Archive for Queens
Over the past six years following the ins and outs of transit policy in New York City, I’ve read nearly every article about trains, buses, taxis, roads, bikes and everything in between published in all of this great city’s illustrious daily newspapers. Some do a better job than others of covering the policies behind transportation and the lack of political support for adequately funding transit. Others treat the transit planning process and transit news as a game of “Gotcha” populist journalism where the MTA is the big bad guy and the rest of us are just getting our proverbial pockets picked. In other words, coverage is uneven.
Where coverage is not uneven — and, in fact, is often quite glowing — is when the Next Big Thing arrives. Now that Chelsea’s High Line is so over, the Next Big Thing is in Queens, and it’s the QueensWay. I’ve burned a lot of pixels speaking out against the QueensWay plan lately. It’s the gimmicky idea to turn a 3.5-mile rail right-of-way into a park. I want rails-to-trails initiatives to disappear and would prefer to see a renewed effort to reactive the Rockaway Beach Branch line. In the aftermath of Sandy and with space for transit at such a premium in New York City, giving upon a dedicated, if disused, right of way that could be reactivated is a major mistake.
That’s not, however, how The Times sees it. I’m a big fan of The Gray Lady. Mocking Twitter account aside, I read The Times every day, and I usually find their coverage of most issues to be on target. This article, however, has left me both speechless and full of words. It’s a glowing profile of the QueensWay effort that simply and utterly dismisses the idea of rail as though it were the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. Shall we dive in?
It has been abandoned for five decades, a railway relic that once served Queens passengers on the old Rockaway Beach branch of the Long Island Rail Road. For all those years, no one paid much notice to the ghostly tracks, long overgrown with trees and vines, as they ran silently behind tidy houses in Rego Park, dipped through ravines in Forest Park and hovered above big-box stores in Glendale.
That is, until the High Line expanded the possibilities of a public park.
Now, the three-and-a-half-mile stretch of rusty train track in central Queens is being reconceived as the “QueensWay,” a would-be linear park for walkers and bicyclists in an area desperate for more parkland and, with the potential for art installations, performances and adjacent restaurants, a draw for tourists interested in sampling the famously diverse borough.
That wascally welic of a wailway. Five decades! Fifty years! Completely abandoned. No one — except for those cranks who have long called for its return to service — has paid it any attention. But don’t worry: The High Line will save it. After all, as it is similarly located in a booming area within walking distance to major city tourist attractions as the High Line is in Chelsea, millions of tourists will be sure to flock to a park that isn’t near anything and runs through a ditch for most of its 3.5 miles.
Lisa Foderaro solders on…
“It’s Queens’s turn,” said Will Rogers, president and chief executive officer of the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit group that has joined local residents in promoting the idea. “The High Line led to the redefinition of the neighborhoods in Manhattan, whereas the QueensWay will be defined by the neighborhoods it passes through. Essentially, it will be a cultural trail.”
The involvement of the Trust for Public Land, which has 36 offices nationwide, including in Manhattan, has given the project new momentum, bolstering the efforts of the Friends of the QueensWay, a group with about 2,500 supporters. It did not hurt that the trust hired Adrian Benepe, who recently stepped down as the New York City parks commissioner.
Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a native of Queens, awarded the trust a $467,000 environmental protection grant through the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The grant will help pay for a community planning survey and a feasibility study that will include environmental, engineering and financial assessments of the project, including consideration of the condition of the railway’s trestles, bridges and embankments.
Setting aside my snarky retort for a minute, we come across a major problem I have with the political approach to the QueensWay folk. The government backing is incredible. The Trust for Public Land has led rails-to-trails efforts in places as diverse as Chicago, Toledo and Florida. Furthermore, from Adrian Benepe who has the ear of city leaders to Gov. Cuomo’s decision to award the Trust with nearly $500,000 to study the QueensWay proposal, New York is welcoming this idea with open arms. Where’s the competing grant to study reactivating the rail line though? This feasibility study will explore turning this ROW into a park, but it won’t offer up what should be Plan A: rail.
