No one can deny that the brand-new Grand Central Madison terminal is beautiful with its acres of granite and its sleek futuristic look. But user-friendly it is not. You will have to try very hard to find anywhere to sit while you wait for your train. There is only a small, 29-seat room hidden away near the ticket counter, but you’ll be able to find it only if you happen to be on that level. There are none on the others where the entrances to the train tracks are to be found.
It is not at all unusual to see people sitting on the floor as they wait for their trains—as I myself witnessed on multiple occasions since the terminal finally opened, after many delays and cost overruns.
If you do find a place to park yourself on a bench, if you sit for more than 90 minutes you may get a fine of up to $50. I have to add however, that I have not found any benches yet.
“This is an existing rule for Grand Central Terminal that was adopted for the Grand Central Madison Rules of Conduct to ensure there is one set of rules for one building,” said the spokesperson, Michael Cortez. “A customer should not have to wait more than 90 minutes to catch their train, barring a significant service disruption.”
An MTA spokesperson declined to state on the record the justification for the rule, saying only that the seating area exists for those waiting for trains and that no one should be waiting more than 90 minutes at the terminal before boarding.
What madness is this? Whoever heard of a train station where you must wait standing up? What if your train is delayed? What about people with disabilities? Arthritis? Bunions?
It’s just the latest example of publicly-funded infrastructure being built with conspicuously few places to sit, like Amtrak’s Moynihan Train Hall, an equally new and beautiful (by New York standards) railroad terminal, where the only place you can sit is at the food court—but again, not for too long!
Advocates have long suspected that the reason for this cruel infliction of discomfort on the passengers was to keep out homeless New Yorkers, just the latest in a long American tradition of “hostile architecture.”
But other rules proffered for Grand Central Madison also seem tailored to conditions frequently associated with the homeless. The rules also prohibit lying down anywhere in the terminal, including seating areas, stairs, and floors. They also bar the utilization of a “wheeled cart greater than thirty inches, including but not limited to shopping or grocery store carts,” which homeless New Yorkers often use to store and transport their belongings.
The rules also forbid the use of water fountains, sinks, bathrooms, or even shower rooms for bathing or washing clothes.
All of those rules also yield fines of up to $50 for violators.
“Nobody chooses to spend hours sitting on a hard bench in a loud public place because it’s such a great option; they do so because they have nowhere else to go,” said Dave Giffen, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. “Making a public space hostile to members of the public who have no homes is just heartless, pure and simple. It’s hard to think of a more basic act of kindness and humanity than allowing someone who is weary and has nowhere to go the chance to sit down and rest.”
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