Despite All Their Rage, New Jersey Transit Commuters Remain Rats in a Cage

Saying Grand Central is awesome and Penn Station sucks is like saying you prefer a trip to Great Adventure more than one to Motor Vehicle. And reporters talking about how great the old Penn Station was, and how much the new one blows, is hardly fresh ground either.

So I didn’t expect much when a front page story in yesterday’s NY Times “Arts & Leisure” section took Penn Station to task for its “congestion and aesthetic blandness,” in the words of Michael Kimmelman.

An architecture critic, Kimmelman lays down some stark similes on the topic.

Some 600,000 commuters, riding Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit, now suffer Penn Station every day. That makes it probably the busiest transit hub in the Western world, busier than Heathrow Airport in London, busier than Newark, La Guardia and Kennedy airports combined.       

To pass through Grand Central Terminal, one of New York’s exalted public spaces, is an ennobling experience, a gift. To commute via the bowels of Penn Station, just a few blocks away, is a humiliation.       

Kimmelman also takes to task the quixotic plans to transform the Farley post office just west of Penn Station into a regal new transit hub. But that, notes Kimmelman, would only see Amtrak moved, meaning 95% of Penn’s traffic–the poor commuter stiffs on Jersey Transit and LIRR–would still come in and out of Penn. Airless, lightless, crowded, firetrap Penn.

He suggests moving Madison Square Garden, a.k.a., The House That Jeremy Lin Built, a.k.a., a “flimsy, aging eyesore,” per Kimmelman, to the southern end of the Javits Center at 34th and 11th.

Alas, a new and vastly improved Penn Station may not climb atop the considerable list of priorities for the city. Notes Kimmelman:

Infrastructural crises that affect millions of people a day drag on, among them our abysmal airports; noisy, erratic subways; lack of high-speed rail; and Penn Station. No other great city in the world would abide a station like it.

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