And then we get to the graphs that had me steaming:
But bringing the park to fruition will not be easy. The modest neighborhoods and light industrial areas through which the abandoned rail line passes cannot provide the tens of millions of dollars that were raised privately by Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit group managing the construction and maintenance of the elevated park on Manhattan’s West Side.
Nor is everyone on the same page about the Queens railway’s destiny; at least one elected official has called for a simultaneous study of reviving the rail line to provide better train service to the increasingly popular Rockaway beaches, damaged as they might be in the short term by Hurricane Sandy. (Mr. Benepe, who is well schooled in community opposition, imagined the potential horror of nearby homeowners at the prospect of the train line’s rumbling to life again.)
The first paragraph is self-explanatory. It can’t replicate the success of the High Line because it’s not the High Line. It connects Ozone Park to Forest Hills, and it’s not, as I mentioned, in an area to which tourists are flocking. It is, however, in an area that could use some faster rail options, but who wants that? Certainly not a bunch of homeowners who knowingly purchased houses that back up on a rail line’s right of way. Just think of that “potential horror” — a parenthetical one at that — of better access to Manhattan and a faster ride to the city’s job centers. What a nightmare.
The best part though is the kicker graph:
Unlike the High Line, the QueensWay would welcome bicycles. While the trestles are relatively narrow, long stretches are wide enough — up to 25 feet — to accommodate walkers and bicyclists. New bike paths could connect the park to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park to the north, as well as an existing bikeway in Jamaica Bay to the south. About 250,000 residents live within a mile of the proposed park, and its backers see all kinds of ancillary benefits, from health to traffic. “That’s a lot of carbon footprint,” said Marc Matsil, the trust’s New York state director.
“That’s a lot of carbon footprint.” What the *&!% does that even mean, Marc Matsil? The QueensWay was provide ancillary biking benefits at most as it’s generally, in my opinion, a bit too far from the city to be a part of bike commuters’ routes. It would be for mainly recreational biking and weekend strolling if it’s used as much as its proponents claim it will.
We live in a post-Sandy New York, one in which a state panel recently called for an increased investment in our transportation infrastructure. We have a dormant right of way — a very valuable one in a city that doesn’t have too many underutilized rail corridors or much open space — just sitting there waiting for rail. Before we turn it over to a rails-for-trails group that wants to build a novelty act in the middle of Queens, we have to be sure we can’t reclaim this ROW for rails. Right now, rail is a relic, an inconvenience and something that would run literally through a bunch of NIMBYs’ backyards. It will take a concerted effort to wrest this away from the QueensWay crowd, but that effort should not and would not be in vain.
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.
When the MTA announced the temporary H train for the Rockaways, it drew a flurry of attention. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow profiled the trucking of trains across the Channel while politicians hailed it as an important step on the road to recovery. Railfans were thrilled to see the blue-bulleted H make its first return to the rails since 1994.
So how are things for the H? In The Times this week, Matt Flegenheimer profiled the new train, and he finds an odd mixture of Rockaway residents trying to forge normalcy out of their uprooted lives, FEMA workers and and rail fans snapping photos of this subway oddity. “It’s like they found the holy grail here,” one MTA conductor said of the rail fans. “It’s a job for us; it’s a passion for them.”
The MTA is not unaware of the fervor and interest surrounding the H train, and today, in conjunction with the Transit Museum and The Graybeards, a not-for-profit organization aimed at helping the Rockaways, the Authority announced the launch of new line of merchandise. Called the Rockaways Relief Collection, these items are a limited line of H train-related items, and all proceeds will benefit The Graybeard. These items include t-shirts, sweatshirts and magnets and are available for sale online. More products may be added to the line.
