A park — instead of rail — inches forward in QueensBy
The battle over an abandoned rail line in Queens is starting to heat up. Pointing to the success of the High Line, some community activists in Queens have issued a call to turn the Rockaway Beach LIRR Branch into a park, and while some politicians have pushed back on the idea, Governor Cuomo’s office has put some monetary weight behind the Queensway plans.
Last week, Cuomo’s office gave the Trust for Public Land nearly half a million dollars to explore the Queensway idea. “That is the first step toward making the Queensway a reality,” said Christopher Kay, a member of the group, said to The Wall Street Journal. Lauro Kusisto has more:
Locals have advocated for the idea for years and received a boost about a year ago when the Trust for Public Land, which has successfully undertaken similar projects in Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta, agreed to lead the effort in conjunction with a local group, Friends of the Queensway. Mr. Benepe joined the Trust in September as a director of city park development. But even if the elevated tracks turn out to be free from environmental or structural issues, huge challenges would remain as nonprofit backers work to clean and revitalize a site that has suffered from a half-century of neglect…
The city has added vast swaths of parkland even as land prices have soared—including the High Line, Hudson River Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park—but some have faced funding challenges and called on private support. It remains an open question if the cash-strapped city can afford to shoulder the burden of building Queensway. “We are adding a lot of parkland to the city and we’re seeing a decline in the maintenance budget,” said Holly Leicht, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks. “How do you ensure that we have the maintenance dollars in place?”
Garnering private funding is also likely to be much more difficult for a park that runs through immigrant-heavy and industrialized neighborhoods. One possibility raised by the Trust: incorporating ethnic eateries along the Queensway, with food revenues helping to offset maintenance costs. Another idea—likely to be more controversial—would have Major League Soccer help fund the Queensway. The sports league is negotiating with the city to build a soccer stadium inside Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and such a project would trigger a legal obligation to replace the parkland under the stadium with equivalent land.
There are a lot of “what if’s” involved with the project as it currently stands. It’ll cost a lot of money to realize this dream, and as the Queensway wouldn’t exactly be in the heart of a tourist destination as the High Line is, there’s no guarantee it will be a similar success. The funding could come from a soccer stadium project fraught with its own issues, and the idea of incorporating restaurants seems a bit far-fetched.
The other “what if” involves rail, and in that regard, The Journal and the Trust for Public Land has been utterly silent. During this latest round of publicity, the Queensway opponents who would rather reactivate the Rockaway Beach Branch have not gotten much ink, but they’re out there. In the aftermath of Sandy, we’ve seen why the rail line, which runs from Rego Park through Ozone Park, would be incredibly useful and utilized. But turning it into a greenway would forever preclude rail.
No matter the final project, the price tag will be significant. A 3.5-mile park through the neighborhood and the upkeep required to keep it going won’t come cheap, and readying the abandoned right-of-way for rail would be even more expensive. But the discussion has to involve both options. In a city screaming out for an expansion of the transit network, we cannot casually turn rail into a park without an eye toward the future.