Anyone who has ever descended into the maze that is Penn Station knows that wayfinding in the subterranean depot is extremely difficult. There's signage, sure, but it's not always clear; meanwhile, the crush of people that's constantly streaming through can make it hard to get your bearings. But what if there were an easier way to figure out where you needed to be?
Designer John Schettino has come up with what he calls the New York Penn Station Atlas, described as "a user-centric atlas of a complex space—a unique set of maps designed to help anyone easily find the best way to their destination in Penn Station." In a video that accompanies the proposal on his website, Schettino shows how this would work: He's created several maps of Penn Station, showing the individual levels as well as various points of interest on those levels (tracks, ticket booths, etc.), all with the goal of making it easier to get around. The atlas could be used on multiple platforms (tablet, mobile, etc.), and would give users the ability to pinpoint where they are in real time.
The atlas would provide clarity on Penn's different levels in various ways: there are heads-up maps, which would show the user's exact location when they're in the station; access maps, showing accessible entrances throughout the station; floor plans; spotlight maps, used to highlight various amenities (restrooms, ticket booths, etc.) at once; and 3D vistas, showing a fuller view of the levels as a whole. It's as thorough a look at Penn as we've ever seen, and for newbies, it could provide crucial perspective.
In an interview with Untapped Cities, Schettino explains that he was motivated to create this by the simple act of getting lost himself. "I found that even though I used Penn regularly, because my trip was a repeating pattern, it was astonishingly easy to get lost whenever I departed from my usual path in the station," he explains. The Atlas wouldn't only benefit travelers, Schettino argues; it would also benefit Penn's employees and stakeholders by improving congestion within the station, and freeing up time that's spent directing travelers for other tasks. And, of course, it may make the station less loathed by New Yorkers and visitors alike. "Penn is the most used train station in the Western Hemisphere, handling more than twice its original planned capacity of two hundred thousand people per day," Schettino told Untapped. "Functionally, the station is operating as a provisional solution. When you compound that circumstance with the question of Penn as a meaningful public space it's not surprising that the station is so loathed by its users."
And he has at least one fan in the Municipal Art Society, which is pushing its own plan for a reform of the station when its current lease expires in 2023. "John Schettino's project is a valiant attempt to inject rationality into the human experience of Penn Station," said MAS executive vice president Mary Rowe. "His work underscores a key question: Should we really need an atlas to navigate our city's main intercity railroad station? Should the busiest transit hub in the Western Hemisphere be saddled with a station that staggers along at 300% its intended capacity? Penn Station is a dangerously overcrowded rabbit warren decades past its natural lifespan. New York needs a new Penn Station that expands transit capacity, enhances circulation, improves safety, and serves as a worthy gateway to our city."
Currently, Schettino is looking for partners who can help bring his plan to life (which will, he admit, require months of work), along with seeking meetings with Amtrak and the various parties who have stakes in Penn Station. So chalk this up to a pie-in-the-sky idea for now—but hey, wouldn't it be nice if it become a reality?