Absent mitigation, Access to the Region’s Core will bring overwhelming crowds to the NYC crosswalks and sidewalks highlighted in black. [Image from ARC SDEIS.]
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).