New ARC Design: Smaller Station, Larger Crowds

Absent mitigation, Access to the Region’s Core will bring overwhelming crowds to the NYC crosswalks and sidewalks highlighted in black.

NJ Transit has released a Supplemental Draft EIS (SDEIS) for Access to the Region’s Core, a project whose main component is a new cross-Hudson tunnel which will add two additional commuter rail tracks between Secaucus Junction and an expansion of New York Penn Station under 34th Street. The SDEIS outlines several significant design changes, including shrinking the Penn Station expansion from 475,000 ft² to approximately 300,000 ft² to avoid private property impacts to the north. The new tunnel will accommodate an additional 25 trains per hour, more than doubling current trans-Hudson commuter rail peak hour capacity to 48 trains per hour.

Undeniably, this will put thousands of new train riders onto sidewalks that already overflow today, as Tri-State’s Penn for Peds campaign has highlighted. The SDEIS identifies 49 “failure” sidewalk corners, stretches of sidewalk, and crosswalks which will see unacceptable pedestrian crowding and congestion during peak hours (technically speaking, they will experience a pedestrian “level of service” of E or F). This total includes 20 new sidewalk failures, 6 new corner failures, and 9 new crosswalk failures which did not appear in the original DEIS analysis. There are several possible explanations for the additional failures. The analysis year was upped in the SDEIS to 2030 from 2025, adding five more years of growth to the results. The project team expanded the studied pedestrian area north to 35th Street, identifying additional failures. Finally, the redesigned station extension no longer includes a street-level station entrance at the northeast corner of 35th Street and 8th Avenue because of cost concerns, though it does have three more ADA-accessible elevator entrances than the original design.

The ARC redesign also includes a cross-Hudson tunnel dug deeper beneath the riverbed. The change responds to the concerns of the Army Corps of Engineers, Hudson River Park Trust, and others that a shallow dug tunnel would damage the riverbed, disturb vegetation and aquatic life, and cut straight through Manhattan’s historic timber bulkhead. This deeper tunnel’s tracks, however, would connect only to the new station platforms, not to Penn Station’s existing platforms. Such a connection would have allowed for slightly increased flexibility in the event of a stalled train or other incident in Penn Station or the existing Hudson rail tunnel.

The bleak portrait of pedestrian overflow painted in the SDEIS points to a need for more comprehensive mitigation measures. While the project team mentions some specific pedestrian improvements like removing street furniture, NJ Transit (the project’s lead agency) does not have jurisdiction over NYC sidewalks, streets, street vendors, subway stairwells, etc. For this reason it is imperative that those agencies with authority — primarily NYC DOT — offer concrete solutions, and that Manhattan elected officials encourage them to do so.

While significant measures must be taken to ensure that sidewalks in the Penn area can handle an increase in pedestrian traffic, the ARC project is absolutely necessary to reduce congestion and support regional job growth. Commuters should testify to both points at public hearings on the SDEIS, which will take place in Newark on March 31 and in lower Manhattan on April 1 (for full details, click here).

11 Comments on "New ARC Design: Smaller Station, Larger Crowds"

  1. The EIS probably underestimates the impact of additional pedestrians, because NYC probably understates the extent of pedestrian overcapacity in the area now. Additionally, the ARC EIS probably does not address additional pressures like to come from some of the big real estate plans in the area.

  2. Please look into the old underground pedestrian passageway between Penn Station and Herald Square under 32nd Street. Use it for an accelerating moving sidewalk. Several more similar underground passageways would alleviate the sidewalk congestion. 33rd St. needs to be pedestrianized!

  3. ARC is incredibly bad idea. It would dump commuters deep in the middle of nowhere. I don’t see how this can be mitigated. It would be far better to consider alternative plans like Ralph Braskett’s proposal for extending the No. 7 subway train to Weehawken and Secaucus Transfer or George Haikalis’s proposal to run a 42nd St trolley through one of the Lincoln Tunnels. The alternative proposals offer more useful connections, including Grand Central Station, at far lower cost.

  4. I’ve wondered myself about the 32nd street passageway. A lot of people go from Penn to the Path and 34th St IND BMT station, and crowd the sidewalks doing so. A new connection, perhaps using Manhattan Mall, would be of great help. Moving sidewalks would be a great help there.

