"...a catastrophe of low ceilings, bad lighting, weird passages, and giant rats."

You keep complaining about high unit costs. But with giant rats, you get a lot more rat, per rat, and at the same cost. The cost is actually going down, pro rata. And yet you're still complaining!

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Matt, man, I love you, but I've read all of your articles on city planning and YIMBYism and high-density cities and suburbs and I don't think I've ever been less convinced by a vision. Your ideal city seems to be ugly, overcrowded, has no sense of history, and is populated by hapless and powerless citizens with little to no input into the form and function of their own neighborhoods. It’s kind of nightmarish.

I lived in NYC for 20 years. I got married, moved to Long Island and am raising a family. I commute into the city for work (or did before the pandemic, and will again soon). I'm one of the people greatly impacted by your schemes. In all these months, I haven't read much specific from you that I would want. I mean, you point out that because of tech limitations and a nightmare of hostile agencies looking to protect their fiefdoms, you can't take a train from New Jersey to Long Island, and we should focus on that. But you never address WHY someone would want to take a train from New Jersey to Long Island. It's not a thing that people do. Not a huge deal, but it sets off alarms.

Penn Station in its current incarnation is a dumpster fire (I haven't seen much of the Moynihan reno yet, though I saw the work every day pre-pandemic). For those of us trying to navigate it twice a day it is a depressing, broken, somewhat dangerous shithole. The argument that "yes, they shouldn't have destroyed the old, beautiful Penn Station, but they did, so now you're just going to have to live with this awfulness until you retire" just doesn't resonate. Even the Soviet Union managed to build beautiful public spaces.

It will be nice - more than nice, great - to climb out of Penn Station and not instantly hate everything. Being in an uplifting building for a bit each day would be lovely. It matters. I worked for many years near Grand Central Station, and the difference between climbing out of a nasty subway into beautiful Grand Central Station and climbing out of a nasty train into a nastier Penn Station is tremendous.

What I’m saying is that your plans rarely offer much that might make life nicer for those of us actually stuck doing these things. They always seem to be things that theoretical people might want in the aggregate and rarely what those of us actually living and acting in the spaces you want to commandeer are interested in. You need to ask the people impacted and involved what they want and need, and then do that - not what you think we want and need (please don’t ever write again that people actually want to live in high density neighborhoods even when we say we don’t. Just trust us, Matt.)

This is too long already, so I’ll close with a Penn Station anecdote that I think really captures the magic of a daily commute through the station. This happened to me a year or two before the pandemic, in one of those awful New York Augusts.

I was neck deep in the usual morning Penn Station scrum. Penn Station isn’t anywhere near large enough to accommodate the number of daily commuters, so when you get off the train during rush hour you’re packed in like a factory-farmed chicken, shuffling forward a few inches at a time, usually in no particular direction. There aren’t really lines; just a mass of sweaty people pushing towards the tiny, inadequate handful of escalators that get you outside. It’s terrible; it takes forever to move fifty feet; you’re constantly accidentally being touched and breathed on by people in a way that I don’t think will be tolerated anymore after the last 18 months.

I made it to the escalator. The escalators are also packed. Someone is standing on almost every riser, so you’re inches away from the person in front and in back of you. It’s difficult to balance and not smack into people, so you have to be careful with your bags. In front of me is a woman I’d noticed even before we got on the escalator. Mid-forties, fit, confident with an optimistic look on her face, dressed in a lovely dark red suit that hung perfectly and somehow wasn’t the wrinkled wreck that the rest of us were wearing. It occurred to me how rare it was that I actually saw someone during my commute that didn’t look angry and defeated. She was the opposite - whatever she was doing in the city, wherever she was going, she was upbeat and going to do great, and people were going to be happy with the results. While I was mulling this over – a rare bright spot of positivity during my morning commute – this lovely woman farted in my mouth. Like, I could taste it.

Yeah, let the old Penn Station burn and then salt the earth.

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"On a technical level, the reason you can’t do this is that New Jersey Transit uses overhead catenaries for electricity while the Long Island Rail Road’s electrified portion uses a third rail."

London had this problem in the 1980s; the Midland Railway lines use catenaries and the Southern Railway lines use third rail. The two are connected by the Snow Hill tunnel which was closed for passengers in 1916 before the electrification was put in, which is why different systems were not seen as a problem.

