What a feasibility study RFP means for QueensWayBy
I started the week off yesterday with a look at Penn Station Access, a Metro-North program that would add six stations in the Bronx and a West Side terminal for riders from points north. It’s a project that has a real chance of being a part of the MTA’s next five-year capital plan set to start in 2015. Another rail plan I’d love to see added to the capital program is a reactivation of the LIRR’s Rockaway Beach Branch line, but we’re a long way from that reality.
Right now, the Rockaway Beach Branch line is the subject of other goings-on in Queens as a group of very well-connected Community Board members are overseeing a push to turn the disused rail right of way into a High Line-style park. I’ve discussed how the High Line, through a confluence of circumstances including geography and tourism, is far more well suited to be a park than QueensWay ever will be, but this is an effort that just won’t go away.
With a $500,000 grant from New York State in hand — and no corresponding grant to study rail reactivation — the Trust for Public Land has issued a Request for Proposals for the QueensWay park. The request, available here as a PDF, essentially spends that grant on a feasibility study with an examination of the engineering required to turn the ROW into a park and the economic impact such a project would have on the neighborhood. It’s not really a new development, but it’s a firm step toward assessment.
Reaction to the news has been all over the place. DNA Info ran a rather pro-QueensWay article, giving only a nod in the final paragraph to those who want to see rail return. Gothamist is treating this RFP process as a clear sign that the park will happen, but that’s exceedingly premature. The results from the RFP will show a very expensive project with limited impact and few easily identifiable funding partners.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the opposition at NoWay QueensWay is irate. Neil Giannelli is laying the groundwork for an economic argument against a trail. Unlike a park, he says, trails do not increase property values. The problem though with Giannelli’s opposition is that he’s also adamantly against rail use as well. He wants to maintain the status quo, and although that’s the utter definition of NIMBYism, in this instance, the status quo doesn’t preclude future rail use or an assessment or rail reactivation. So for now, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
In the end, I’m still left with the same request I’ve issued in the past: If the QueensWay group is getting $500,000 to study a potential park or trail conversion of the rail right-of-way, the pro-transit groups calling for rail reactivation should receive the same grant for their own study. Maybe we’ll find out that rail service is impractical. After all, it’s been over 50 years since the last rail cars ran down this ROW, and any build-out would likely carry around with it a 10-figure price tag. It’s clear, though, that these areas in Queens need better transit access, and the hardest part about building out rail — an identifiable right of way — already exists. We owe to ourselves and future generations of New Yorkers to exhaust all possibilities.
The city has spent too many years eschewing rail for, well, just about anything else. Have we learned from our mistakes or are we doomed to repeat them?