Penn Station plan adds pedestrian plaza on 33rd Street

This artist rendering from the MTA depicts renovation

This artist rendering from the MTA depicts renovation plans for Penn Station outlined by the station's three railroads in early April 2013. Short- and long-term proposals include creating a pedestrian plaza on West 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues and building sidewalk skylights to let natural light into the subterranean station. (Credit: MTA)

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The main concourse of the original Penn Station. Penn Station

Penn Station's future could include turning 33rd Street into a pedestrian plaza and opening up sidewalk skylights to let daylight into the underground train terminal used by 220,000 Long Island Rail Road riders each day.

The first details of a planned major overhaul of Penn Station were outlined in a letter last week by the station's three railroads -- the LIRR, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

The improvements, both those in the near term and others pegged for completion by 2035, seek to "to create a spacious, accommodating railroad terminal truly worthy of the New York metropolis," the rail agencies wrote in the letter.

The railroads' Penn Station Vision plan aims to recapture some of the grandeur of the original Beaux Arts-style station, which was leveled in 1963 so that the Garden could be built on top.

"When the original station was demolished, not only was a remarkable building leveled, but hundreds of thousands of the station's daily passengers . . . were greatly disadvantaged," railroad officials wrote. "What is today a difficult to navigate, crowded passenger interchange will only get worse in the future if we do not begin to correct the shortsighted planning actions of the past."

Among the proposals is to close West 33rd Street to vehicles between Seventh and Eighth avenues. The block would be transformed into an "inviting and exciting" civic space that will improve pedestrian flow and give commuters an additional 38,000 square feet at which to gather during train service disruptions, according to the documents.

The plan also calls for new and better signage at all station entrances, including tall pylons branded with the logos of the three railroads; new mid-block and corner entrances; a new elevator at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue; and several skylights built into sidewalks and station entrances.

"Having a vibrant Long Island Rail Road with a modern Penn Station with amenities to make it more attractive to commuters and reverse commuters -- that's a positive thing," said Kevin Law, chief executive of the Long Island Association.

Some of the proposed changes would require the cooperation of Madison Square Garden. The Dolan family holds controlling interest in the Garden and owns Cablevision, Newsday's parent company.

The rail agencies' proposal calls for the Garden to move its loading operations from 33rd Street to 31st Street.

LIRR Commuter Council chairman Mark Epstein said he likes what he sees in the plan, but wants it to go further, and for riders to be involved in the process.

"More access and more light is always a positive, but it can't stop there," said Epstein, who wants a final proposal to address "functionality" inside the station. "Those of us who use it every day may have some suggestions on work that needs to be done."

The letter gave few details of any planned interior improvement, but cites "major reconfiguration of the entire Penn Station complex as it exists today." Those changes will benefit from Amtrak's plans to move most of its operations to the adjacent Moynihan Station, the letter said. Commuter rail lines will continue to operate out of Penn when Amtrak moves to Moynihan, expected by 2025.

LIRR officials have said a final plan could include moving offices and knocking down walls to open up more space for customers, getting rid of the main train departure board in favor of smaller boards throughout the facility, and recruiting high-end retailers to the station.

No estimated cost has been released for the proposed improvements. The Penn Station Vision study itself is costing $1.1 million -- about half of which is being paid by the LIRR, Penn's primary user.

A previous version of this story contained incorrect information about Madison Square Garden's tax exempt status.

 

Proposed Penn Station improvements:

 

Closing West 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues and transforming it into a 38,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza.

Adding new corner and mid-block entrances, including kiosk-style entrances to replace entryways on Eight Avenue at 31st and 33rd streets.

Building skylights into sidewalks and station entrances to allow for natural light inside the station.

Adding new signs at station entrances, including tall pylons at street corners with the logos of the LIRR, Amtrak and NJ Transit.

Installing a new elevator on 33rd Street.

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