“We were looking for a way to use our licensed products to help out in the recovery efforts taking place in the Rockaways,” Mark Heavey, MTA Director of Marketing & Communications, said. “The H Line has piqued a lot of interest in subway service in the Rockaways and, with the help of a few of our product licensees, presented us with a unique opportunity to promote the service and to provide tangible assistance to efforts to rebuild that community.”
The H train has a unique history tucked away in its little corner of Queens. It began service as the HH in 1956, running on LIRR tracks from Euclid Ave. to either Rockaway Park or Mott Avenue. That service was discontinued in 1972, but the shuttle returned as the CC in the late 1970s. It was given the H designation in 1986 and turned into just another grey S train in 1994. Now, it’s back, and its return can spark some fundraising efforts as well.
Although the MTA hasn’t quite put the final touches on its cost estimates for Sandy-related repairs, a report today indicated that full A train service to the Rockaways may not return until at least the middle of next year. In a story low on details, New York 1′s Michael Herzenberg says that an MTA source believes summer 2013 is a potential target date for the reconstruction of the Broad Channel subway line. I almost wonder if even that estimate is optimistic.
According to preliminary documents, the MTA has requested $650 million for the restoration of the Rockaway subway line. Even if some of that money is invested in preventative measures, a multi-hundred-million-dollar spend usually takes years to complete, not mere months. It is nearly impossible, in fact, to spend $650 million on one project in six or seven months. Perhaps the MTA believes it can perform repairs that allow limited direct subway service while the remainder of the work continues. Either way, it’s going to be a while before commutes to and from the Rockaways return to normal.
Once upon a time, the MTA referred to the Rockaway shuttle which operates between Broad Channel and Rockaway Park as the H train. Although the train still carries this designation internally, to the world, that shuttle appears as a gray S on subway maps. As the Rockaways face a lengthy rebuilding process, though, the H train is returning, this time as a free shuttle operating between Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue and Beach 90-Holland station, making all intermediate stops via the Hammels Wye.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this free service this afternoon, and it will begin tomorrow morning at 4 a.m.. It will run every day from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m., providing a transfer to the shuttle buses that run between Mott Avenue and Howard Beach. According to the Governor’s office, the train runs only those Beach 90-Holland because points further west “suffered extensive damage to signal systems and cannot yet accommodate passenger service.”
“The A train tracks from Howard Beach to the Rockaways were almost completely destroyed by the storm, and replacing them is a tremendous undertaking,” Cuomo said in a statement. “While that work continues, this new shuttle service will help improve travel for people in the Rockaways who are still recovering from Sandy’s effects.”
The rolling stock for this new shuttle service arrived via flatbed trucks. Transit loaded 20 R32 cars onto these tracks and placed them on the rails at Rockaway Park-Beach 116th. There are some pretty dramatic photos of the operation available here. Raw video footage comes after the jump.
“Transit has responded with unprecedented creativity to restore subway service to Rockaway customers,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota. “This partial restoration of service is an important step for the Rockaways, but our work won’t be done until the A train is fully restored.” It will still be months before the A train is fully restored.
Yesterday, we saw the images of the A train’s destruction heading out to the Rockaways, and the pictures weren’t pretty. The subway, the peninsula’s lifeline, will be out of service for some time, and residents need a way to get to Manhattan. Today, the New York City Economic Development Corporation announced temporary ferry service between the Rockaways and Wall St. beginning Monday. It’s a welcome measure for the Sandy-battered area.
“Since the storm hit, we’ve been working to ensure that New York City is able to get back to business as soon as possible,” NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky said. “Until the reopening of subway service to the rest of the City is restored from the Rockaways, this temporary option will assist thousands of New Yorkers most impacted by this storm, allowing our City and our economy to take another step on the road to recovery.”
The ferry will cost just $2 per ride and will depart five times during the morning rush from Beach 108th Street and Beach Channel Drive and five times in the afternoon from Wall St. The ride is scheduled to take less time than a similar subway journey would. For schedules and more, check out the timetables here. This is an excellent use of city resources and the waterways while the subway undergoes extensive repairs.
