Advocates (including yours truly) for the plan to rebuild the original Penn Station are delighted this week to learn that The National Civic Art Society (NCAS) is throwing its considerable weight behind the “Rebuild” proposal. This is welcome news because NCAS has shown itself to be a tenacious and effective advocate for beauty and common sense in the urban realm – and an equally determined adversary of public folly.
NCAS’s clout as a formidable player in the civic arena was demonstrated in its vigorous opposition to the proposed – and ill-advised – Eisenhower Memorial designed by Frank Gehry. The Gehry design attracted opposition from many quarters, but no dissent was as detailed or as devastating as the dossier the NCAS assembled under the leadership of its energetic president, Justin Shubow. The vehement public opposition to the Gehry plan eventually led Congress to zero out all current construction funds for the Memorial.
Now that forward progress of the misguided Gehry design has been stalled, Shubow tells me that NCAS is now taking up the cause of “Rebuild Penn Station.” NCAS is planning to hold a conference this fall that will bring together like-minded supporters of the “Rebuild” plan and to coordinate future strategy.
The entry of NCAS into the fray is particularly well-timed, because a parallel development makes the “Rebuild” plan more attractive and practical than ever. The think tank, ReThinkNYC led by Jim Venturi, has just come out with a proposal for Penn Station that does three important things: (1) Increases train-handling capacity of the station; (2) Mitigates the existing congestion for commuting passengers; (3) And it accomplishes (1) and (2) within the footprint of the original Penn Station. Point (3) is critical, because it eliminates need for the insanely expensive “Penn Station South” expansion, which is claimed to be necessary to accommodate additional trains coming through the planned new Gateway Tunnel.
The efficiencies of Venturi’s proposal stem from making Penn Station a "through-running" station for the Long Island Railroad and NJTransit trains – rather than a terminus for these two lines as currently exists. By avoiding the need for train turn-arounds at Penn Station, the train-handling capacity of the existing station footprint is greatly increased.
Meanwhile, Gov. Como’s “band-aid’ proposal for renovating Penn Station seems to have been met with the indifference it deserves. Private developers have not been eager to pony up roughly $2.7 billion of their own money in return for promises of “retail rights.”
In contrast to Cuomo’s cosmetic make-over scheme, the “Through-Running Plan” – combined with the "Rebuild Penn Station Plan" – would achieve far-reaching improvements for the metropolitan area. It would allow a rebuilt Penn Station to handle more riders with far greater convenience, while providing a spectacular new landmark for New York City – with attendant positive impacts on real estate values. With support from the National Civic Art Society, there’s now a much greater chance that this intelligent solution for the current Penn Station mess will actually happen.