Penn Station Sign Design

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Julia Turner, the deputy editor at, follows up on a caller's complaint about the poor design of Penn Station. She's been studying Penn Station as part of a six part series on signs and signage.


Julia Turner

Comments [23]

sign design from

Haven't been to Penn. station yet, but listening to the story and postings, really creeps me out. Somebody should do something about the signs in that station and SOON.

May. 09 2010 11:18 AM
Jane Smith from the circus ring

Hi Brian - Penn. Station is also a nightmare for taxi drivers (specifically on 7th Ave. at 32nd). There is no appropriate drop off area, and many innocent cabbies get tickets. Drivers have to drop off on curbside only, yet there is never any room at the curb. The drop off area is the same thin lane as the pick up area, and if the pick up lane is full and a passenger hops out of the cab next to that full lane, the driver will get an improper drop off ticket, and the passenger will have to cross and walk around the pick-up lane.

It's no wonder that I'm allergic to Penn. Station.

Mar. 02 2010 03:02 PM
Peter from Berkeley Hts NJ

Just viewed the PA video....

But what's with the obscurity?
3 steps.. if you KNOW the First!

Suppose you arrived from Albany.... what's a Jamaica? Why doesn't the LIRR ticket machine offer a JFK/Jamaica Combined ticket???

Getting to Newark via NJT is EASIER. It's a Destination!

This video is an example of multiple-authorities defending their fiefdoms... and forgetting HOW to SERVE the public!

(if this seems a multiple Post, it's because the WNYC website lost my original)

Mar. 02 2010 12:29 PM
Catherine from Brooklyn

It would be nice if street-level signs at subway stations let you know when you can walk another block to enter directly onto your platform in order to avoid long subterranean walks through passageways or along unused platforms that can be very scary when deserted. For example, at 14th St and 7th Ave the signage could indicate that, for the F train, entering at 6th Ave is more direct. At larger stations, these underground routes can be a lot longer than aboveground.

Mar. 02 2010 11:43 AM
Peter from Berkeley Hts NJ

The old Pennsylvania Station (demolished 1963) is often cited as a landmark worthy of preservation, now lost. Much (mostly the waiting room, 7th Ave facade and cab stand) was worthy of re-use, but the oft-praised train-shed was just a spacious warehouse, a network of latticework steel beams and columns, impossible to maintain. It would now be a century old and probably still in need of paint.

But its replacement is nothing but a Rat Warren (sorry, Brad, rabbits would avoid those spaces) only worthy of Rats... New York needs to admit that it's rats that Penn was built for, or rebuild it.

Mar. 02 2010 11:36 AM
Meghan Bitenc from NYC

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey would like to share a video created for our web site traveling from Penn Station to JFK Airport via LIRR and AirTrain. This first person user experience video shows the 3 easy steps to JFK.
This is fastest way to get to JFK!

Check out our video on our web site:

Mar. 02 2010 11:30 AM
christine schiavo from NYC

Beyond ripping the whole thing down...
I think color-coded light strips on the ceiling s that take you from one place to another.
Ex: lets say Amtrack is GREEN - a GREEN LED light strip would lead you to Amtrack.
Not too difficult and kind of FUN !

Mar. 02 2010 11:28 AM
christine schiavo from NYC

Beyond ripping the whole thing down...
I think color-coded light strips on the ceiling s that take you from one place to another.
Ex: lets say Amtrack is GREEN - a GREEN LED light strip would lead you to Amtrack.
Not too difficult and kind of FUN !

Mar. 02 2010 11:28 AM

I don't know what is more embarrassing to New Yorkers-- Penn Station or the shamefully little progress at Ground Zero. I can't think of any other major city in the world that would tolerate this. And Bloomberg and City Council only rarely bother to comment, let alone do anything about the continuing blights.

Mar. 02 2010 11:20 AM
Peter from Manhattan

I think part of the problem with Penn Station is that wit the original station there was light, there was soaring space, and passengers could see where they were going. It was easier to find the suburban train tracks and the long distance tracks. All that soaring space was obliterated to build Madison Square Garden overhead. Since the mid-60s it's been a claustrophobic mess.

Mar. 02 2010 11:20 AM
Marissa from Manhattan

Perhaps we need 2 layers of signage; routes for commuters who are familiar with the station, and those for the tourists or less regular passengers. Having commuted through Penn for 2.5 years, I know it inside and out - but the first time I went there I was utterly confused!

Mar. 02 2010 11:19 AM

I think the best signs in Penn Station station are the MTA signs. As your caller from Summit said, it is a nightmare for commuters to and from NJ. Navigating through Port Authority is also quite difficult if you don't know where to go!!!

Mar. 02 2010 11:19 AM
William Conte from South Amboy, NJ

Let's talk about those narrow stairways to the platforms/tracks that were never intended for use by a few million daily commuters.

Mar. 02 2010 11:18 AM
John from Staten Island

From the New York Times in June 2009 - Lead Us Not into Penn Station. Also an album by the duo Professor and MaryAnn (for WNYC Soundcheck show)

Mar. 02 2010 11:18 AM
Rochelle from Jersey Shore

Once I was meeting my 16 yr old sister coming from Pittsburgh via the Amtrack. Our meeting point was the "Big Sign" But the stairs she came up only went to the lowerlevel. The poor girl thought she got off in Long Island. This was before cell phones and we spent over an hour with phone machine tag messages before I found her.

Mar. 02 2010 11:17 AM
Keith from inwood

I remember an article in the New Yorker called Tourist Trapped or something like that which mentioned a lot of confusing signs all over NYC. My favorite was a sign close to the GWB the points you down some Downtown street to the Javits Center as if just following that one street would get you there!

Mar. 02 2010 11:16 AM
Abby HItchcock from Brooklyn

My husband is in a wheelchair. Try adding that to the signage nightmare at Penn Station!

Mar. 02 2010 11:16 AM
Daniel from Munich

Penn station is perhaps the most embarrassing sign of New York City's planning mistakes. A beautiful landmark was torn down to put up a lackluster function-as-form station that didn't even function well. Then in the 90s a major work project was undertaken, and as far as I can tell, all they did was take out that great pizza place (wedged into a hard to find crevice, it served oversized spicy slices) and put in that horrible ceiling.

Given the maze of a system there, the signs are useless. You just have to feel your way around.

Mar. 02 2010 11:14 AM
brad from crown heights

One of the major problems with Penn Station is the rabbit-warren layout, whose low ceilings mean you never get an overall view of the organization of the space- the difference between understanding a maze when looking at it from above and the rat's eye view.

It also means you're dependent on lots of small sequential signs to tell you about things that are far away, instead of a distant vista to a larger sign.

Mar. 02 2010 11:14 AM

How about color-coded paths on the floor?

[This is about the 10th attempt to post this. What is WRONG with WNYC's website dept??]

Mar. 02 2010 11:14 AM
Lance from Miami

Great topic!
JFK Airport is even worse!

And trying to find elevators (for your suitcases) is no fun at Penn Station, either.

Mar. 02 2010 11:13 AM
Brian from Brooklyn

Maybe it's having less familiarity with it, but I'd say Newark Penn is way worse.

Mar. 02 2010 11:13 AM
Robert from NYC

Well, they'll have a opportunity to correct Penn Station's signs when the "new" PO Penn Station is open. BTW when will that be.

Mar. 02 2010 10:41 AM

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