A Boston Marathon argument for a Penn Station redo

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Penn Station on Thanksgiving eve, 2008. (hello turkey toe via Flickr)
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Today, advocates of rebuilding Penn Station cited safety, and the Boston Marathon bombing, in their push to get rid of the current Madison Square Garden and overhaul the grim, labyrinthine transit hub underneath.

"I don't want to be alarmist about this, but even given the events of the last 48 hours, we all understand we live in a not-very-safe world and that there are serious security issues with Penn," said Vishaan Chakrabarti, the director of Columbia's Center for Urban Real Estate, speaking on a panel hosted by the Regional Plan Association at the Waldorf Astoria. "And I don't want to belabor that point, but let's just say, I travel to Penn all the time with my young kids and I do not linger there."

In recent months, advocates have latched onto the imminent expiration of Madison Square Garden's 50-year special permit to reboot their campaign for a new Penn Station.

Not only is the station overcrowded and bound to become more so, and not only is a station redesign necessary for the successful implemention of high speed rail or the Gateway project, should either actually materialize, but today, for the first time, advocates focused on safety.

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"Let's face it, that is a genuinely dangerous place," said Michael Kimmelman, the Times architecture critic who has played a substantial role in resurrecting the fight to rebuild Penn.

"It's unsafe, it's crowded, there's low ceilings, the platforms and escalators are too narrow to move passengers safely and effectively," said Joshua Wagner, a University of Pennsylvania grad student who delivered a presentation during the panel.

In 1987, a fire broke out at London's King's Cross, a station that, in its dinginess and congestion, bore some similarity to Penn Station.

Thirty-one people died, and according to John McAslan, whose architecture firm led the redesign of the rail hub, "probably that was the beginning of the idea that something had to happen at King's Cross."

"I can't believe that's a safe environment for passengers," said McAslan, of Penn Station's platforms. "It can't be."

I asked the NYPD if they had any thoughts on the matter. I haven't heard back yet.