Archive for Queens
Hot on the heels of the news last week that a group of Queens College students and professors will be assessing the best uses for the Rockaway Beach Branch ROW, the Daily News editorial board comes out roundly in favor of rail.
At first blush, it sounds terrific: transforming a fallow old stretch of train tracks on the Rockaway Beach Branch of the LIRR into a park for families to enjoy. But there may well be a better use for this resource: for trains. Call us old-fashioned, but some parts of New York City — and Queens especially — need reliable public transportation more desperately than they need public space…
Build another High Line, right? Maybe not. It happens that the Rockaways (pop.: 130,000, and many more visitors) are starved for good, fast transit to Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and all the other places the railroad could take them. So are Kennedy Airport (where 35,000 people work and 49 million travel in and out a year), Ozone Park, Hamilton Beach and Aqueduct race track and racino, all of which are near the rail line.
So, before going too far down the track of parkifying the path, it’s worth a serious look at whether it can be rescued and revitalized for its original use. Unlike with the High Line, where the choice was demolition or repurposing, the Rockaway Beach Branch could carry passengers again. Nelson Rockefeller had a plan for just that in 1968. Ditto for Pat Moynihan decades later. Frankly, it would have made more sense for a one-seat JFK link than running an elevated line down the Van Wyck.
The News goes on to praise Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder for leading the charge to produce a non-biased study on possible uses for the disused rail line, and it’s important to stress that this step is key. Rail may ultimately not be the best use of the ROW. Maybe rail isn’t feasible. Maybe it’s too expensive, and ridership would be too low to support the infrastructure New York has in place for rapid transit.
But we can’t cede the land to parks advocates because the ROW hasn’t been used for rail lately. We live in a different city today than we did 15, 20 or 30 years ago. Once we give up on rail, that option is gone forever, and the stewards of today’s New York City owe it to future generations to be 100 percent certain that the Rockaway Beach Branch could never support rail again. That’s what Goldfeder’s study will do.
As the Friends of the QueensWay continue their taxpayer-supported push to develop a greenway on the fallow Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way, Phil Goldfeder, Assembly representative from New York’s 23rd district, announced a competing study to be undertaken by Queens College urban studies students that will ascertain the best uses for the right-of-way. Goldfeder, a supporter of rail, has called this effort a “comprehensive and objective” one that will “assess the community impact of the proposed options for the abandoned tracks,” as compared with the park-only assessment underway by the Trust for Public Land.
In announcing the study, Goldfeder noted the disparity in focus. On Twitter, he said that the QueensWay team is wasting “tax money on expensive consultants” while the Queens College will “utilize local experts” and “undertake real objective study.” This new examination of the right of way is expected to take nine months, and it will include a full needs assessment as well as a cost analysis of the various options. Additionally, Congressmen Gregory Meeks (NY-5) and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) continue to work with Goldfeder as well to ascertain if Sandy recovery money can be used for reactivated rail service.
In a subsequent press release, the Assembly rep added, “The Queens College Department of Urban Studies’ Office of Community Studies is renowned for its community-based research. It is the perfect partner to help determine what is in the best interest of Queens and city residents. Now that the MTA has signaled an interest in reactivating the Rockaway Beach Rail Line as an efficient and cost-effective way to significantly increase public transit for Queens residents, it’s important we do appropriate studies to determine the next steps. While other groups are using tax dollars to hire expensive consultants and do one-sided studies, we’re utilizing local expert resources and educating our students while supporting an objective study that will enormously benefit all our hardworking Queens families.”
The details are still coming out, but for those of us very hesitant to embrace a QueensWay solution that would essentially cut off the rail option forever, this is a best-case scenario. A third party will assess the various proposed uses and develop cost estimates for each case. We’ll find out what rail reactivation would take, what usage a park would get, and what doing nothing would mean for Queens. Clawing back part of this process from the Trust for Public Land is a very good step indeed.
Over the past few months, while I’ve maintained a skeptical view of the proposed QueensWay park that would likely usher in the end of any hopes to restore rail to the LIRR’s old Rockaway Beach Branch line, I’ve had some productive conversations with proponents of the park. I can’t speak for all of the rails-to-trails advocates in Queens, but those I’ve spoken with generally want the same thing I do. They want to see improved transit options, safer streets with fewer cars and efforts to prioritize pedestrian safety.
