Amtrak and Vornado Realty Trust transform the 7th Avenue and 32nd Street entrance of New York Penn Station. Also, Chicago’s Metra commuter railroad debuts its holiday trains; North Carolina’s Carolinian and Piedmont intercity passenger rail services experience record-breaking ridership; a new site designation will promote Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s (SCVTA) transit-oriented communities; and Seattle’s Sound Transit is testing an accessibility app to improve wayfinding for riders with vision disabilities.
Amtrak and Vornado Realty Trust on Nov. 19 marked the completion of the 7th Avenue and 32nd Street entrance project at New York Penn Station. The station’s busiest entrance has been fully rebuilt, with its width expanded by 50%, according to Amtrak.
The renovated entrance features:
- A new ADA-compliant elevator for New Jersey Transit, MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Amtrak riders.
- Three new escalators, which replaced the entrance’s two original escalators that connect riders with the station’s mezzanine level.
- Wider sidewalks along the west side of Seventh Avenue between West 31st and 33rd streets, which Vornado is working on with the New York City Department of Transportation to relieve crowding and improve safety and navigation.
- A new glass canopy, which replaces a 1967-era concrete overhang to allow natural light into the station below.
- Monumental illuminated Penn Station signage, which offers visibility from Park Avenue and points east to allow travelers to easily locate one of the station’s main entrances.
The 7th Avenue and 32nd Street entrance project was a public-private partnership, with Vornado leading the overall design and constructing street-level improvements and the canopy above, and Amtrak constructing the improvements from the street to its concourse, including the new elevator. According to Amtrak, the transformation was enabled by Vornado’s redevelopment of its PENN 2 office tower and the adjacent public spaces between West 31st and West 33rd streets along Seventh Avenue.
Foster + Partners designed the new glass canopy and interior lighting feature, which Amtrak said “creates a more inviting, open and brighter environment linking the station below to the street.” Above the canopy, perched 50 feet above the plaza on the underside of the “monumental ‘Bustle’” of PENN 2, is a new LED lighting installation, which was developed by Vornado and provides an opportunity for art, “America’s Railroad” said.
“We are proud to roll out the welcome mat to our new, modern entrance for the 600,000 daily New York Penn Station visitors,” Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner said. “Having a direct, accessible entrance at 32nd and 7th will improve the customer experience for all passengers as they can now take an elevator; walk down wider stairs; and have an added, third escalator to help them enter or exit the station.”
“The new entrance is safer, more accessible, more spacious and far more inviting for the hundreds of thousands of people who travel through Penn Station every day,” Vornado Realty Trust CEO Steven Roth said. “Intentionally and systematically, we are transforming the PENN DISTRICT into the new epicenter of Manhattan—a remarkable place to live, work and experience the best that New York has to offer.”
“We have been master-planning, studying and improving New York City’s public realm with Vornado to create a more inclusive and dynamic urban experience,” said Nigel Dancey, Head of Studio at Foster + Partners. “This project is an important step towards a wider transformation that looks to enhance the quality of the spaces between buildings and make the busiest transportation hub in North America welcoming and inviting for all.”
Amtrak reported that over the past five years, it has made more than $300 million in capital improvement investments at New York Penn Station, in addition to its investment in Moynihan Train Hall. According to the railroad, in FY23 it dedicated more than $114 million to its ADA Stations Program, which has now brought 118 stations around the nation to full compliance and another 65 to compliance excluding platforms, which require additional work.
Metra on Nov. 17 began rolling out its holiday trains that will operate in regular service across its system. “Decorated inside and out with twinkling red and green lights and with holiday tunes playing, these trains will operate on most lines throughout the holiday season as a gift to our riders,” the commuter railroad reported. The trains will also be used for special rides with Santa and Mrs. Claus next month.
“This is just our way of infusing the daily commute with the holiday spirit,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said. “We hope our customers enjoy these trains and have a happy and safe holiday season.”
NC By Train’s Carolinian and Piedmont intercity passenger rail services experienced record-breaking ridership in October, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). The two services, operated by Amtrak, garnered the highest ridership ever for one month, carrying 65,980 riders, NCDOT said.
NC By Train has served a total of 449,898 riders during the first three quarters of 2023, which is 23% higher than the prior-year period’s total of 366,685 riders. 2022 was the previous record year for the state’s intercity passenger rail service. NC By Train served 163,623 riders in third-quarter 2023, which NCDOT said was “the best quarter in its 33-year history.”
With the introduction of a fifth round-trip between Raleigh and Charlotte in July and applications for federal funding for projects like the S-Line and the Corridor Identification and Development Program, NC By Train is expected to continue increasing and improving services while further expanding the network across North Carolina and beyond, according to NCDOT.
SCVTA on Nov. 17 reported that 21 of its transit-oriented development sites have been designated as Priority Sites by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the planning organization that coordinates and disperses state and federal funding for planning projects throughout the nine-county Bay Area in California. The new designation supports the development of affordable and mixed-income housing on underutilized land, according to SCVTA. MTC’s Priority Sites program “aims to provide $28 million in pre-development funding and technical assistance for affordable and mixed-income housing developments located on properties designated as Priority Sites.”
SCVTA’s Priority Sites are located throughout Santa Clara County, from Milpitas to Morgan Hill, and include VTA-owned land adjacent to San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit, Caltrain commuter rail, and SCVTA light rail stations. “These sites are typically parking lots or vacant land around our station areas,” the transit agency said. “This funding opportunity will allow our developer partners to create thoughtful, inclusive projects with substantial amounts of greatly needed affordable housing next to transit stations. The goal is to increase ridership, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and address the regional housing crisis.”
The 21 VTA Priority Sites have the capacity to provide nearly 5,200 housing units, including more than 2,000 affordable housing units for households earning 60% of area median income (AMI) and below. In 2023, 60% AMI is a household income of $107,040 or less for a family of four.
According to SCVTA, the agency’s Transit-Oriented Communities Policy was revised in 2023 and requires that at least 25% of units in any housing development on its land must be affordable at 60% AMI and below, and at least 40% of the units across the portfolio must be affordable at 60% AMI. Also, at least half of all affordable units must be affordable to households earning 50% AMI and below. At full build-out, SCVTA’s portfolio will generate “millions of dollars in annual revenue from development to support transit operations,” according to the agency.
Representatives from Sound Transit, Lighthouse for the Blind, Hopelink, and Washington state’s Department of Services for the Blind recently participated in a preview of GoodMaps, a new wayfinding app designed for people with vision disabilities.
According to Sound Transit, GoodMaps uses LiDAR mapping technology to create 3D maps of large public spaces’ interiors, like transit stations, malls and airports. Using smartphone camera-based positioning, GoodMaps can locate a user within a room at an accuracy of up to two inches, the transit agency reported. Additionally, GoodMaps offers several in-app features that provide step-by-step feedback and directions to users.
The developers mapped the interiors of Westlake and International District/Chinatown light rail stations on the 1 Line as part of a trial for the Seattle area. These stations join dozens of others in cities like London, Sound Transit reported.
If successful, Sound Transit said it will consider expanding the GoodMaps tool to all Link light rail stations.
“GoodMaps is one of several promising technology projects Sound Transit’s Innovation & Passenger Technology team is developing that are designed to assist passengers with wayfinding in and around our stations,” said Beth Hamby, Senior Accessibility Program Manager for Sound Transit. “I’m excited about the potential for GoodMaps to help make complex stations easier to navigate for passengers with vision disabilities and support independent travel for any passenger with a smartphone.”