Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fixing Penn Station Without Rebuilding It

The New York Times


October 1, 2013
Originally Posted On: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/02/opinion/fixing-penn-station-without-rebuilding-it.html 

Fixing Penn Station Without Rebuilding It


FOR commuters and travelers, New York City’s Pennsylvania Station is a disaster, as almost anyone who passes through it will tell you. The nation’s busiest transit hub is cramped, crowded, confusing and depressing. But now that the New York City Council has told Madison Square Garden that it has 10 years to vacate and find a new home, there is talk of rebuilding the rail station that lies beneath it.
Let’s face it, though. A new Penn Station, if it happens, would take billions of dollars, agreements between the federal government and multiple agencies of three states, and a decade if not more to accomplish. (Amtrak is expected to move across the street to the Farley Post Office by 2035.) Rather than wait for all of that to unfold, there are a few simple things those entities and Madison Square Garden should do now to improve the experience for the unfortunate 440,000 intercity and commuter rail passengers who pass through the station’s claustrophobic maze every weekday.
As a starting point, the executives of the three railroads that operate out of the station — Amtrak, which owns it, and New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road — should put their heads together to develop a plan to provide seamless customer information and ticketing.
Now, New Jersey Transit operates on both the Seventh and Eighth Avenue sides of the station, Amtrak on the Eighth Avenue side, and the Long Island Rail Road below West 33rd Street, where the subways are. For all of the infrastructure issues that plague the station, the biggest problem for passengers is that each rail line operates as if the other two don’t exist. To navigate the station, you need to know where to buy your ticket and which monitor to watch for your train. Good luck if you’re not familiar with the station and its catacombs.
Let’s say you live on Long Island and want to travel to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. It would be so simple to be able to buy one ticket good on both the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit that would get you there and back. E-ZPass has figured out how to do this on the highways. But you can’t do it on the regional rail lines. You have to disembark at Penn Station, navigate the subterranean labyrinth to find a New Jersey Transit ticket kiosk or venture upstairs to locate the New Jersey Transit ticket counter, and buy your ticket to Newark.
Then you have to find your train. This is another problem. If you are that customer trying to get from Long Island to Newark, and consult the departure board at the Long Island Rail Road area for the next train to Newark, you won’t find it. That information is on the New Jersey Transit and Amtrak departure boards, in different parts of the station. Why can’t departure and arrival information for all trains be on all boards? Many airports have solved this problem. You look at the departure and arrival boards, and all the flights are there, no matter the airline.
More visible and universal signs that point people to the various railroads, subway lines and street and building exits would help people find their way. So would maps that show passengers how to find the station’s many retail shops and food outlets. Most malls post maps of their layouts. Why can’t Penn Station have one map?
A more inviting retail atmosphere would also improve the customer experience. Grand Central Terminal, owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, hired a professional leasing firm to manage the retail mix after the station was renovated in the 1990s. Union Station in Washington did the same thing. Both stations are now hugely successful as inviting retail and restaurant locations. Perhaps Penn Station could be, too.
These goals — universal ticketing, access to all arrival and departure information, better signage throughout the station, a more engaging (and perhaps more profitable) retail experience — might seem obvious. The problem is that territorial claims within the station run deep.
Still, examples of cooperation between various transit agencies offer hope. New York City MetroCards are good on PATH trains to New Jersey, for example. New Jersey Transit operates between Secaucus, N.J., and New Haven, Conn., when the Jets and Giants play at the Meadowlands. Metro-North has contracted with New Jersey Transit to operate its service west of the Hudson River. You can also buy tickets to use on Philadelphia’s regional rail system at New Jersey Transit ticket offices.
Govs. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey should take the lead on these proposals and encourage the agencies to break down the barriers that separate them for the sake of the customer. Moving Madison Square Garden someday sounds like a good idea. But running the station as one single transportation hub, not three, and focusing on assisting commuters and travelers in navigating the warren that is Penn Station will result in streamlined operations and a more pleasant commuting experience — even without moving Madison Square Garden or expanding tunnel capacity between New York and New Jersey.

Robert W. Previdi is a former spokesman and operations planner for New York City Transit.