The difference between my view and theirs is a narrow one. They live with and around the defunct right of way and have largely written off any potential future rail use as impractical. Though it’s been a few decades since the last real assessment of the Rockaway Beach Branch line, certain members of Friends of the QueensWay believe it’s too far gone for rail use. It’s too expensive, too impractical, too impossible for rail. As the MTA gave the reactivation of the rail line just a nod in its latest 20-Year Needs Assessment, I’d rather see the cold hard study detailing costs and feasibility before writing it off good. After all, there’s a reason why rails-to-trails has so much public support while trails-to-rails doesn’t.
That said, there is still an element of NIMBYism in play here as many of the arguments for the park focus literally on backyards. One common refrain is that people who have built houses along the defunct right of way do not now want trains zooming by their homes at all hours of the day. I’m sympathetic in that I wouldn’t particularly enjoy that environment, but I didn’t build a home on abutting a rail line.
That’s hardly the worst of it though. Take, for instance, Assembly Rep. Mike Miller’s attempt at a compromise. On the surface, it seems a bit odd but perhaps a reasonable stab at a dialogue, but when you boil it down to its component parts, it looks more and more like a weird form of NIMBYism. Miller is right when he says that the QueensWay shouldn’t be compared with the High Line, and he’s right to cite concerns about long-term upgrade and maintenance costs. But here is the crux of his argument, and it’s a doozy:
Certain sections of the proposed QueensWay, specifically the area of the rail line that runs parallel to 98th Street in Woodhaven, will be adjacent to the backyards of nearly 200 homeowners. Although I have been informed by the Friends of QueensWay that they plan to build the QueensWay completely gated around the entrances and make it inaccessible at night, local residents should not be the ones burdened with the cost of building a more secure fence around their backyards to ensure the privacy and safety of their homes…
Many of the residents on 98th Street are OK with the rail line being underused and prefer it to stay that way. I also agree that the rail line from Park Lane South down to Atlantic Avenue be left untouched as to not interfere with the quality of life of local residents. Furthermore, as per the suggestion of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in its 20-year plan, the rail line from Atlantic Avenue to Rockaway Boulevard should be left as is and eventually be used as a connection for an express line connection to Manhattan.
After carefully balancing the potential positive impact of the QueensWay vs. the potential negative impact on certain local residents, I recommend the following:
- The QueensWay should be built only on the part of the rail line that stretches from Rego Park to Park Lane South.
- The rail line from Park Lane South to Atlantic Avenue should be left untouched so as to not interfere with the quality of life of local residents.
- The rail line from Atlantic Avenue to Rockaway Boulevard should also be left untouched, so it can eventually be used by the MTA as an express line connection into Manhattan.
Before we get into the electoral politics of this proposal, note the discrepancies between Miller’s idea for an “express line connection to Manhattan” and his plan to convert the right of way from Atlantic Ave. to Rockaway Boulevard — a span of a few blocks — into an express line. He doesn’t explain more, but I assume his route would involve tying the Rockaway Beach Branch into the LIRR’s Atlantic Ave. line. This would result in an express line to … Brooklyn? That essentially mirrors preexisting LIRR service and the A train? Without a massive investment, this route ain’t going to Manhattan.
Meanwhile, take a look at Miller’s district map, and notice the Rockaway Beach Branch right of way. His “compromise” proposal calls for a park through neighborhoods he doesn’t represent and calls for no action along the area from Park Lane South to Atlantic Ave. that cuts right through the heart of his district. Build this QueensWay in someone else’s backyard, he say. It’s not his problem! To Miller’s credit, he’s willing to cede three whole blocks in his district plus a school bus parking lot to a rail line that solves no one’s mobility concerns.
This is ultimately a nothing proposal designed instead to give Miller protection from irate constituents who want no part in a QueensWay running through their backyards. It makes me wonder though why other blocs in the city aren’t taking a more active role in this debate. The QueensWay decisions may have a physical impact on those who live near the ROW, but from a mobility perspective, the rail line has the potential to effect all New Yorkers. Who’s fighting for them?
The target date to wrap the MTA’s installation of communications-based train control along Flushing Line has been delayed six months until mid-2017, the agency said in documents released this weekend. As part of the update to the Capital Program Oversight Committee, the MTA noted that the $550 million project remains on budget, but due, in part, to complications from Sandy, the project’s substantial completion date has been pushed back from the fourth quarter of 2016 to the second quarter of 2017.
According to the documents, two issues could further impact this date. The first concerned the availability of test tracks for the CBTC-enabled R188s. These cars were due to be tested on the Rockaway Test Track, but this stretch of railbed was damaged during Sandy. The delay in repairing the test track has pushed back the date for final delivery of the R188s from February 2016 to August 2016.
