Blockading Penn Station

October 15, 1993

So far no one has been seriously injured at the Charles Street entrance to Pennsylvania Station. That's due more to luck than it is to intelligent handling of the major construction project outside the station.

The building of a 500-car garage and a new plaza entrance has blocked what was the main entry and funneled all arriving and departing train passengers to the smaller gateway off Charles Street. But there is no place for travelers being dropped off by automobiles to do so at a curb right at the station. The result is that most get out of cars or arriving taxis in the middle of one of the city's busiest arteries. A more dangerous situation for travelers burdened with baggage would be hard to imagine.

The problem is that the taxi company which enjoys exclusive rights at the station has been permitted to blockade the sole entrance. The curb lane immediately south of the station is blocked off for cabs awaiting fares. So is the small driveway which provides the only direct vehicular access to the station.

Curb space has been reserved for cars to drop off or pick up travelers just north of the station, but it doesn't suffice. There are only about eight spaces there, theoretically for 10-minute parking. But there is sporadic enforcement there, limiting its effect. Most motorists stop right outside the station entrance, in one of the two lanes for moving traffic, especially when their passengers have luggage.

City officials have nibbled away at the problem, posting signs directing cars coming up Charles Street to the drop-off area north of the station, and promise further relief. Short-term metered parking is available on the west side across from the station. Lanvale Street, behind the station, is now one-way eastbound with angled parking spaces that accommodate more cars. But the meters are targeted at MARC commuters, not people meeting Amtrak passengers in the station. They have 10-hour limits and charge a bargain 25 cents an hour. There's parking on St. Paul Street, but no way to get directly into the station on foot or car. For that matter, drivers approaching the station on St. Paul now have to take a four-block detour to reach it.

Although its customers are placed at risk, Amtrak shrugs off responsibility. It may not control the construction project, but it is responsible for the cozy deal with the taxis blockading the station. What's the sense in promoting rail travel while making it hard to reach?

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