Archive for Queens

Crews worked overnight to re-rail an F train that had derailed on Friday. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.

The MTA never works better than when in crisis mode. When something bad happens, crews are diverted to solve the problem, and issues can be resolved quickly. For an agency known to drag its heels, intentionally or not, on long-term planning problems, it’s refreshing to see it spring into action when push comes to shove.

We saw this play out this past weekend when, on Friday at 10:30 a.m., an F train derailed in Queens. By the Friday evening rush hour, Transit had restored local service, and although trains were taken out of service along parts of the line on both Saturday and Sunday mornings this weekend, the MTA anticipates a normal rush hour with both express and local service by 5 a.m. Monday. Workers had to re-rail and then remove an eight-car train and repair around 500 feet of rail while inspecting nearby infrastructure to ensure trains can operate safely.

Meanwhile, the MTA shared some findings over the weekend that indicate the focus of their investigation as well as their safety record. First, it appears as though operator error was not to blame. While the 1991 Union Square derailment that led to four deaths was due to the result of a drunk motorman, officials have all but cleared the F train’s crew of wrong-doing. Rather, the derailment happened at a spot that has become the focal point of efforts to combat broken rails.

According to the MTA, the rail that snapped, leading to this derailment, was manufactured in November and installed this past March. It’s not clear if it was installed incorrectly or if it contained a defect. It will, Transit said, be sent for metallurgical testing. We’ll see what comes of that.

Overall though, it’s not surprising that this rail broke. As what the MTA describes as its effort to reduce derailments to zero, workers map broken and defective rails to identify where large-scale replacement and hardening efforts should occur. During the presentation on this topic to the MTA Board in February, Transit targeted the Queens Boulevard corridor as one of five problematic areas, and the MTA has plans to install 23 miles of continuous welded rail to reduce broken rails and noise and vibration issues. That project, unfortunately, isn’t due to start until 2015 when funding is in place. (The other areas include the 7th Ave. IRT from Dyckman south, the 8th Ave. line from 207th to Jay St., 6th Ave. between 59th and Jay St., and the Astoria line from 57th St. to the phantom stop/11th St. Cut area in Queens.)

It is also important to keep numbers in perspective. The MTA says it has experienced 17 mainline derailments in the last decade, and for a system that runs 8000 trains per day, the derailment rate is less than half the national average. As recently as 1980, the MTA reported 20 derailments in one calendar year. Still, as deferred maintenance re-enters the picture and as Queens subway riders climb aboard their express trains in the morning, tensions will be high. These derailments are bad news, and we don’t expect them. That’s why, of course, they garner so much news coverage. But they serve as a reminder why New York City needs a fully funded and fully supported capital plan for the MTA. Anything worse puts everyone in danger.

After the jump, a video of MTA workers rerailing the F train. Read More→

Categories : Queens
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Scene at derailment of F train south of the 65 St. station in Woodside, Queens on Fri., May 2, 2014. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

As crews work to inspect and then remove a derailed F train underneath Woodside, Queens, New York City Transit has announced that local E and F train service has been restored along the Queens Boulevard line in both directions, but with a catch. To facilitate removal of the derailed train, this local service will operate only until 10 p.m. tonight, and then no trains will run along the Queens Boulevard line in both directions until 7 a.m. Saturday. Riders should expect “limited shuttle bus service” and should use the 7, J or LIRR trains instead.

During the evening rush and until further notice, M and R trains will not run along Queens Boulevard. R trains will terminate at 57th St.-7th Ave. in Manhattan, and M trains will operate between Metropolitan Ave. and Chambers St. The LIRR will cross-honoring valid MetroCards in both directions between Penn Station and Jamaica Station, including Kew Gardens, Forest Hills and Woodside, as well as stops between Atlantic Terminal and Jamaica. Planned weekend services changes for the J, M and 7 trains have since been canceled.

The derailment occurred at approximately 10:24 this morning when six of the F train’s eight cars jumped the tracks. Only the first and last cars remained properly railed. First responders evacuated approximately 1000 customers, and the NYPD reported 19 injuries, four of which were serious. MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast has vowed to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident which will include full inspections of signals, track and all other infrastructure in the area.