  5. Chris Bujara | March 24, 2008 at 10:38 pm |

    ARC is a bad joke that gets worse and worse. In addition to a smaller, deeper station and more pedestrian congestion, the project now offers little in terms of redundancy, and would be no help whatsoever in mitigating delays caused by trains stuck in the tunnels. The promised single-seat-ride relies on technology nobody seems to want to build, and that NJT couldn’t possibly maintain. The region really needs something better than a tunnel to nowhere.

    Extending the 7 to Secaucus sounds like a great idea! I’d much rather hop a fast, frequent, 7 train from Secaucus straight to Grand Central, instead of getting dumped in a cavern half a mile away from my office and having to continue to deal with NJT breakdowns and delays. It would offer great east and west side subway connections, and make getting to regional sporting events a lot easier, too. I’ll bet NYC would have gotten the Olympic bid if plans for such an extension had been on the table.

  6. The ARC project is way off the track. The earlier DEIS, now barely a year old, found that a track connection from the new Hudson River tunnels to existing tracks and platforms at Penn Station was feasible. This could be the first phase of a plan to link Penn Station and Grand Central, described as “Alternative G” in the ARC Major Investment Study. NJ Transit should go back to last year’s DEIS, and simply drop the Deep Cavern station portion of the plan. Instead, in cooperation with MTA, NJ Transit can begin the detailed environmnetal analysis needed to advance Alterntive G.

  7. Extending the 7 to NJ is a good idea (and decades old) but it serves an entirely different market than ARC will and is not a replacement. I’d like to see the 42nd St Light Rail too, but that has nowhere near the capacity of 25 commuter trains per hour…and doesn’t provide service deep into NJ.

    Pedestrian issues can be solved once one gives up on the idea that cars take priority. Look at the daytime pedestrian mall downtown – that works.

    But losing the flexibility of the connection to the existing PS platforms will hurt, even if those problems don’t show up in the EIS.

  8. I believe that the lack of a connection into PennStation is far more than a minor inconvenience. It would be a lifesaver, literally, if either the old tunnels or the new tunnels were made inoperative by any means whatever such as terrorism. The latter has odds of more than zero. Think about it.
    Bill Vigrass, occasional NJTRail rider.

  9. Clark Morris | March 27, 2008 at 3:29 pm |

    All new rail development should have through routing in mind. NJT and the MTA should work together so that NO NJT train terminates in Manhattan. I realize that this will mean unprecedented cooperation on equipment. It will mean modifying the M7 sets to add pantograph equipped cars. It will mean some difficult dealing with the various unions. It will mean a higher discipline in operations. However it will also mean better service and more capacity. It may cut down on people driving from Long Island to New Jersey for work (or vice versa). The high cost of both the THE and Long Island East Side Access should tell us it is worth looking at making better use of existing facilities as well as better integration.

  10. Ralph Braskett | March 29, 2008 at 2:13 am |

    ARC IS A BAD, EXPENSIVE IDEA! Pedestrian congestion + worse subway connections, especially to 8th ave E train are just a start.
    Grand Central is still 2 subway rides away; yet
    70% of NJT rail riders want to be within a
    10 minute walk to Grand Central. The new 34th
    station is a terrorist attractor as well; it is
    dangerous to have diesel engines 19 stories underground.
    This project has the look of another Central Artery boondoggle with NJ taxpayers & the feds
    (that is us) paying & paying for a bad idea.
    Extending the #7 train to Secaucus with 1/2 trains going to the far west side & 1/2 to Secaucus provides more for less–esp. when the
    #7 gets a modern signal system enabling 40tph.
    That means an empty 11car #7 every 3 minutes in
    the peak hours. Ramps would be built from the
    NJ Turnpike so bus riders(more numerous than
    rail riders) could benefit too. A stop at
    Lincoln Harbor would feed HBLRT & Bergen bus riders onto the #7 as well.
    For more details, see
    Ralph Braskett

  11. The feasibility of reopening the old “Gimbel’s” passageway, which is under the south sidewalk of 33rd St, not 32nd St, clearly should be seriously considered. It is in bad shape and needs significanbt rehab which someone would have to pay for. It is too narrow for noving walks. It would be difficult to make the west end ADA compliant. But it doesn’t help the ARC station much which will have its own connection to Herald Square subway stations.

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