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Defending A Design Decision

My trip though Penn Station yesterday got me thinking about the various criticisms of the new train hall in the old post office, AKA Moynihan Station. One that has come up again and again is that there’s no place to sit, as can be seen in my picture above. I’m not sure that’s a valid point.

There is a designated waiting area for people with tickets, located about 100 feet from the stairs and escalators down to the platforms. The picture below was taken from the same spot as the picture above, just rotated to the right a bit:

That’s part of the seating area beyond the column with the train time display. The seating covers most of one side of the concourse area, but is separated from the concourse and platform stairs by a row of retail kiosks, like the House of Chocolate. In other words, there is seating, it’s just not right next to the platforms.

The original Penn Station has become a legend since its demolition, but it was a real building with strengths and weaknesses. Here’s the equivalent space:

Not only was there no place to sit, the room to stand was limited by having the platforms partially open to the concourse, as seen on the left. So this isn’t some modern mistake, or cheapness. It’s a practical concern: having people sit in the concourse would interfere with circulation in an area where people have to be free to move.

The current plan could be improved by swapping the retail and seating locations. That would give people seated in the waiting area a clear view of the concourse; since the retail is an attraction on its own, people would walk the few extra feet to get to it. And it would get rid of this issue, which is a distraction from real issues about improving the station.