The walk from Penn Station could be less crowded in a few years. As part of the redevelopment of Hotel Pennsylvania and the Manhattan Mall, the developer, a subsidiary of Vornado, has proposed opening the long abandoned “Gimbels passageway” that provided an underground pedestrian link between Penn Station and the Herald Square subway and PATH stations.
The passageway runs under the south side of 33rd Street, but has been closed for almost 20 years (its namesake, the once-iconic Gimbels department store, closed a few years earlier in 1987). Given the enormous amount of foot traffic along the sidewalks in the area, and with more pedestrians on the way due to the ARC Tunnel and Midtown development projects like this one, the resurrection of the Gimbels passageway is perfectly timed. The project would also widen the cramped tunnel to accommodate bigger crowds.
The passageway would provide a substantial public benefit, and the influx of private money should make it difficult for the city to refuse. Ideally, the passageway would be truly public, rather than behind MTA turnstiles. This would allow the greatest number of Penn Station commuters to use the tunnel and provide the maximum benefit for the crowded sidewalks above.
The environmental review will also include study of pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks surrounding the block. We are sure that the results will confirm what other studies have shown: that the sidewalks and crosswalks are dangerously overburdened. The opening of the Gimbels passageway will go a long way to help alleviate that burden – we hope to see it in use after a generation of languishing.