Categories : Queens
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Emergency service workers responded to the derailment of an F train under Broadway and 60th Street in Woodside, Queens. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.

Updated (5:00 p.m.): For the latest on service in Queens, please refer to my new post on evening service. I won’t be updating this post any further.

Updated (1:25 p.m.): The MTA is reporting that a Manhattan-bound F express train derailed at around 10:30 a.m. near 65th St. in Queens. According to the agency, the middle six of the train’s eight cars jumped the tracks while the front and rears cars stayed in place. Over 1000 passengers were evacuated, and 19 were injured, four seriously.

As the evening rush approaches, the MTA does not anticipate regular service along the Queens Boulevard line. The 7 train will run all weekend to carry some of the burden, and the LIRR is currently cross-honoring MetroCards.

For specific service changes, keep an eye out the MTA’s site. As of 1:25 p.m., the following changes are in effect:

  • There is no train service between 71st Av-Forest Hills and Queens Plaza in both directions.
  • There is no train service between 71st Av-Forest Hills and 21 St-Queensbridge in both directions.
  • There is no train service between Forest Hills-71 Av and Essex St.
  • There is no train service between 71 Av-Forest Hills and Queens Plaza in both directions.
  • Some northbound trains are running on the line from 57 St-7 Av to Queensboro Plaza.

Anyone trying to reach the JFK Airtrain should take the A train or LIRR, and other customers are advised to take the 7, J or L trains for service into Queens. LIRR is cross-honoring MetroCards at Sutphin Blvd-Archer Av, Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, Woodside, Nostrand Av, East New York, Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr and Penn Station-34 St. Shuttle buses are between Queens Plaza or 21 St.-Queensbridge and Forest Hills. Prepare for crowded and slow rides.

I’ll have more information as it becomes available. For more photos from scenes of the incident, check out the MTA’s photo album on Flickr.

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The New York Scanner Twitter account reports on the condition of the passengers. This is, for now, unverified information:

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In my write-up of Michael Kimmelman’s Times column on the Brooklyn-Queens streetcar route, I posed a question that would be answered by any study examining this proposal: What problem does this light rail/streetcar line solve? Intuitively, it seemed as though the biggest problems were at either ends of the line — Red Hook and Astoria — and the idea of an interconnected waterfront was otherwise a developer’s dream masquerading as a solution to something that isn’t actually a problem.

One of the bigger issues with The Times’ proposal is how the routing doesn’t connect to subways. While Alex Garvin’s original plan brought the streetcar through Downtown Brooklyn, Kimmelman swung west, away from badly needed subway connections and instead tightly hugging the waterfront. The Times scribe claims this will help serve areas that are “inaccessible” or served “barely” by the G train, referred to in the article as “the city’s sorriest little railroad.” It’s not clear how a low-capacity streetcar running at slower speeds will be better than even the much-maligned G train, but that’s besides the point for these so-called “desire lines.”

One of the biggest issues though with Kimmelman’s argument is that most of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront isn’t really that far away from the nearest subway (let alone feeder bus routes). I did some radius mapping tonight of the waterfront and various other areas in Brooklyn and Queens, and the resulting images are instructive. I cannot unfortunately embed the map so you’re stuck with some images. Take a look at what happens when you chart areas that are more than half a mile away from the nearest subway.

In Brooklyn, Red Hook and Navy Yards are far from the subway.

In Queens, parts of Astoria are a trek away from the nearest subway stop.

If we’re truly concerned about getting people from transit deserts to jobs, then there are three discrete problems: The Navy Yards, an actual job center, isn’t close to transit while Red Hook, where low income housing dominates, is physically and psychologically isolated. Finally, in Astoria, parts of the waterfront are far from the N and Q trains, but there is an area where a ferry would make more sense as a lesser cost option.

