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Going Places

Controversial Urban Design Opinion: Train Stations Should Have Benches Where the Fucking Trains Are

Take a train to exotic Philadelphia and see why benches in train stations are good.

12:33 PM EDT on September 21, 2022

Hundreds of train travelers stand around in Moynihan Trail Hall.

Moynihan Train Hall, 2022. (Hell Gate)

Should a train station have readily accessible places for people to sit? For anyone who has taken a train, or a bus, or really just participated in society a little bit recently, the answer to this question might seem very clear. But on Wednesday, it apparently stumped the head of the country's largest public transportation system.

While briefing reporters about the Penn Station redesign, MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber was essentially asked whether it would be shaped in the image of Moynihan Train Hall—the Amtrak/LIRR station that debuted in 2020, and infamously has no places for people to sit in the main atrium. 

Here is what Lieber said:

"Abstract"? I guess, if you're talking about a hypothetical train station privately owned and operated by a tycoon named Shitheel Peoplehater, who decides to use his immense power and wealth to build a train station in the most densely populated place in North America, and then chooses to treat the people in it like absolute garbage by making them stand or sit on the floor to wait for their train. 

"We're in a different era, and the key issue is circulation"? When have train stations not been about circulating people? And is this brave new era a time in which people don't need to take a load off while they wait interminable amounts of time for the delayed government-operated trains to travel on their decaying tracks, through an ancient, crumbling tunnel?

No, the obvious answer to why Moynihan Train Hall (and now probably Penn Station) doesn't have public places to sit is because homeless people might sit on them, obviously, you idiot.

This is not a good answer! A human being should not have to participate in some form of commerce or show proof of that commerce in order to sit down in a massive, gleaming train station that was built with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. It's a train station, and the government does not get to Platinum Plus Reward Members Only us out of a place to rest our bones. In a train station!

Put aside the (morally and architecturally correct) philosophical arguments for making a public space truly welcoming to the public: Not having benches where the actual train entrances are is just shitty design. Who wants to hustle from their seat in some windowless room back out into the main train area? Allow people to enjoy the rare privilege of this huge, airy room that was built with their own money! 

Still think that seating in a train station would lead to moral decay and the slaughter of so many unnamed firstborn? Go to right now, and book a train ticket to a faraway place, Philadelphia, and see for yourself the wonders of treating travelers with dignity.

In summation: Put the benches next to the fucking train entrances, and install a huge board (screen, whatever) in the hall that lets people know where and when their trains are arriving! How does Moynihan Hall not have this?

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