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Closings expected to jam Penn Station exits

(The following article by Michael Luo was posted on the New York Times website on July 1.)

NEW YORK -- A study conducted by railroad officials on the flow of people in and out of Pennsylvania Station shows that New York City's plans to close six of the terminal's eight exits during the Republican National Convention could cause serious inconvenience for the more than 600,000 people who use the station every day.

For security reasons, the city plans to close both exits on the Amtrak level of the Eighth Avenue side of the station, and the two in the middle of the terminal that lead to the old taxiway between 31st and 33rd Streets. The two exits on 33rd Street and 8th Avenue for the A, C and E subway trains will be closed as well.

That will leave the already busy main entrance on Seventh Avenue under the Madison Square Garden marquee and, to a lesser extent, the Long Island Rail Road entryway on 34th Street, to bear the entire passenger flow into and out of the nation's busiest railroad station.

"There's no question that it's going to be disruptive and difficult," said Clifford Black, a spokesman for Amtrak, which owns the station. "But we'll muddle through."

Railroad officials said yesterday that they had known by early April, after discussions with law enforcement agencies and the Secret Service, that certain exits would probably have to be closed during the convention, from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2.

The station is used by riders of New Jersey Transit, the Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak, as well as those who use the subway lines that stop there. During several weeks in April and May, Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road officials counted the number of people who used each entryway during peak hours, from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 8 p.m.

The railroad officials declined to provide exact figures yesterday on how many people used which exit but said that about two-thirds of the people they counted used either the Seventh Avenue or 34th Street exits - the two that will remain open during the convention - and the rest used the six that are to be closed. With the closings, those two entrances could see a 50 percent jump in the number of people using them. In another inconvenience, the main taxi stand on Seventh Avenue will move to 32nd Street between Avenue of the Americas and Fifth Avenue.

"Honestly, I think it's going to be a horror show," said Gerard Bringmann, vice chairman of the Long Island Rail Road Commuters Council, a group that represents riders. "It's going to be sardine city."

The Seventh Avenue stairwell and escalators are already the busiest place in the entire station, railroad officials acknowledged, and are almost always extremely crowded during the morning and afternoon rush.

"It is at capacity right now, or nearly so," Mr. Black said.

The Long Island Rail Road entryway on 34th Street is almost as busy during the peak times. Railroad officials said yesterday they would do their best to keep things from getting chaotic. They plan to dispatch additional employees and police officers to direct traffic.

They may be helped by two factors. Usually, ridership for the three railroads dips about 10 percent in August, with people taking vacations. And railroad officials figure many workers will stay out of the city that week.

"It is expected that many people will take time off during the convention in anticipation of the disruption around the Madison Square Garden area," Mr. Black said.

Mr. Bringmann said he already knew of many who were planning to do just that. "A lot of commuters I've spoken to are planning their vacations around this," he said.

Even he is planning to take a different route from Long Island to his job in Manhattan, either getting off at Hunters Point Avenue in Long Island City to switch to the No. 7 train, or riding a different train to the Atlantic Avenue terminal in Brooklyn and switching to the subway there.

Thursday, July 1, 2004

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