A SAS tipster sent in some dramatic photos of the damage Hurricane Sandy caused to the A train line. These photos show the approach to the Broad Channel station, and in many photos, old Long Island Rail Road infrastructure has been exposed. As you’ll see, it’s going to take some work to restore these tracks, and service between the Rockaways and the rest of the subway system will likely be suspended for a while.
Thanks to a bunch of NIMBYs in Astoria, we don’t have subway service to Laguardia Airport, and we’ve been waiting years for the city to wrap up endless studies concerning bus improvements. Today, though, marked a potential turning point in the much-maligned airport’s accessibility as the New York City Department of Transportation and MTA announced a sweeping series of bus improvements that will drastically reduce travel times to the airport.
Three new Select Bus Service routes will connect the airport to Manhattan, the Bronx and parts of Queens as well as nearby subway lines, the LIRR and Metro-North. With speedier buses running up and down 125th St., on Webster Ave. and through Jackson Heights, local bus service, as Streetsblog detailed earlier, should improve as well. According to the city and MTA, travel times could drop for some airport-bound commuters by as much as 40 minutes thanks to pre-board fare payment options, dedicated travel lines and signal prioritization efforts. The new routes should be rolled out over the course of 2013 and 2014.
“LaGuardia Airport is a transportation hub and a city unto itself that needs a better connection to the transit network and the region’s economy,” DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said in a statement. “These routes will open the terminal doors to new neighborhoods and bring more reliable local service to people across three boroughs.”
As many New Yorkers know, Laguardia remains infuriatingly close but oh so far from the city’s public transit system. Even with service from five bus routes, service is painstakingly slow, and buses fill up very quickly with folks using local service, those who work at the airport and travelers with giant suitcases. Without a direct rail link or any bus improvements, the current situation is untenable.
So what are the details? Well, in Manhattan, new M60 SBS service would bring speedier connections to Metro-North and the subways at 125th St. while speeding up airport service by nearly 10 minutes. Harlem community leaders have long voiced the need for better bus service as well. In the Bronx, some Webster Ave. SBS rides would cross the Triboro Bridge and head to the airport, cutting travel times by nearly 50 percent. This extension is still under consideration. In Queens, new service to Woodside and Jackson Heights would utilize the BQE to clear up local streets and provide quicker and more direct service. (A PDF summary of these proposal is available here.)
Ultimately, these bus improvements are welcome, but they are no substitute for rail service. Improving access to Laguardia has long been a goal of Mayor Bloomberg and his PLANYC2020 vision, and it appears as though a part of his lasting transportation legacy will involve faster bus service to this airport. Still, we should not lose sight of the endgame: The subway — or at the least, an airtrain — should extend to Laguardia. Until then, incremental improvements, and not a game-changing scenario, are the best we can hope to achieve,
Despite two new baseball stadiums and a basketball arena, New York City’s appetite for sports venues has seemingly not been sated as rumors are swirling of Major League Soccer’s interest in Queens. Looking to expand into New York City proper, the U.S. professional soccer league has its eye on a parcel of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and although these plans have a long way to go, the MTA has a role to play yet.
Stories and support for a Queens soccer stadium have been percolating out of Albany for much of the summer. The story took off earlier this week when Fredric Dicker of The Post ran a piece relying heavily on a few anonymous sources. MLS, he alleged, is nearing a deal for the stadium. The catch is that the city would have to give up at least nine acres of park land in Flushing Meadows, and the MTA would have to sell some of the land it owns near the LIRR tracks and Corona Yard.
According to Dicker’s sources, the $300 million stadium would be entirely privately funded, and already, I am growing skeptical. Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, built a few years ago, cost around $250 million and takes up over 12 acres. It’s a 25,000-seater that is rarely full. Will MLS not require tax breaks as the Yanks and Mets did with their supposedly privately funded stadiums? (The Mets, of course, have raised an entirely different set of issues as the Wilpons are not keen on surrendering parking for any Willets Point developments to a soccer stadium.)
