Is a High Line Extension Really What the West Side Needs?

The High Line as it now meets Hudson Yards.
Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP / Shutterstock

Now that Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken care of planes, trains and automobiles, he’s refocusing his thirst for infrastructure on the challenge of walking. The new Hudson Bridge, the La Guardia Airport terminals, the Penn Station expansion – all were warm-ups for what he presumably sees as the next logical step: an elevated pedestrian highway this would extend the High Line by three full blocks and cost $ 60 million.

I understand the appeal of the project. Right now, the walk from Hudson Yards to the new Moynihan train hall is less than ten minutes, but feels like 40. Virtually all of the routes take you through inhospitable canals flanked by loading docks and forbidden walls, and improve this pedestrian experience is a noble goal. It also does not require building a new airway. Even the most crowded areas of the city already have the basics of pedestrian infrastructure: streets and sidewalks.

Cuomo’s solution to making the streets of Midtown West livable – raising people above them – is oddly old. A century ago, architect Harvey Wiley Corbett envisioned Manhattan as a multi-level metropolis that pedestrians crisscrossed the air bridges well above the traffic. Many other near-utopian visions have since incorporated aerial streets. A West Side Cuomoville would not have to generate such a network from scratch. Instead, the Appendix High Line would cross the misery of Tenth Avenue, float above West 30th Street, turn left onto Dyer Avenue (one of those Manhattan streets that only drivers know about, because it’s really the esophagus of the Lincoln Tunnel), then delve into the heart of Manhattan West, another city built by developers and currently under construction. And because the ground is sloping there, the overhead walkway makes a soft landing on Ninth Avenue, without a step or elevator along the way. Everything is very neat, but let’s be honest: The extra length of High Line will connect one brand mega-development to another, so the traveler – customer maybe the best word – can go from the expensive stronghold of Related to that of Brookfield without ever landing.

A proposed second branch of the High Line would head north to Pier 76, where the NYPD towing pound would be converted into a park / race track / performance space / outdoor bar or other recreation combo. Reusing the pier would also relieve the state of the need to free up space in the middle of this new high-density Eden – just keep a strip of park up in the air and push the rest over the top of it. ‘water. On paper, all the exercise of smart connections risks turning Midtown West into a maxi-sized version of Hudson Yards, a forest of bricks standing without mortar at street level to tie them into a real place.

Props to Cuomo, however, to focus on a part of the city that he actually has the power to fix. The 1930s and 1940s west of Penn Station are suffocated by stationary mega-infrastructures: tunnel approaches, elevated bus ramps, stations and rail tracks, and the crystal citadel of the Javits Center. For many years these hardened oceans of concrete and agglomerations of superblocks made it difficult to find anything you might call a neighborhood in the DMZ between Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. Then came the slow motion glitzification game. The overhaul of Times Square in the 1990s swept away the porn stores. The overhaul of the High Line turned part of the outdated freight infrastructure into a leafy walkway. Hudson Yards, which marked Oz with a suicide drop at the base, created a new center (and hollow). And now we have Moynihan Train Hall, a $ 1.6 billion workaround to take the stench out of Penn Station. Cuomo hopes to capitalize on all of these transformations and finally rekindle vitality in a part of Manhattan that has stubbornly clung to its gloom.

The quality of the hinterland of this area, managed by so many public agencies, has a potential advantage: much of it is owned and operated by the state that serves the interests of Cuomo de le declare its territory. And because his favorite toys are of the multi-billion dollar type, a bunch of outdated transportation facilities make this side of Manhattan a gubernatorial candy store. The fact that its own ambitions and budget prospects depend on federal largesse gives it a good reason to approach Washington with a handful of specific projects: two more cross-Hudson tunnel tubes, eight more lanes entering a new Penn South, a Penn Station rebuilt. , a reconstructed Port Authority bus terminal and a massively expanded Javits Center – a $ 51 billion wishlist. Cuomo has made it clear that he aspires to do more than build the city-scale equivalent of a utility closet. He’s the Mr. Rogers of Midtown West, singing the virtues of the neighborhood.

In general, infrastructure has difficulty coexisting with neighborhoods. The highways destroy them. The entrances to the tunnels smoke the apartments with clouds of carbon monoxide. Stations can act as toxic spills, poisoning city life over a wide radius. In front, large squares are full of buses and cars. At the back, noise, pollution and a long tail of tracks separate the neighborhoods from each other. Their flanks attract cheap hotels, prostitution and crime. Yet resorts can also do the opposite, harnessing convenience and grandeur to create vibrancy and attract money. The original Penn Station lasted just over 50 years. Grand Central Terminal is 108 years old and owes its longevity, in part, to Terminal City, the hotel and office complex built to border the new Park Avenue. As Cuomo sneaks around with an unnecessary catwalk, he’s dismissed other opportunities. The architectural firm Perkins and Will suggested expanding the Javits Center on Pier 76 and use of the basement of the complex for the port authority bus station. This would demolish the elevated bus ramps that split the sky above 40th Street. Another firm, Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU), proposes to free Penn Station from Madison Square Garden in pushing the arena through seventh avenue and flanking it with a pair of supertall towers. Then there’s the city’s half-forgotten plan for convert 34th street to a 14th street style bus lane. Together, these ideas, all complementary to Cuomo’s goal, add to the highest civic ambition: to let a city breathe, flow and move.

The timing for Grand Centrify in the Penn Station area is slightly surreal: a transit hub trying to revitalize a business district at a time when trains and offices are largely vacant and some seers warn they will remain so probably. . Cuomo is betting no, and I agree. Even as work and travel change, Americans will always need the means to do both. I don’t believe that the executive suite of the future will be a suburban basement, or that many new recruits to the white-collar armies will happily spend their days in the “work” areas of their small studios, a few meters from the areas. “Sleep” and “eat”. So Penn Station and the West Thirties come together, merging travel and destination. This chemical reaction requires three ingredients: a reliable fleet and public transport, new buildings and more attractive streets. We can begin to get a feel for the former during the Biden years. Big Development is feverishly taking care of the second. The third part, which should be the easiest and cheapest to do, might end up lagging behind.

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