The truth is the waterfront is not, by and large, without access to transit, and the G train, as scorned as it is, provides an adequate crosstown connection. A shorter streetcar route could help solve Red Hook’s problems and make the Navy Yards more attractive; a long streetcar that snakes past luxury developments that are a 10-minute walk from the nearest subway seems like more of a bonus for developers than a solution to a problem. But it’s still worth studying, objectively and thoroughly, and then when we have cost estimates and ridership projections, we can talk. As an object of desire though, it leaves much to be desired.

* * *

For fun (?), I have two more screenshots of the radius maps. Take a look at South Brooklyn and Eastern Queens. Forget desire lines and the developing waterfront; these are massive areas of the two most populous boroughs where the nearest subway connections are miles away. No one seems interested in solving that problem though.

Lots of highways but no subways for eastern Queens.

Forget about catching the train in South Brooklyn (or East New York for that matter).

Categories : Brooklyn, Queens
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The waterfront streetcar would make for a torturously long ride from Astoria to Red Hook, especially in mixed traffic. (Via Next New York)

As 2013 unfolded and the promise of a new mayor came into view, the Forum for Urban Design hosted a series of meetings on urban development. As part of the forum, a variety of planners and designers submitted ideas for the Next New York. I highlighted one of those ideas — Alex Garvin’s waterfront light rail — in a September post on light rail for Red Hook. It is, of course, an old idea that won’t fade away and could make sense as a speedier connection to the jobs, shops, restaurants and subways in Downtown Brooklyn if the costs are right.

Today, that idea — and the rest of Garvin’s impractical line all the way to Astoria — is back in the news as The New York Times has discovered it. It’s always dangerous when The Times latches onto an element of urban planning as they tend to push real estate interests over transit needs, and their coverage of this idea as a mixed-traffic streetcar connecting waterfront areas that don’t need to be connected to each other follows a similar pattern. This is a Big Idea for the sake of Big Ideas and not to solve a discrete problem.

The presentation comes to us in a Michael Kimmelman column. I’ll excerpt:

There’s a wonderful term for the dirt trails that people leave behind in parks: desire lines. Cities also have desire lines, marked by economic development and evolving patterns of travel. In New York, Manhattan was once the destination for nearly all such paths, expressed by subway tracks that linked Midtown with what Manhattanites liked to call the outer boroughs.

But there is a new desire line, which avoids Manhattan altogether. It hugs the waterfronts of Brooklyn and Queens, stretching from Sunset Park past the piers of Red Hook, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, through Greenpoint and across Newtown Creek, which separates the two boroughs, running all the way up to the Triborough Bridge in Astoria. The desire line is now poorly served by public transit, even as millennials are colonizing Astoria, working in Red Hook, then going out in Williamsburg and Bushwick — or working at the Navy Yard, visiting friends in Long Island City and sleeping in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

They have helped drive housing developments approved or built along the Brooklyn waterfront, like the one by Two Trees at the former Domino Sugar Refinery. But this corridor isn’t only for millennials. It’s also home to thousands of less affluent New Yorkers struggling to get to jobs and join the work force. So here’s an idea: bring back the streetcar.

The idea of a “desire line” is a literary device; it doesn’t mirror reality. Furthermore, the rest of Kimmelman’s column is replete with contradictions about this streetcar’s plan. Kimmelman opts for streetcars over buses because of “romance,” but and while there’s something to be said about the psychological impact of a streetcar, we’re talking about a half a billion dollars and massive upfront infrastructure needs for a mixed-traffic line that won’t do what Kimmelman wants it to do.

Here’s the question that needs to be asked first: Will the “thousands of less affluent New Yorkers struggling to get to jobs and join the work force” benefit from this streetcar route? What problem is a line near the waterfront from Red Hook to Astoria trying to solve? One Twitter follower put together a Google Map of the proposed routing, and you’ll see that the best it does is provide direct access to the Navy Yard, a decent sized job center in Brooklyn. As passé as it may be, jobs are in Manhattan or generally along subway lines, and this route doesn’t help improve access to subway lines. (It’s also a mess operationally with tight turns along narrow streets that would limit rolling stock length. It also parallels some bus routes, raising even more questions of need and cost.)