Letter to the Editor: Only a New Penn Station Will Do

(Two days after the above NY Times op-ed was published came this response from RPA and MAS)

The New York Times

October 3, 2013

Only a New Penn Station Will Do


To the Editor:
Robert W. Previdi outlines some excellent short-term measures that would make Penn Station more functional. But these steps wouldn’t add meaningful capacity to the station, and therefore don’t address the severe overcrowding that several hundred thousand users of the station confront every day.
Equally important, because the station is so grim, the neighborhood around Penn Station is now the least appealing part of Midtown. These things can be fixed only through a fundamental redesign and expansion of the station.
The decision by the New York City Council in July to provide Madison Square Garden with a new, 10-year permit should be the beginning of that rebuilding process. The railroads and the state and city should now collaborate to expedite plans for a new Penn Station that can meet the needs of the city and the Northeast for generations to come.
If done right, a new Penn Station will be a project that reorients our city and region to address the transportation and economic development challenges of the next century. Our two organizations are committed to working together to help make that happen.
VIN CIPOLLA
ROBERT D. YARO
New York, Oct. 2, 2013
The writers are the presidents of, respectively, the Municipal Art Society and the Regional Plan Association.


Make N.Y. Penn Station more customer friendly, NJ Transit board chairman says

nj.com

Make N.Y. Penn Station more customer friendly, NJ Transit board chairman says


Mike Frassinelli/The Star-Ledger By Mike Frassinelli/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on November 14, 2013 at 6:45 AM, updated November 14, 2013 at 6:47 AM




nypennstation.jpg
New York Penn Station can be a confusing maze for passengers,
but NJ Transit's board chairman directed its customer service committee
to find ways to help customers navigate America's busiest transit hub.
 
On Tuesday, Bob Previdi watched as two French tourists tried to navigate America’s busiest transit hub.
They entered New York Penn Station through NJ Transit’s ornate entrance at 7th Avenue and 31st Street, then stopped and viewed an impressive new map, but couldn’t find the information they needed most.
“We’re looking to get to JFK,” they told Previdi, a former New York transit planner who offered his help.
“You’re in the wrong part of Penn Station,” he told them, directing them to the Long Island Rail Road’s section.
To Previdi, the chance meeting illustrated what he sees as the biggest problem for Penn Station passengers: NJ Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak often operate as individual fiefdoms that don’t always pay attention to the other two railroads.
He suggested in a New York Times column last month — read aloud during Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the NJ Transit board — that the three railroads “put their heads together to develop a plan to provide seamless customer information and ticketing.”
“To navigate the station, you need to know where to buy your ticket and which monitor to watch for your train,” Previdi wrote. “Good luck if you’re not familiar with the station and its catacombs.”
New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson, who chairs the NJ Transit board, said getting around Penn Station is a “very difficult experience at best.”
He used the Previdi column as a rallying cry to continue efforts to work with other railroads in the name of customer convenience, directing NJ Transit board member James C. Finkle Jr. from the customer service committee to continue efforts that got sidetracked by Hurricane Sandy.
Universal ticketing between the railroads and better signage in the station were some of the suggestions to help customers navigate the often-confusing maze.
“There are some simple things that were mentioned in this article that we all know about — but it would be nice if we could see these things become a reality in the next year or so,” Simpson said.
Previdi was thrilled that the board that oversees New Jersey’s statewide transportation agency was looking at ways to improve the customer experience at Penn Station, and citing his column in the process.
“The problem is, of the 430,000 people that use Penn Station every day, only 30,000 of them are novice users,” Previdi said.
That, he said, can lead to an attitude of, “We’re in the club — the heck with everybody else.”
Previdi said planners need to look at Penn Station through the eyes of people visiting the station for the first time.
One simple suggestion from him:
At each main entrance, having a person wearing a red cap and holding a sign with a question mark, to assist customers who aren’t sure where to go.
NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein said commuters can expect some improvements in the coming months, but noted the transit hub — which has three railroads, a subway system down below and Madison Square Garden up top — is a “complex place.”
“It’s clear that we have to work together on this,” he said.

 


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