Does the U.S. Have a “Third World Transportation System”?

Funding shortfalls and logistical hurdles may be delaying plans to replace Penn Station, but the Municipal Art Society’s campaign for Moynihan Station is not letting up. The MAS has been on a roll this spring, hosting a series of events related to the West Side project. This video, posted yesterday, features former Washington Post reporter Don Phillips and Metro-North
lawyer Walter Zullig, Jr. discussing the project within the context of the national and regional rail networks. From the MAS recap:

Phillips provided a global overview of the transportation crisis and
discussed how Europe, Asia, and even Mexico are placing massive
investments in their infrastructure. France, for instance, is building
rail tunnels “like crazy” for trains that, in some cases, will be
carrying trucks. Iran is on a rail building boom. And Mexico is
building a huge new port and rail network to compete with the Port of
Los Angeles.

But “we have no vision at all,” said Phillips. “All we can say now is no new taxes.”

Rail enthusiasts jonesing for pictures of gorgeous new stations will get their fix in the first part of the video, which shows some recently completed projects — in Europe, of course. If the Port Authority takes over the Moynihan Station project, might New York finally get a palatial new station of its own?

  • Josh

    To be honest, I’d be much happier with improvements to the rail network that could result in greater speed and on-time performance rather than a “palatial new station”. The Berlin Hauptbahnhof is tasty icing but the reliable high-speed rail network is the cake. A gorgeous new train station serving our existing network is lipstick on a pig.

    Have I used enough cliches? Sorry.

  • Mark Walker

    If the PA takes over the Moynihan project, what role would the state legislature play? Is Sheldon Silver in a position to scuttle this attempt like he did with the last one?

  • drose

    At the end of 2006, Shelly scuttled the plan that Vornado is now going to have to go back to since MSG won’t move, all because he wanted to deny Pataki one last victory before he left office. Thanks to him, the ESDC and Spitzer dickered around for a year and a half on a much bigger stations that has now been lost, and the economy going into the tank will make it harder for the original plan to be completed. Thanks for the help, Shelly!

    I say get it out of that man’s hands, and we might have a good chance of getting it completed. He’s like the grim reaper when it comes to big projects in the city.

  • Damian

    I agree with you, Josh, but sometimes these kinds of symbolic gestures mean a lot. It’s showing respect to rail riders and welcoming them to New York. I totally agree that service needs massive improvements, but hopefully the investment that goes into a station like this just raises the bar for the whole system. (One can dream anyway)

    Also, I for one hope MSG has NOTHING to do with this. Please, let the Garden stay put. There’s absolutely no natural reason our train station should be paired with a sports complex.

  • MrManhattan

    Regarding the title:

    I lived in a real third world country for about three years, and when friends from NYC would ask how primitive it was there, my reply would be: They’re still using internal combustion automobiles!

  • Mark Walker

    I’ve been thinking about Josh’s comment re station aesthetics vs. network improvements. The answer is we need both great stations and a solid network.

    That’s what I’ve learned in a dozen or so trips to Europe: Beauty is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. Try life with and without it and you’ll see what I mean.

    Penn Station needs to be what James Howard Kunstler would refer to as a place worth caring about. Making it one would heal the wound of the original Penn Station’s tragic demolition. This was one of the most horrific events in the history of the city.

    It’s self defeating to suggest that we have to do without either good station design or good network performance. The Europeans don’t think that way. Settling for less would simply be, like the death of the old Penn Station, another tragic mistake.

  • Peter

    I don’t care for hyperbolic statements such as ‘Does the U.S. Have a “Third World Transportation System”?’, especially when it’s barely supported by the article, which hardly mentions anything about the third world. Have you spent any time in the third world, where giant cities such as Manila or Jakarta have barely any transit at all, (except maybe short haul BRT systems) incredible congestion beyond anything NYC has ever seen, awful, below-livability pollution levels, and terrible political corruption that makes fixing any of these ills seem nearly impossible?

  • nativenewyorker

    despite being a world class alpha city, new york has third rate transit system. cities in asia (tokyo, shanghai, taipei, hong kong, etc.) are light years ahead, from swipeless turnstiles, lit and air-conditioned platforms that display train arrival times, displays in the train that warn of train delays on other lines, etc.

    meanwhile in ny, we’ve learned to settle – trains are assumed to come late, platform flooding during rain is the norm, and subway service on weekends is a total disaster, for the few trains that ARE running. the subway stations r giant ovens during the summer and overcrowding is only going get worse.

    yes, our system is one of the oldest. it’s also opened 24 hours unlike many other systems (altho btw the delays and spotty service, there’s really not much of a difference), but still, what we have now is far from what we deserve.

    unfortunately the problems are deep rooted and would require a major overhaul – from city agencies, the mta, the state, and the public.

  • Sheila

    Peter,

    You need to get out of the US more often. Our transport system is totally Third World and former Third World cities in Central America and Asia are cleaning our clocks. As Jim Kunstler like to say, “We have a national rail system the Bulgarians would be ashamed of.”

  • I’m down with everything that Phillips and Zullig said. Our train system is a pale shadow of what it was fifty years ago. We need to start rebuilding it.

    I’m not down with the emphasis on “Moynihan Station,” though. As Zullig said, it wouldn’t do much to actually improve transportation. It’s a big empty symbol.

    The grand new train stations in Europe are impressive because they symbolize the massive improvements in passenger rail capacity. Without that, a big station is a symbol of nothing except the guilty consciences of architecture lovers.

    I’m okay with spending $3 billion to build a new Penn Station – if we spend more than $3 billion to actually tie the various systems together and create a true regional network. Hell, if we spent a billion stringing catenary on the Port Washington Line to allow through-running to Trenton or Dover, I’d be for it. But $3 billion for a big hall that’s a block west of where anyone needs to go? Let’s spend the money on something real.

  • Gary Z

    Think about $3 billion in regional BRT improvements. Think about the MTA unable to fully fund the current capital plan, let alone the next. The transit system is bursting at the seams. We need more capacity now, not grand edifices. This is not Europe with high gas taxes and national investment in rail, or China on a historic building boom. We are a metro region self-funding the bulk of transit improvements. Port Authority money is not free money.

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