Happy 101st anniversary to Grand Central Terminal

| lpenner@queenscourier.com |

Let us all rejoice in celebrating the 101st Anniversary of Grand Central Terminal, which first opened on Feb. 2, 1913. Contrast this with the late, great Penn Station Terminal, which was destroyed in the name of progress in 1962. Fast forward, 52 years later. Penn Station is still a shell of its former glory. There is no natural lighting, decent food court, gourmet food shops, upscale stores or quality restaurants. Most Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit commuters rush in and out each day. Grand Central Terminal has high ceilings, natural light, a food court, gourmet food shops, upscale stores and great restaurants such as the Oyster Bar.

Not only do Metro North commuters have a real terminal, but they are joined on a daily basis by thousands of people who work nearby and patronize the great food court, quality restaurants and stores. LIRR commuters just have a station. Few people who work nearby Penn Station stop by during the day to patronize any of its commercial establishments.

LIRR riders from Great Neck, Little Neck, Douglaston, Bayside, Auburndale, Murray Hill, Flushing, along with other neighborhoods in eastern Queens, Nassau and Suffolk County look forward to 2020 or 2021 when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Eastside Access project provides a direct connection to Grand Central Terminal via the 63rd Street tunnel and reaches beneficial use. We can then join our Metro North comrades in utilizing this great institution to and from work.

Now that the revenue service date for Long Island Rail Road access to Grand Central Terminal has appeared to slip yet again—this time from 2019 to 2020 or 2021—perhaps it might be useful to look for other low cost easy to implement alternatives in the short run.  Consider transit riders disappointment that a proposal submitted by one of New York City’s developers, Vornado Realty Trust, to pay for construction to reopen the old Hilton Corridor, also known as the Gimbel’s passageway, was never completed.  They had offered to do this in exchange for a city zoning variance to construct a high-rise office building at 7th Avenue and 32nd Street.  While the zoning variance was approved, Vornado Realty Trust never moved forward with construction of a high-rise office building.  This was due to a weak market for potential renters.

Until some time in the 1970s, both Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit riders exiting east at Penn Station had a direct underground passageway known as the Hilton Corridor.  It was also known as the Gimbel’s passageway. Gimbels was Macy’s ‘chief competitor at Herald Square.  They closed in 1986.  This passageway still stands dormant.  It is a forgotten underground link between Penn Station and Herald Square.  It was once an 800-foot pedestrian concourse providing an indoor connection to the 34th Street Herald Square IND and BMT subway, along with PATH station complex.  Further, there was an adjoining nearby underground passageway starting at 34th Street, which ran along 6th Avenue, going as far north as 42nd Street. Many avoided the rain and snow by using this indoor path.

Both passageways were closed many decades ago by New York City Transit and the LIRR, due to security issues. If reopened today, Amtrak riders along with New Jersey Transit and LIRR commuters would have easy underground connections to the Broadway N, R and Q, and 6th Avenue B, D, F and M subway lines along with PATH, rather than walking outside on the street exposed to both inclement weather and heavy vehicular traffic.

By using either the subway or walking, riders would have direct access to both Midtown and East Side Manhattan along either the Broadway, 6th Avenue, 42nd, 53rd, 59th or 63rd street corridors, served by numerous subway lines and stations.  Why wait for the LIRR to provide access to Manhattan Midtown East via Grand Central Terminal?  The most recent recovery schedule for the MTA’s Eastside Access project calls for revenue service opening to the public starting in 2019.

How disappointing that the old Hilton corridor, which previously provided transit options for thousands of rush hour commuters remains unused after so many decades.

The Vernando Trust developers’ proposal to reopen and widen it from some points where it narrows to nine feet was $50 million. Converting the total length to 15 feet wide could cost up to another $100 million.  This seems like a reasonable investment for a significant transportation improvement that could benefit thousands of transportation riders. Perhaps the MTA will consider adding this project to the proposed 2015-2019 Capital Plan, which has yet to be approved by Albany.  Diogenes is searching for the first public official or MTA Board member to speak out in favor of this project.