Opinion: Four Steps to End the Impasse at Penn Station

City Limits, Sam Turvey, December 3, 2023

“This is a once-in-a-century opportunity to raise New York and the entire region to new heights of greatness by getting Penn Station right. We can and must do better.”

New York magazine’s Justin Davidson is right in calling the various plans for a new Penn Station “inherently confusing and nonlinear.” One could just as well call them chaotic. Many of those involved pursue agendas that have little or nothing to do with transit. If we are ever to get Penn Station right, decision-making at Penn Station must start with transit; after all, it is a train station. Below, we recommend four steps for how to get there.

But first, how did we get to this place? The biggest reason for the confusion and chaos at Penn Station is that the Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) put a mega real estate development first—a reprise of Hudson Yards just to the east—in an inversion of how the project should have proceeded. The ESD proposed to fund incremental improvements at Penn Station as a pretext for building commercial towers, most of them supertalls, from river to river.

The ESD called its development scheme the General Project Plan (GPP) and promptly declared the neighborhood adjacent to the station as “blighted,” giving Vornado Realty Trust’s CEO Steve Roth carte blanche to create what he called “Vornado’s Campus” where a large swath of Midtown West now stands. The collapse of the commercial real estate market has given the district a reprieve, but the plan has not been formally withdrawn and recently survived a challenge in New York’s lower courts, pending appeal. 

The neighborhood demolition plan or GPP has been “decoupled” from transit upgrades at Penn Station. In effect, the GPP was never really about improving Penn Station and the ESD was using the station as a Trojan horse.

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