According to the group lobbying for the QueensWay, Queens residents overwhelmingly support a park. The Trust for Public Land, the organization that received $500,000 in New York State money to study the rails-to-trails conversion, released a poll this week alleging that 75 percent of respondents support the park while 10 percent are against it and 15 are undecided.
The Trust has, of course, declared victory. “Queens is one of the most diverse communities in the nation and the fact that seventy-five percent of the residents who live there support the QueensWay is extraordinary,” Marc Matsil, the organization’s New York State director, said in a statement. But there’s a problem.
As the Daily News noted, there are some sample size issues, but that’s not the real issue. Rather, it’s one instead of messaging. What was the question and were alternatives offered? It’s highly unlikely that the Trust offered up a transit option instead, and if they did, the group certainly didn’t include those results in their press release. Instead, they phrased the question as a solution to a problem of an abandoned right of way, and of course, residents would prefer a park to decrepit, disused train structure. An honest poll, though, would include both options.
Meanwhile, proponents may be overstating their case. “The poll reveals overwhelming support for the QueensWay, as studies show that rails to trails projects, like the QueensWay, encourage private investment in the communities they serve, attract tourism dollars, provide a new customer base to support local businesses, and create jobs,” Jack Friedman, the executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said. That’s all well and good when rail lines, like the High Line, are in areas that already are tourist destinations, but it’s tough to see people flocking to residential Queens to view a 3.5-mile elevated park.
And what of transit? During a recent debate between candidates for Queens Borough President, both Melinda Katz and Tony Arcabascio spoke of the need for transit. Katz discussed expanding ferry service (not so useful) as well as more bike lanes (useful) and expanded bus service (even more useful), but neither of the candidates touched the issue of rail. I still believe a parallel feasibility study for the Rockaway Beach Branch line should be on the table, but until more Queens politicians take of that call, the Trust and its surveys will dominate the discussion.