Second, the MTA fingers “G.O. Availability” as a concern. As CBTC work means many weekends without 7 train service into and out of Queens, the agency has been working with community leaders along the Flushing Line to better plan outages. As the Board materials say, though, “if track outages for this project are delayed/denied, the project’s milestones will be delayed.” In other words, if the MTA can’t schedule G.O.’s, it can’t perform the work on time. I’ll continue to follow this story, but for now, the expected completion date is slipping.
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.
Genting, the operators of the Resorts World Casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack, are still interested in purchasing the naming rights for a nearby station on the A train, the Daily News reported today. According to the brief story, MTA officials last week told State Senators that talks between the two parties were still “preliminary,” but the interest appears to be mutual.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of Genting’s interest in naming rights. In August, at the ribbon-cutting for renovated Aqueduct Racetrack stop, casino officials suggested that they wanted to pursue a naming rights arrangement. “We’ve been asking them for the last several months what we can do to get the station named after us,” Edward Farrell, president of Resorts World Casino New York City, said to New York 1 in August. “We definitely want it done.”
If Genting wants it done, the MTA should move forward at the chance to realize some revenue at a station primed for naming rights. As of now, only Manhattan-bound A trains stop at this station, but politicians hope the casino’s popularity will lead to a new platform and entry point on the Rockaway-bound side as well. Meanwhile, many casino-bound straphangers use the A — and this station — to reach the city’s sole casino. A deal won’t fetch the same $200,000 annual fee Barclays is paying for naming rights to the former Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. stop, but any additional amount should be welcomed.
As part of its Next New York series, the Forum for Urban Design has been posting a variety of project proposals on a new website. For the dreamers among us, these visuals are a rabbit hole of urban delight. Head down the path to find a world in which the Triboro RX exists or another with a one-seat ride to La Guardia Airport. Many of the transit plans are ideas I’ve explored in depth in the past, but here’s a new one: a Midtown-Queens Tramway.
Put forward by Claire Weisz, Mark Yoes and Jacob Dugopolski from WXY Architecture + Urban Design, the idea is a simple one: Extend the Roosevelt Island tram west to Central Park and east to Queens Plaza. The designers call this a “new uninterrupted connections across the river, linking major destinations across the five boroughs.” Though it’s tough to see how this tramway improves upon the preexisting two-stop subway connection via the R train between Queens Plaza and Central Park, it’s certainly intriguing to see a direct tram connection between Roosevelt Island and Queens.
The overall view for the sky and water links from the WXY architects goes like this:
First, we could extend the Roosevelt Island tram in both directions, creating a new link from Queens Plaza to Central Park. The tram could be a high-visibility attraction, steering tourists from Central Park to the museums and galleries of Long Island City. And it would serve commuters as an above-grade transit option with a fantastic view that links Queens Plaza with Midtown Manhattan or the new Roosevelt Island campus and innovation hub.
The East River Ferry could also be expanded to bridge neighborhoods directly across the river from one another. Paired with new bikeways and express bus routes along the waterfront, the ferry would offer a quicker transportation alternative to existing multi-stop bus and subway routes. The ferry should create new access points at Roosevelt Island; Pier 35, Houston Street, and Stuyvesant Cove in Manhattan; and Jay Street and the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn.
Finally, we could invest in new bridges to unite our waterfront greenways. We could link Governors Island to Red Hook, Greenpoint and Long Island City along Manhattan Avenue, Harlem and Yankee Stadium along W. 153rd Street, Hunts Point and Soundview along Lafayette Avenue, and Gowanus and Red Hook along Centre Street.
Unless Weisz and her co-designers are using high speed ferries on a rather narrow waterway, the boats won’t offer up “quicker transportation” than existing subway routes, but these boats, as the success of the East River ferries has shown, can connect waterfront neighborhoods that may not have easy subway or bus access.
This idea, though, is all about the tram. It’s dramatic with great views and can offer up a different transit mode. I don’t know how much such a proposal would cost, and I’m not going to say it’s definitely something to consider. But it’s something to dream about as we focus on New York’s future. As Daniel McPhee, an executive with the Forum for Urban Design, said to the Daily News, “Some of the more speculative proposals sort of ignites the dialogue about how to make our city more sustained, more competitive and more livable.”
Over the past two years, the disused Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way has creeped into the news largely because a group of Queens residents want to turn it into a park. The group has received a half a million dollars from the state to study their proposal and are engaged in a design contest to produce renderings of the park. Since land acquisition costs are high and pre-existing rights of way rare in New York City, I’ve resisted this so-called QueensWay plan without at least a comparable study assessing rail feasibility.
