period.”
An MSG Company spokeswoman did not comment on questions pertaining to the company’s openness to relocating the Garden.
Meanwhile, Moynihan, the project to transform the 106-year-old Farley Building into a train hall for Penn and Amtrak trains, is currently on pace to open in 2020. Before Cuomo’s announcement, crews placed the first of 1,127 panels of glass in the train hall’s massive, 92-foot-tall skylight.
“It is going to be magnificent. It is going to have [a] retail concourse,” said Cuomo of Moynihan. “It is going to be a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility. It’s also going to have really special skylights that will have an architectural significance that’s going to be breathtaking.”
Gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, who has slammed the governor for his stewardship of the MTA during a time of subway and rail service declines, criticized the governor’s announcement as a photo opportunity.
“The LIRR and MTA are operating at their worst on-time rates in decades,” Nixon said in a statement, “but as we all know, the Governor only admits to being in charge when he can take credit for something positive, and shirks responsibility when it’s not beneficial to him.”