Good morning. It’s Thursday. Scroll down to find out where masks are still required in New York — and where they probably won’t be required, come September. But first, a look at what I’d been told was a secret place in Pennsylvania Station that could be repurposed to make life easier for commuters.
Samuel Turvey led the way to where he could admire his secret place from a distance. It turned out to be a not-so-secret secret place. It was right there in plain sight. Thousands of commuters pass it every day on their way to and from Pennsylvania Station. But you can’t go there — it’s off limits to the public — and you wouldn’t want to. It’s strewn with junk.
It’s a long-abandoned platform that Turvey, the chairman of ReThinkNYC, an advocacy group, said had been used in the days when trains carried mail.
He rhapsodized about it. He called it “magic.” He said it was essential to accomplishing something that sounds impossible: making Penn Station less of a hellhole for commuters. He said that if the space where four tracks flank the platform was redesigned, more trains and more passengers could move through the station faster.
“Hellhole” was not his word, although he said that once you go beyond the acres of gleaming, still-new stonework in the Moynihan Train Hall, it was the right word. Gov. Kathy Hochul used it last year in making the case for a $7 billion rebuilding plan.
That plan is expected to win approval from state officials today. It calls for building 10 super-tall buildings near the station. It also promises an estimated $1.2 billion in tax breaks to a developer that owns most of the land. Opponents maintain that it is less about transit and more about real estate.
The financing is complicated, and questions have been raised about how the improvements to the station would be paid for. An economic analysis released last week concluded that the plan would generate enough revenue to cover only half the cost of the improvements to the station. To make up the difference, the state would have to reallocate about $3 billion from other sources.
Overhauling the station was supposed to come later in a segmented infrastructure project that includes adding two single-track railroad tunnels under the Hudson River. As with everything at Penn Station, several railroads and their government overseers are involved — Amtrak, whose long-distance trains stop at the station, and two commuter lines, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit. They often use the same tracks, but their waiting rooms and departure gates are largely separate.
Hochul, determined not to wait for the tunnels, moved to accelerate the state’s part of the station renovation. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has already solicited proposals from architectural design firms to suggest ways to “relieve overcrowding and improve passenger flow” in the station.
Turvey said that better flow would provide an opportunity to reinvent an inefficient terminus as an efficient “through-running” station. It is a concept he said has caught on in places like London, Paris and Tokyo. In the New York area, it would allow someone from Queens, say, to go to New Jersey without having to change trains. As offices reopen, that could appeal to reverse commuters who scattered in the pandemic.
Karim Ahmed, a senior adviser to ReThinkNYC who joined Turvey for the look at the secret platform, said that through-running would allow commuter trains to run more often.
“Am I going to take a job in Newark — am I going to take NJTransit to Newark — if there’s only a train coming every 20 or 30 minutes?” he asked. “No, because if I miss my train, I miss my morning meeting and I look like a jerk. But if I had trains that were going every 10 minutes, even if I miss one, another one will come. I might be five, six minutes late to my meeting, but it’s a much different situation than it might not come for a long time.”
An M.T.A. presentation last year that through-running was not possible because “there are too many physical constraints and fatal flaws,” and the costs would be “highly disproportionate to the limited benefits.” ReThinkNYC counters that its plan would cost about half as much as the state’s plan for the eventual expansion of the station and the tracks underneath.
Ahmed and Turvey, chatting on another platform, had to wait for a glimpse of the secret one — a New Jersey Transit train was blocking their view. The train pulled out of the station after a couple of minutes.
“Oddly enough, this abandoned Post Office rail platform holds the key to a second miracle on 34th Street,” Turvey said.
Here we go again: It’s going to be another hot and humid day with a high in the mid-90s. Gusty afternoon thunderstorms could interrupt the heat — briefly. At night, it will be mostly clear, with temps in the mid-to-high 70s.
In effect until Aug. 15 (Feast of the Assumption).
The latest New York news
Buffalo supermarket reopens: Two months after the racist massacre that left 10 dead, employees and residents of the neighborhood confronted the pain of returning and remembering.
Shooting in Harlem: A 14-year-old boy died after what appeared to be a targeted attack, the police said. A 15-year-old boy who was with him was also shot and was in stable condition.
More local news
Strike for wages, benefits and diversity: Union members at HarperCollins, the publishing house, called a one-day strike, with around 100 employees and additional supporters marching in front of the company’s Manhattan headquarters.
Death of a progressive legislator: Albert Vann, a progressive New York legislator who shifted the city’s base of Black political power from Harlem to Brooklyn, died. He was 87.
Shark sighting: As temperatures in Queens climbed into the 90s, Rockaway’s beaches were closed on Tuesday afternoon for swimming because of shark sightings.
Got water?: When it’s this hot, staying hydrated is essential to staying healthy. Here are five signs that you might be dehydrated.
Arts & culture
Open the “Hell Gate”: After years of being put through the wringer of New York City media, five journalists created Hell Gate, a blog-style news site run on their terms.
Ukrainian dance tracks: John Leland, a Metro reporter, caught up with Daria Kolomiec, a D.J. from Kyiv who is in New York for the summer. Here’s what he’s learned.
Offscreen turmoil for an art house: The Jacob Burns Film Center in Westchester County, a celebrated venue, has been roiled by the dismissal of one of its original leaders who was accused of bullying behavior.
Masks on in subways but probably not in schools, Hochul says
“No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks,” exults the age-old rhyme for the end of the school year.
When the school year in New York begins in September, “no more masks” may be the rule.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Wednesday that students in New York probably won’t have to mask up when classes resume. But she said the statewide mask mandate for public transportation would remain in effect for now. She said “the numbers will have to be lower than they are right now, and consistently lower,” before she would lift it.
Coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths have ticked up because of the rapidly spreading Omicron subvariant known as BA.5. Hochul used her first Covid briefing in months to offer reassurance that case levels are manageable at the moment and to argue that her pandemic emergency powers should be extended into the fall in case serious disease and hospitalizations climb higher.
She has come in for criticism in recent days for continuing to declare, month after month, that New York is facing a state of emergency because of the pandemic. That allows her to issue mandates and spend tax dollars without full legislative oversight. She appeared to call the briefing in part to say that she still needed that authority.
She said she had hoped the coronavirus pandemic would be over by now, but “it is becoming clear to me it isn’t gone.” She wants to prepare for a potential surge in the fall and winter.
For the fall, she said, the state was focused on sending millions of rapid tests to schools so children could be tested in time for the first day of classes. She also said the state was working on stockpiling enough masks and other personal protective equipment to last 60 days.
‘What about New York?’
I was walking south toward Penn Station and my train home at the end of a long day when I overheard the two people walking together in front of me.
“L.A. is tough,” one said. “It’s all about looks. If you don’t look good, it’s hard to get anywhere.”
“What about New York?” the other asked.
“New York?” the first person replied. “New York is more about brains than looks.”
— Frederick Hurford
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
The post A Secret Platform That Might Make Penn Station Better appeared first on New York Times.