As yet, Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder has stepped up to lend his voice for rail reactivation and a few transit advocates have as well, but the dollars to study a plan aren’t in place. The QueensWay is sexy; rail running through some backyards that encroach onto the right of way is intrusive. It’s a classic and never-ending development debate and one into which the city and MTA have yet to wade.
That said, toward the end of the MTA’s 20 Year Needs Assessment is this paragraph:
Utilizing Available Rail Rights-of-Way: One challenge in providing for non-core-based travel is the availability of travel corridors supporting radial routes linking existing subway, bus and rail lines. A possible option is the utilization of abandoned or underutilized Rights of Way such as the LIRR Bay Ridge Branch (linking southern and eastern Brooklyn with Central and northern Queens) or the abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch (linking Howard Beach and Ozone Park with Woodhaven) as transverse routes linking radial subway lines. Conversion of existing ROWs, where a solution to an identified travel need can be defined, could help reduce land acquisition and construction costs, and facilitate construction time in densely developed areas.
Project proponents are excited by the MTA’s acknowledgment of the right-of-way even if previous documents have contained more extensive examinations of the disused lines. Goldfeder reiterated his support to DNA Info. “The MTA has done their part by putting the plan on the table,” he said. “Now, I have to go to Albany and fight for the funding — first for a feasibility study and then for the money to rebuild the line.”
QueensWay proponents rolled their eyes. “This was a one-sentence mention in a study over 130 pages in length,” Andrea Crawford, head of Friends of the QueensWay and Community Board 9 chair, said. “There is no discussion of an intent to even study the feasibility of building a new rail line utilizing the right of way. To leave this land fallow, to let it deteriorate further, is not beneficial for the residents of central Queens.”
If only the world were as black and white as Crawford’s. The MTA should explore the potential uses for underutilized rights of way, and QueensWay proponents should embrace any such study as it could put to rest, one way or another, the debate over the best way to use this space. Ultimately, Goldfeder will keep fighting the good fight, and we can enjoy a forward-looking feasibility study. Without one, we won’t know how best to use the Rockaway Beach Branch for the next generation of New Yorkers.
While browsing LTV Squad’s latest offering on a former subway station entrance, I came across another piece from the mysterious author known as Control. It is, at once, both the most obnoxious and the most compelling takedown of the Triboro RX line I’ve seen so far. While many transit advocates — myself included — are salivating over the idea of such a circumferential routing, Control throws a bunch of hot water over it.
So what are the challenges? The main issue surrounds the way some of the right of way is currently used. A considerable amount of products bound for New York rely on the heavy rail lines used for freight that the Triboro RX would commandeer for passenger rail. Control believes the prices of food and goods would skyrocket, and trash collection could become problematic as well. These are arguments that have been put forward by supporters of a trans-harbor freight rail tunnel who also wish to keep the ROW for freight rail.
The physical challenges too are tremendous. If the MTA can’t get an FRA waiver, the ROW isn’t wide enough to accommodate separate tracks for passenger rail and freight. I’m far less sympathetic to the fact that there has been some encroachment onto the right of way or that eminent domain would be necessary to complete the route, but we can’t ignore those challenges.
Ultimately, I think Control’s take is worth a read. His conclusion — “MOVE CLOSER TO WHERE YOU WORK” — is myopic and undermines his point, but ultimately, Triboro RX isn’t as easy as drawing some lines on a map and calling it a done deal. He writes that “the Triboro RX subway will never, ever happen,” and it’s probably better to pick easier battles.
In this seemingly never-ending run-up to the September primaries, candidates for various city offices have been gathering on a near-daily basis for forums, debates and all sorts of public appearances. Yesterday, the Queens borough president hopefuls convened for a Town Hall in Flushing, and the topic of the QueensWay/Rockaway Beach Branch line came up. As Lisa Colangelo of the Daily News reports, only a long-shot candidate voice support for the park.
According to Colangelo, Everly Brown told the audience that he supports the greenspace because “it’s important to create parks.” The two leading candidates — Peter Vallone, Jr., whose dad helped kill a subway to La Guardia, and Melinda Katz — hedged. Vallone said that rail is his “first priority” due to the lack of transit options in the Rockaways and southern parts of Queens while Katz declined to take a position one way or another until the feasibility study is released. (The GOP candidate, running unopposed, echoed Katz’s views.)
Ultimately, in the debate over the future of the Rockaway Beach Branch right of the way and the QueensWay, the borough president has some say. Because of the role the BP’s offices play in the city’s land use review policy, the next Queens borough president can influence the push to either reactivate rail or turn the ROW into a park. That Vallone supports rail is comforting for reactivation proponents as he is the slight frontrunner, but these are just chess pieces moving into place.