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A think tank just pitched a smart new plan to fix NYC’s transit problems

Written by
Clayton Guse

A new plan wants to make New York's trains run on time—and it could actually work. 

This year, track repairs at Penn Station and a rush of crippling subway delays have brought commuters in the city to their wit's end. The issues have shined a light on the dilapidated state of much of New York's transit infrastructure and have left riders hungry for a fix. Earlier this year, local think tank ReThink released a surprisingly simple plan for rolling out much-needed fixes to the city's transit problems. This week, another organization, Regional Plan Association (RPA), released a plan of their own, and, boy oh boy, it's a doozy. 

The plan, titled "Crossing the Hudson," lays out a series of steps that the group says will keep the city's transit infrastructure from turning into a full-blown crisis. 

Build new tunnels in NYC, and do it fast

Like ReThink's plan, the RPA is pushing for converting Penn Station from a terminal into a through station and urges that construction on the Gateway Project (which will bring two new rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River) should begin as soon as possible. 

The two tunnels that currently connect Penn Station to New Jersey beneath the Hudson River are more than 100 years old, the RPA points out. Amtrak officials have said that the pair of them will be operational for less than 20 years without significant repairs. The problem is so serious that the RPA called the new tunnels, which are projected to cost upward of $20 billion and still await funding from the federal government, "the highest infrastructure priority for the nation."

Of course, New York would be well on its way to having a pair of shiny new tunnels if New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hadn't canceled the Access to the Region's Core (ARC) project in 2010. Now, the failing tunnels have put the city on the brink of one of the most dire infrastructure crises in its history. On top of building the Gateway Tunnels beneath the Hudson, the RPA is also pushing for them to be extended through Manhattan, beneath the East River and connected to the Sunnyside Rail Yard in Queens. 

Transform Penn Station into something that doesn’t suck

One key piece of the RPA's plan is to transform Penn Station's logistical and aesthetic layout. The now-in-progress Moynihan Station is not enough to fix the problems at the transit hub, the group argues. Its plan calls for Madison Square Garden to relocate (the City Council has already mandated the venue's owners to submit a plan for relocation before 2024) and raze a full city block between 30th and 31st Streets to construct a new Penn Station South. The idea of tearing up an entire city block is something that ReThink's plan vehemently opposes, but the RPA claims that the station needs a substantial expansion in order to handle the ever-increasing number of commuters who pass through it. 

The RPA referenced a plan for Penn Station that was floated by Vishaan Chakrabarti of PAU in 2016. His idea, which was commissioned by The New York Times, would strip down Madison Square Garden to its core parts and replace it with a light-filled oasis that is a huge departure from the current layout of Penn Station. The concept (pictured above) was enthusiastically endorsed by the RPA's plan (because it looks goddamn amazing). 

The two groups do agree on the concept of converting Penn into a through station and allowing riders to take single-seat trips between Long Island and New Jersey, but they differ on exactly how that would happen. ReThink thinks that LIRR, NJ Transit and Metro-North should be unified under a new “Regional Unified Network,” with no commuter trains terminating service in the station. In order for Penn to be converted into a through station, the RPA says that its proposed tunnels and Penn Station South are necessary. 

The differences between the two plans are substantial, but don't you just love a good nerd fight? 

Bring a new bus terminal to the Javits Center

The RPA thinks that the current $10 billion rehabilitation plan for the Port Authority Bus Terminal is pretty much dog shit. Instead, the group is pushing for a much simpler fix: Build a second massive bus terminal in the basement of the Javits Center. The RPA says such a project would extend the useful life of the bus terminal by another 20 to 30 years and would be less of a boon on the surrounding area. 

Like most of the bright ideas to fix New York City, the RPA's plan may never be put into action. In any case, it's good to know that there is someone out there working to make commuting in New York less miserable. 

Graphic: Courtesy Regional Plan Association 

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