While Cap’n Transit believes that any area that could support light rail would be prime for a subway, if costs are lower and ridership falls in between buses and a subway, light could work. As I mentioned, we can’t dismiss the psychological edge they hold over buses, and with the right routing — dedicated lanes that run, say, from Red Hook to the Navy Yards via subway stations in Downtown Brooklyn rather than via the waterfront — they could solve the gaps in transit deserts. But we shouldn’t, as Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen does, love this idea simply because it’s new, romantic or big. Will the ridership justify the costs? Will the service connect to job centers and destinations or provide a faster way to get to New York’s developed subway network? Can we identify a need and support that need based on a thorough study? “Desire” isn’t enough considering how much this will cost.

Categories : Brooklyn, Queens
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The Riders Alliance wants more bus countdown clocks installed throughout the city, but they carry a hefty price tag.

For bus riders in Brooklyn and Queens, “soon” now has a set date. BusTime — the MTA’s real-time bus tracking service — will go live for the city’s most populous boroughs on Sunday, March 9. Bus riders in those two boroughs will now know, via text message, smart phone apps or the the web where their buses are and how far away that next bus is. It will be a huge boost for riders long accustomed to spotty service and maddeningly inconsistent waits.

“MTA Bus Time is yet another way we are trying to improve service for our customers,” Carmen Bianco, President of MTA New York City Transit, said in a press release. “As we have seen with train arrival information in the subway, customers appreciate when they know when that train or bus will show up at the station or stop.”

With the addition of Brooklyn and Queens bus routes, including express bus service, the entire city will have access to bus tracking information, and the MTA has met its self-imposed deadline for bringing the service online. This last installation adds 9000 bus stops to the system as well. What it doesn’t include yet are countdown clocks — or, more accurately, station countdowns — at each station, and transit advocates hope to change that.

At a rally hosted by the Riders Alliance (of which I am a board member), bus riders and other transit advocates called upon politicians to help fund a NYCDOT initiative that would see digital countdown timers installed at key bus stations throughout the city. The timers — similar to the one atop this post — would be a big help to those who aren’t aware of BusTime or are not otherwise comfortable with the technology that makes the bus location information readily available.

“Countdown clocks have been a huge hit on subway platforms,” John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, said. “Now it’s time to bring them to bus stops. We have the technology and we have the interest from riders.”

What is missing from Raskin’s equation is, of course, money. A 2012 study by Brad Lander noted that countdown clocks at bus stops would cost around $4000-$6000 to install, but the solar-powered free-standing signs in place as part of the Staten Island pilot would cost up to $20,000 each. That’s a prohibitive cost and an insane one. Ridership doesn’t warrant installing one at every bus stop, but for key bus stations, these simple timers that countdown stops shouldn’t cost that much.

“The best way to get where I’m going is the bus. I try to time it using printed schedules but most of the time the bus doesn’t follow the schedule,” Thomasin Bentley, a Riders Alliance member, said. “I want to use the bus. It’s clean and affordable. Bus countdown clocks would allow me to make the most of an otherwise great system. The text messaging service is a good start but I find it difficult to understand, and I’m a real tech person. I can imagine that it’s hard for other people to figure out as well.”

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When the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects announced their AIANY Emerging New York Architects design competition last summer, I knew we were in trouble. AIANY focused around designs for the QueensWay, but instead of encouraging emerging architects to think about any use, including rail, for the right of way, the organization urged designers to think only about an elevated park. And crazy renderings for an elevated park are what we have received.

AIANY released the results earlier this week, and New York seems awfully under-represented in the Emerging New York Architects competition. The big winners came from France, Switzerland and Canada while the student prize winner came out of New Mexico and only one Queens designer received an honorable mention. That’s not to say that outsiders can’t design architecture for New York City, but when we’re thinking about turning over a valuable and irreplaceable right-of-way to a rails-to-trails project, New Yorkers should probably be heard above all others.