In the 1980s, British Railways managed to work out how to build dual-voltage trains (Class 319) and reopened the tunnel to allow through-running. In 1988, when these were new, it was a complex technical achievement to get a train that could switch between third-rail and catenary. The first "Thameslink" service was something BR was very proud of.

However, technology has improved in the last 30 years, and that is now an option offered by all electric train builders. Indeed, the internal electronics are always included, so all it would take to convert a train is to add the relevant external pickup (a shoe or a pantograph).

What was a reasonable argument for not doing it in 1980 is now 30 years out of date.

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Another argument to be made for MattY's focus on cost and efficiency in NYC (and other large cities) public works programs: it takes away a potent argument against progressive political policies. As a conservative, I am skeptical of big government programs, for reasons of both disposition and experience. Seeing governance dysfunctions in Democratically-run cities with no opposition party is a part of my reluctance to experiment with new government programs.

Examples abound: NYC train costs; CA high speed rail; Baltimore crime; NYC voting tabulation errors; homelessness in Seattle; filth in San Francisco; Portland anarchy; Chicago murders; Detroit in most forms. I'm sure there are counter-examples, and cities offer numerous benefits from economic to cultural, despite their poor governance. I merely point out that if Democratic-led cities were bastions of good & ethical governance with effective cost management it would be a boon to progressive policy proposals.

I have a similar critique of Republican's aversion to any use of government and its unwillingness to embrace good programs like SS, Medicare, SNAP, etc. But that is a rant for another day.

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It looks great but it doesnt do anything. That’s what every one says about stamos

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Architects are weird. My grandfather was an architect. He refused to have an antenna on his country house because it would have hurt the aesthetic. Cable was not available. He also thought that the 9/11 attacks were punishment for the architect’s hubris in throwing up such a tall, drab, ugly building.

A city like New York should have a few show pieces, but generally we need fewer architects and more engineers.

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There are a lot of good jokes in this piece. Huzzah.

One question I'd like to see you work out is what the rule is for determining when agencies should be apolitical/technocratic and when they should be the opposite. On one hand, you think transit agencies should be apolitical and lots of lower-level elected offices should be converted into appointive positions. On the other hand, you think the Federal Reserve should no longer be insulated from politics and that much of the Supreme Court's power should be turned over to the political branches. I can make some guesses as to how all of this fits together, but it could use some spelling out.

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I found this piece fascinating for a different reason. Like a lot of people growing up in the West and living in rural areas most of my life, to this day, I never think of trains as a means to travel. Ever. Going from x to y, the word “train” never pops into my mind. When I’m back East or Europe, it’s only when somebody says, “Hey, it’s easy to catch the train,” that I even remember it’s a form of transportation. I’m sure many of you see this as a mental defect, but I’m just honestly remarking that such is the nature of I think many Americans’ lives that getting on a train just seems odd. I’m fully convinced it’s a great way to travel, but I’ll bet quite a few elected officials also find it in the realm of, “oh, yeah, that’s right, people still use trains.” No doubt this factors into why it’s hard to get a train built in California. Anyway, just an observation.

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Here is the thing… If this didn’t get built where would the money actually have gone? One Moynihan Station is after all only 5 F-22 Raptors.

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I usually agree with MY on these topics. For the first time, I find the pendulum has swung too far the other way in his analysis.

From the perspective of transportation function the improvements here seem to be minimal to nonexistent. But nobody said otherwise! The NY Times had their architecture critic write on this, not their business desk. This is not even attacking a strawman; it's analyzing a project on entirely different terms than its proponents and defenders.

It's a good point that the transportation improvements are nil. But, as the proponents of the project claim to be interested in its aesthetic value, it seems incumbent at least to assess it on that level as well. This is like reading an economist's critique of an outstanding French meal pointing out we could have gotten the same calories and nutrients for much less from staples from our local grocery - true, but also missing the point.

What's the value of such aesthetic improvements? There are various studies that try to tie aesthetic improvements to improved outcomes in practical areas, like health and crime.

I do not know if those hold up at the end of the day, or even if in light of them this project would have been better than, say, improving public housing or building parks.

Even so, the proponents of the project do not seem focused on those issues, but on the value of giving NYC a grand entryway for arriving passengers and a pleasing place for its rail users to commute through. Again, what's the value of that? I have no idea - I can think of many cities whose beautiful architecture support vast parts of their economy and culture, from Paris to Prague, but also many counterexamples - but it's not $0.