For a full round-up of the political issues surrounding any such stadium, check out Neil deMause’s takedown in The Village Voice. As MLS officials subsequently noted, it could be years before a stadium rises in the park, and talks should be characterized as “exploratory.”
So what’s the MTA’s role in this mess? They own some of the land MLS is eying for the stadium. As two Daily News writers noted yesterday (in a piece in which they sadly called the MTA the “Metropolitan Transit Authority”), city and state officials in Albany will require adequate replacement parkland should the nine acres vanish, and they could call upon the MTA to cede such land. The MTA and local politicians though have a different view of it.
“We’ve got to find land in roughly the same area,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of the parkland. “There is land on an MTA site, which everybody said, ‘Let’s get that.’ I have not talked to Joe Lhota, and I don’t know how practical it is, and how much Joe needs that land for other things. Before we go spending or taking away Joe Lhota’s land, maybe we should ask him.”
Dana Rubinstein of Capital New York did just that, and Lhota, a fierce defender of his realm, will not give MTA land for nothing. “If we have a piece of property that’s not determined to be used for a future transit need and we own it and it’s available yes, we’re in the business of shedding assets to help us financially,” he said. “And under the law we can sell assets as long as it’s a fair market value.”
For years, we’ve watched a parade of MTA higher-ups sell off authority land for next to nothing. The sweetheart deal the Authority gave Bruce Ratner for his Atlantic Yards development has rankled politicians and Brooklynites for years, and even the Hudson Yards deal had to be further incentivized for the MTA to realize any money. Lhota though seems to get what’s at stake. The MTA isn’t in a position to give up its assets without drawing value for them, and if the time comes to sell some land in Queens for a soccer stadium, the MTA should maximize its revenue. That day though may be a long time coming.
Remember Karen Koslowitz, the City Council representative from Queens? A few weeks ago, she railed against the Rockaway Beach Branch line and the various plans to reactivate it. She was awfully vehement in her defense as well.
“It will affect the neighborhood in an extremely negative way,” she said. “The train will burden residents who have built their homes close to those tracks. We cannot allow another train to come through our neighborhood. It’s an intrusion on private property.”
As we know, the Rockaway Beach Branch line came up in relation to the now-dead plan to build a casino in Ozone Park. As one of the many proposed transportation improvements that would benefit both the casino and the Rockaways, rail advocates had pushed an unlikely plan to restore service to this idle right of way, and Koslowitz did not like it.
But now that the casino is dead, and with it, a chance to redevelop part of Queens and lots of jobs, what does Koslowitz think? “Queens is being shafted all the time,” she said earlier this week to The Times. “Other boroughs are getting things. They are promised and it happens.”
Maybe other boroughs get things because they want things. While the Second Ave. Subway has been disruptive to the East Side, most people recognize the need for it. Meanwhile, Manhattan has embraced its various projects, and although the battle has been a raucous one, Brooklyn too will soon have its own infrastructure upgrades and fair share of new projects. In Queens, even redevelopment a bunch of chop shops in the shadows of Citi Field has been a battle.
Meanwhile, Queens advocates say they are going to keep fighting. But as Dana Rubinstein, just as some Queens politicians such as Assembly rep Phillip Goldfeder were lining up behind the project, the rug was yanked from underneath the dormant rail line. The Rockaway Beach Branch line will lie fallow, and rails-to-trails advocates will try once again to make sure that we forever lose the transit option.
Eventually, if New Yorkers want something — infrastructure, transportation improvements — they will have to be reflective about it, and they will have to question their political choices. We cannot have politicians who want all of the benefits of a new project without giving up something. In this case, the ask wasn’t even particularly onerous, but representatives such as Koslowitz couldn’t even accept that. Living in a city — a thriving urban area — is about trade-offs, and transportation improvements benefit everyone even if a handful of people may have to live with a train running in the distance.