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Ambitious Plan for Penn Station Calls for New Skylights, Improved Signage

By Heather Holland | February 15, 2013 3:52pm

MIDTOWN EAST — Open skylights, clear signage and more elevators are part of an ambitious, long-term plan to improve the pedestrian experience at Penn Station under a proposal by Long Island Rail Road, NJ Transit and Amtrak for the nation's busiest transit hub.

Although the plan, called the Penn Station Visioning Study, is still in its early stages and decades from becoming a reality, initial proposals to enhance the look and feel of the station were presented to Community Board 5’s Land Use Committee on Feb. 6.

“The Penn Station Visioning Study aims to improve overall passenger comfort with incremental improvements that would result in a vastly enhanced station experience for the over 640,000 Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and New York City Transit passengers, who utilize the station each day," said Clifford Cole, a spokesman representing the three companies.  

"The study also seeks to create additional space for passengers, improved access, expanded corridors and enhanced internal and external signage to guide passengers more easily to and from their designated gate locations."

Wayfinding is a large part of making sure customers can enter and leave the station quickly, said Joseph Welker, a designer at James Carpenter Design Associates, a firm that was hired by the three transit companies to come up with the initial design. For instance, one way to alert people to the station’s exits and entrances is to bring more sunlight into the station, he explained.

One way to do this is to add skylights at each of the station’s exits and entrances, making it easier for people to easily locate these passages, Welker added.

Another step toward a unified identity for Penn station is to create a clearly defined and uniform look to the signage on the inside and outside, the designer continued. As it is now, it’s difficult for people to see the station and the services available from the outside, he said.

The plan also calls for the installation of a new elevator on the Eighth Avenue side of the station. The only elevator currently available is located at the NJ Transit entrance at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, Welker said.

“Eighth Avenue needs an access point,” he said. “If you’re in a wheelchair, you currently have to go three blocks to get to an elevator.”

Although the plans have yet to be finalized, and aren't expected to be completed until 2035, members of the  land use committee said they appreciated the transit companies’ effort to make much-needed improvements to the station.

“There is a lot of work to be done to improve Penn Station, and this should be a start of a broader conversation,” said Raju Mann, acting chair of the land use committee.

“We appreciated their presenting their initial thoughts and we plan to work with them to continue to work through these questions. This is really kicking off a dialogue than the completion of a piece of work.”