Again, I don't mean to defend this project; it could be a terrible waste of money, and the signage and similar issues identified by MY should be rectified.

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>>>That being said, plenty of dingy transportation facilities are perfectly functional<<<

I was surprised at how non-grand most train/subway station in Tokyo are. Beijing's (because in the main they're newer) are far fancier.

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The point of the project is to employ people in and around New York City. That's it. That's the goal. Literally nobody with influence cares about other deliverables in New York State politics. You get the federal money out of TGA and into as many New Yorkers' accounts before the federal money goes somewhere else.

Then you put on a show about "great public works," an empty symbol for the Democratic Party to gesture at to justify its own routine failures of governance. Maybe you win an Emmy while you're at it.

Even NYC elections are a jobs program for unemployable relatives. The show must go on, after all.

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This is all very logical, but millions of people pass through Penn Station every year. If this nicer building creates millions of moments of additional happiness compared to the dismal old building, what's the price tag on that? It's worth something.

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The quote about the “320 seat waiting room” caught my eye because so far in every picture I’ve seen of the inside of the new hall there is no seating visible anywhere at all. Did the seating area actually get built, and if so…where?

Meanwhile of course, we’ve spent over a billion dollars on a train hall that will only be used by the unwary and by newcomers, since everyone who actually lives in the city will continue to board by means of the lower level at old Penn, since that is apparently still the only way to actually get to the platform without being forced through a completely useless airplane-style single file boarding queue.

Also worth noting is the fact that Moynihan Hall objectively makes the process of _disembarking_ worse than the old Station. Old Penn was ugly as sin, but it was literally on top of the A/C/E lines: the new hall is now a much longer walk from them and longer still to the 1/2/3. But of course since no one in a position of political power in NYC ever takes the subway, this was considered an afterthought.

Great use of a billion dollars everyone!

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I'm obviously a big fan, but as a native New Yorker that grew up using Penn Station heavily, and still use it frequently to this day, I really disagree with this take.

You seem to present an implicit false dichotomy — that transits projects can either be function or focus on "unnecessary" things like aesthetics. I think it is clearly a spectrum, one this is obfuscated by Cuomo & co. going way over to the flashy side of the spectrum (e.g. the unnecessarily huge 2nd Ave subway extension stations). I do think beauty matters though, especially for a central piece like Penn Station. It's a matter of civic pride, which I think has a lot intangible benefits to society.

At a more tangible level, Penn Station is just awful to use. That's no secret, but it's bizarre for you to act like moving an idiotic sports from atop the busiest & most cramped train station on the continent to another location with easy mass transits access (7 line terminal) was a crazy idea. I encourage readers to read the 2019 Politico "This Is Why Your Holiday Travel Is Awful" by Marc Dunkelman; it's an interesting case study of the actual bureaucratic issues that bedevil Penn/Moynihan, such as why Amtrack didn't actually didn't want the station. It's also a shame even Cuomo couldn't force MSG to move, when it would have been in the public's best interest.

I don't mean this as a defense of the actual Moynihan that came to be, or of NYC's insane costs or many stupid projects.

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As a New Yorker who frequently travels to Boston via Penn station, I gotta disagree. You're usually right on this stuff – the T green line criticism was spot on – but this is different.

Waiting for a long distance train is different than waiting for a rapid transit train. You don't just hop on a platform and stand around for the next train. You usually wait longer, you don't know which platform it's going to be on and it's not something you do every day. It's more like an airport in that respect.

A nice space isn't just a nice to have feature. Even if your train isn't delayed, you're likely to wait for a bit and maybe grab some food. Doing that in a pleasant space has real value. Being able to navigate and orient yourself is also valuable. I've been using Penn Station for nearly 20 years (yes, I know the mezzanine trick), but since it isn't my daily commute, I often get turned around. These are exactly the issues architecture is supposed to address.

You bring up the Union Station subway stop. I used to commute there. I was in and out quickly. Since I was there nearly every day, I learned both where the Q and 6 trains leave from which, crucially the same platform every time. And the signage is much better than Penn. It's a different experience.

At Penn, the tracks always change and I have to wait longer. I only use Penn Station a few times a year so don't learn it as well. Even if I commuted there, I'd only know the very specific way to get to the LIRR or whatever.

I've long been frustrated that we spent billions to put a mall around the PATH train, rapid transit that hops less than a mile to New Jersey, and we had such a dingy station for our long distance trains to Boston and DC.

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