Reopen the Forgotten Hilton Passageway

Commuters at Penn Station. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Commuters at Penn Station. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Many transit riders are disappointed that a proposal submitted by one of New York City’s premier developers to pay for construction to reopen the old Hilton Corridor was never approved by City Hall. The Vornado Realty Trust, had offered to do open the Hilton Corridor in exchange for a zoning variance to construct a high rise office building at 7th Avenue and 32nd Street.

Until some time in the 1970s, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and New Jersey Transit (NJT) riders exiting east at Penn Station had a direct underground passageway known as the Hilton Corridor. It was also known as the Gimbels passageway. Gimbels was Macy’s chief competitor at Herald Square. The store closed in 1986. This passageway still stands dormant. It is a forgotten underground link between Penn Station and Herald Square. It was once a 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 way of this indoor path.

Both passageways were closed many decades ago, due to security issues. If reopened today, Amtrak riders and New Jersey Transit and LIRR commuters would have easy underground connections to the Broadway N, R & Q and 6th Avenue B,D, F & 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 eastside 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 Vornado proposal to reopen and widen the corridor from some points where it narrows to 9 feet came in at $50 million. Converting the total length to 15 feet wide could cost as much as another $100 million. This seems like a reasonable investment for a significant transportation improvement that could benefit thousands of mass transit riders. Perhaps the MTA will consider adding this project to the proposed 2014-2018 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.

Larry Penner writes regularly on issues of transit and infrastructure.