Testimony of Jon Orcutt, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am Jon Orcutt, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a regional policy organization that favors a more sustainable transportation system.
We congratulate NJ Transit on the completion of the DEIS for new commuter rail capacity between New Jersey and Manhattan, and agree that the ARC project needs to be advanced as quickly as possible. The existing rail tunnels into Penn Station – and the station itself – are bottlenecks holding back rail expansion in New Jersey. It’s critical for New Jersey to have good access to the Manhattan job market and important for the city to have strong connections to New Jersey’s workforce. We urge all involved federal, state, regional and local agencies to approve funding and move it to construction as quickly as possible.
Providing commuters with quick and reliable mass transit options will encourage some people to get out of their cars. The DEIS estimates that the proposed project will reduce auto trips across the Hudson by 5% versus what we would see if the project is not built. Last month, Governor Corzine set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals, and Mayor Bloomberg is likely to announce similar targets for New York City in the near future. A stronger regional rail network will be a crucial part of any plan to reduce the region’s transportation impact on our atmosphere and to create a more efficient and liveable metropolis.
With regard to some of the specific impacts in Manhattan identified in the DEIS, we think it is worth calling the public’s attention to the issue of pedestrian space in the Penn Station area. This is a set of issues that will fall to city government, not NJ Transit, to address, but they are nonetheless consequences of significantly expanding rail service into Penn Station.
We commend the DEIS for its straightforward discussion about the need for additional pedestrian capacity around Penn Station when NJ Transit doubles its Manhattan train capacity. It appropriately discusses the likely need to widen sidewalks in the station’s vicinity, among other measures, but we feel it understates the problem of pedestrian circulation and it does not entirely spell out the implications of having more pedestrians, more taxis and more buses all in an already congested street environment.
First, the coverage of the sidewalk analysis
should have extended outward by a number of
blocks, especially to the north. The impact of
Penn Station on Midtown sidewalks and crosswalks
certainly extends further north than 35th
Street. Pedestrians can be seen every morning
and evening walking in the street all the way
between Penn Station and Times Square on 7th
Avenue and also frequently along 8th between 34th
and the PA Bus Terminal. We think the so-called “pedestrian level of service” findings, whatever
It’s also noteworthy that the analysis does not
consider the possibility of future high-rise
development (the “Garden swap”) in the enn
Clearly something will have to give, and community boards, civic leaders and elected officials should use the Manhattan pedestrian and traffic analyses in the project DEIS as a starting point to demand a realistic Penn Station area pedestrian plan from city government. In our opinion, it will have to reallocate space from the streets to the sidewalks and figure out ways to prioritize essential vehicle traffic over discretionary car trips that do not need to be in the vicinity of what is already the United States’ busiest train station.