While none of the proposal captures my attention quite like the underground swimming pool I discussed last night, they seem to underscore, in their disconnect from the surrounding neighborhood, just how unlikely any conversion of this rail right of way will be. In all likelihood, the Rockaway Beach Branch will remain as it has been for decades — the subject of numerous proposals to reactivate rail, the subject of conversion talks, and the subject of NIMBY opposition to anything happening at all.

Still, let’s marvel at the designs. All were designed at the abandoned Ozone Park station, one of the sites of the QueensWay that doesn’t back up onto residential properties and contains some wide open sight lines. It isn’t the norm for this right of way.

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Here, we have the winner. From Carrie Wibert of Paris, France, the QueensWay steps took home the $5000 prize. This is the grand entry to the QueensWay park. These steps are located between 100th and 99th Streets, and 101st and 103rd Avenues in Ozone Park, Queens, and while not far from the A train, it’s in a spot that could use better rail service rather than a park. But we’ve been over that before.

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The second place finisher is from Nikolay Martynov of Basel, Switzerland. It is called the Queens Billboard and appears to be a roller coaster for people without handrails. Your guess is as good as mine.

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The third place prize went to Song Deng and René Biberstein of Toronto, Canada. Their entry called Make It! Grow It! seemed to capture the essence of what QueensWay organizers want. Underneath the structure is a market and above is a High Line-style park. Again, I’m not sure where all these people, or the yellow cab, would come from, but the general idea here seems to stem from Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.

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The student prize comes from Jessica Shoemaker of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is underwhelming.

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The honorable mention went to Hyuntek Yoon of Queens. In a Daily News article, Yoon explained that his design allows for a seamless integration from street level to the park. It’s an alluring concept and a pleasant design.

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Over the years, I’ve been highly skeptical of the QueensWay. It’s a long shot to believe that the Rockaway Beach Branch line will be reactivated, but as Joe Raskin’s book revealed, it’s not a new idea. The subway operators have long wishes to incorporate the Rockaway Beach Branch into the subway, and the only thing stopping integration in the 1950s was money (and Robert Moses). Today, there’s a clear need and a clear plan, but political, and more importantly, economic, support isn’t there. Residents will object; the MTA doesn’t have plans for funding. Same as it ever was.

If anything comes of the QueensWay, it ultimately won’t look like these renderings. Most proponents want a utilitarian park with a focus on a bike path that can help bypass the dangerous and crowded Woodhaven Boulevard. These plans, instead, bring the High Line sensibilities to an area that isn’t dense or popular enough to support another High Line. AIANY will host some panels on these designs, and I’m curious to hear what the architects and project proponents have to say. But if I were a betting man, I’d bet against movement, rail or otherwise. The city just isn’t ready for it, and that’s a commentary on the state of transit affairs.

Categories : Queens
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Earlier this week, State Assemblyman Paul Goldfeder’s office sent out what I thought was an oddly-phrased press release along with a letter the Queens representative sent to MTA head Tom Prendergast. In the letter, Goldfeder called upon the MTA to include Queens in its plans for BusTime.

“Waiting for a bus in Queens should not be a guessing game,” he said. “I applaud the MTA for using technology to better their services for customers and I strongly urge them to include all New Yorkers in their latest advances and implement the real-time bus locator app for Queens residents as soon as possible.”

What struck me as odd was the fact that the MTA had always said BusTime would be a city-wide effort and that the rest of the city would receive real-time bus tracking info by the middle of this year. Everything I had heard from MTA sources indicated that the rollout was on time, and I asked Goldfeder’s office if they had heard otherwise. His press rep clarified that Goldfeder “sent a letter to the Chairman to make sure the app does come to Queens and there’s no second thoughts.” An app without one borough would be no app indeed.

In response to Goldfeder’s inquiry, the MTA has stressed its commitment to Brooklyn and Queens. If you look closely enough at the MTA’s bus fleet — and know what to look for — you’ll see that the equipment for BusTime is already in place, and the MTA has said that it should be live soon. “We have completed boroughwide installations in Queens and Brooklyn and are currently fine-tuning software,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said in response to various inquiries. “We are on schedule to go online in the next several weeks.”

