There's been a lot of celebratory hand-clapping over the federal government's multi-billion- dollar proposal to move New York's Pennsylvania Station from its current location under Madison Square Garden one block west to occupy the James A. Farley Post Office Building at 33rd Street. The plan, with New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's enthusiastic backing, seeks to construct a "world-class train station as befits the gateway to the great city of New York," as Deputy Postmaster General Mike Coughlin put it. And true, the old post office is a splendid building.
But wait. The move would make commuting a lot more aggravating for the 300,000 workers crowding into Manhattan every day from Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and even Washington, D.C.
Instead of keeping Penn Station in its current location between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, where it annexes two major West Side subway lines, the new location connects only to the Eighth Avenue line. Seventh Avenue line users will now have to trudge a block to get to the subway. In addition, commuters who now walk just one block from Penn Station to pick up trains at Herald Square will now have to hike two blocks. Imagine, too, the impact on local traffic as hundreds of thousands of train passengers take to the already-clogged streets around the new location on their way to the subway. Penn Station should just stay put, though it could certainly do with a makeover. Ask commuters whether they'd prefer an inconvenient grand station to greet their arrival or easy subway access, and their answer would be: easy access.
Moving Penn Station will cost a lot of money. Better to spend it on alleviating New York's pressing transportation problems rather than on aggravating them. New York's 600 miles of subway lines haven't extended their reach since the 1930s. The Metropolitan Transit Authority should build a Second Avenue subway line running from the Bronx through Manhattan to Brooklyn in order to make sure that existing transportation bottlenecks don't choke off New York's prosperity.
In addition, lack of subway access west of Eighth Avenue has stifled development on midtown's Hudson River side. And with existing subway lines, the new Hudson River Park, scheduled to open in 2005 and run from Battery Park along the shoreline to West 59th Street, will be hard to reach. The MTA should extend the Number 7 train, which has linked Flushing, Queens, to Times Square since 1920, to Manhattan's west shore. Not only would this give New Yorkers access to the new park and help businesses take root and grow in the area; it would also effectively link Grand Central Station and Penn Station and spark life into the costly and underutilized Javits Center.