So there you have it: Ask for an update, and ye shall receive. A citywide implementation of BusTime should do wonders for bus ridership and the overall convenience of New York’s otherwise unreliable local buses. If only now we could do something about the clunky fare payment system.

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How about some bad news for 7 train riders on Friday evening? As part of the never-ending work to install a communications-based train control system on the Flushing Line, weekend shutdowns will resume at the end of February. Luckily for Mets fans — if Mets fans can ever be described as lucky — the work has been scheduled to coincide with away games. Any time the Mets are on the road, there’s no 7 service; any time they’re home, trains run with no problems.

According to the MTA’s announcement, the work scheduled for these weekends will also involve two other projects: replacement of track panels and reconstruction of the Steinway Tube, including Sandy recovery work. “We understand that these service disruptions are inconvenient to the customers who depend on the 7 train and we appreciate their patience,” MTA NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said in a statement. “We have made every effort to schedule these projects simultaneously to get as much work done as we can during these periods.”

Generally, the work will be focused around segments from 74th St. – Broadway to Times Square, but sometimes work extends from Willets Point to Flushing. There will be no 7 service between Mets-Willets Point and Flushing-Main St between 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 15 and 5 a.m. Tuesday, February 18, as well as between 11:45 p.m. Friday, February 22 and 5 a.m. Monday, February 24.

The work, says the MTA, is beyond the capacity of a FASTRACK treatment, and as a carrot to those left stranded, weekend N and Q service will be increased. Here’s what 7 train riders and Long Island City residents have to look forward to:

No service between Times Square-42 St and Queensboro Plaza on these dates unless noted with asterisk:

  • February 28-March 3
  • March 7-10, 14-17, 21-24, 28-31
  • April 11-14
  • May 2-5, 16-19 (No service between Times Square-42 St and 74 St-Broadway)
  • May 30-June 2
  • June 6-8, also reduced service between 74 St-Broadway and Queensboro Plaza (Service resumes early a.m. Sunday, June 8 for Puerto Rican Day Parade)
  • June 20-23, 27-30, also reduced service between 74 St-Broadway and Queensboro Plaza
  • July 18-21, also reduced service between 74 St-Broadway and Queensboro Plaza

That’s the long-term future. Now, after the jump, let’s dive into this weekend’s changes. Read More→

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The fight over the future of the Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way is raising interesting questions about local decision-making in the context of the overall shape of New York City as a third Queens Community Board has rejected the QueensWay park plan in favor of the restoration of rail service. As the Queens Chronicle reported last week, CB5 — whose area encompasses an oft-congested stretch of Woodhaven Boulevard — voted 36-2 for the rail option. So far, CB 10 and CB 14 have voiced a preference for transit while only CB 9, whose leaders and members make up the Friends of the QueensWay organization, has supported the park plan.

Community Board 5 leaders spoke of the need to focus on mass transit as a way to solve the area’s traffic and accessibility issues. “Woodhaven Boulevard is just overwhelmed. We need relief and the only way to relieve traffic is with public transportation,” CB 5 Chair Vincent Arcuri said. “The people in the Rockaways have been clamoring for public transportation better than what they currently have for years. That A train is like going on a safari.”

Andrea Crawford, who heads both Friends of the QueensWay and CB 9, told the Chronicle that CB 5’s vote was “ridiculous.” She said, “This is a right of way that has absolutely no infrastructure and is deteriorating. The bridges would have to be rebuilt to carry modern train equipment. A rail line would help traffic in what, 20 or 30 years when it’s reactivated?”

The issue though isn’t focusing on “helping traffic.” It’s about a forward-looking approach to transit development and urban growth while encouraging sustainability throughout Queens. As I mentioned, too, this war of words showcases how hyperlocal planning is flawed. Just because most of the right of way runs through CB 9 doesn’t mean they should have the final say or even more of one over land use. The space should not be turned into a park until every other avenue of development is exhausted first, and that’s what’s best for the city.

Categories : Asides, Queens
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