Archive for Queens

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.

Categories : Queens
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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.

Categories : Asides, Queens
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The Roosevelt Island Tram, extended. (Via Next New York)

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.”

Categories : Manhattan, Queens
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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.

Categories : Queens
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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.

Categories : Asides, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens
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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.

Categories : Asides, Queens
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Is this the future of the Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way? (Courtesy of WXY Architecture)

Throughout the debate over the future of the unused LIRR Rockabway Beach Branch right-of-way, I’ve frequently returned to a point about branding. While many QueensWay proponents understand the difference between the proposed greenspace in Queens and the High Line, media coverage has trumpeted the park as a High Line in Queens, and considering the popularity of the High Line, few Friends of the QueensWay are rushing to issue a correction.

The QueensWay, though, isn’t the High Line for reasons relating to geographic and population. Chelsea was the ideal place for a successful elevated park. It was already a tourist destination and already an expensive and popular neighborhood. The corridor from Rego Park to Ozone Park is, as New York City neighborhoods go, off the beaten track. It’s not in the guidebooks, and the residents are fine with that. It’s not as densely populated as the High Line area and not as well trafficked.

That’s the point made in a post on The Architect’s Newspaper today. Don’t call it a High Line, says B. Tyler Silvestro. He writes:

The proposal calls for the connection of ecologies to be the guiding framework. “QueensWay with sensitive design can become a critical artery of green open space for a diverse, vibrant community, offering opportunities for recreation, education, community gathering, and ecological productivity to our great city,” said dlandstudio’s Susannah Drake in a statement. Claire Weisz, principal at WXY agreed, “This study is an important next step in making the vision of reclaiming the QueensWay as a green connector and cultural corridor a reality.”

What they did not see was the High Line. The skyrocketing real estate value surrounding Manhattan’s famed elevated park is not the anticipated outcome of a park in Queens. Nor is it the intention. Both Rego Park and Ozone Park (neither of which are parks) are sorely lacking open space, and it is TPL’s ambition that the QueensWay will bring needed green space and more. “Boosting the local economy, activating abandoned and unsafe property, and accommodating bicycles—all with the goal of improving quality of life and connecting diverse neighborhoods.”

It’s a key distinction in the debate over the future of the right-of-way. Creating greenspace and bike infrastructure is a laudable goal; restoring rail service too would be a laudable goal. But converting the ROW into a park without ensuring that rail is impossible must take priority, and that means recognizing that QueensWay won’t, can’t be and shouldn’t be a High Line for a different borough. It serves a more functional purpose but so does rail. Balancing the two complementary and competing uses is a tricky proposition.

Categories : Queens
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During Thursday night’s Public Advocate debate, three of the five candidates expressed their support for subway naming rights deals. I don’t know why the other two were so hesitant, but Tish James, Daniel Squadron and Sidique Wai all said they would support such deals. This is hardly a controversial position to take, but it’s one that requires a partner. New Yorkers can support naming rights until the cows come home, but if no one is buying them, what’s the point?

Over the past few years, I’ve detailed repeated attempts by, well, every transit agency around to sell station naming rights, and successes have been few and far between. At some point, I’m going to put together a master list of every agency that wants to sell naming rights with a glimpse at those that have been successful. As you can imagine, the former far out-number the latter.

Naming rights in New York City entered the fray a few weeks ago when the MTA put forward an official policy on assessing these deals. The agency’s annual take from naming rights is $200,000, but now they have a plan should someone come knocking. And lo and behold, someone has sort of come knocking. That someone is the Resorts World New York casino out in Queens.

The casino, the first of its kind within the boroughs of New York, is located near the Aqueduct Racetrack stop on the A train. For years, that stop has not been a crown jewel of the system. Decrepit and open only in one direction and also only sometimes, the station is a far cry from, well, anywhere. Its neighbor to the south is the Howard Beach station that feeds weary travelers to JFK Airport, and it was purely functional.

As part of its entry into New York, though, the casino funded a $15 million station renovation. The Resorts World SkyBridge is the centerpiece of this work. It’s a covered passageway that offers, as the casino put it in a press release, “an enclosed, temperature-controlled, direct path between the casino and the station.” Furthermore, the station — on the northbound side — is now a 24/7 stop. Some Ozone Park residents don’t need to take the 1500-foot walk to the next stop, and casino-goers can buy a MetroCard in the Resort World gift shop before boarding the A train.

Jose Martinez of NY1 was at the opening, and he reported that Resorts World is interested in securing some naming rights to this station. As politicians are hoping that the MTA will consider building a platform on the Rockaway-bound side of this station, casino officials want their name on the renovated stop. “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. “We definitely want it done.”

If this deal is completed, it could set a potential model for future engagements in New York. A private entity right near a subway stop — and, in fact, one of the main reasons for people to use this subway stop — helped fund the renovation and wants naming rights as well. That’s the ideal situation. How many of those opportunities exist throughout the city though? Probably a few, but nearly as many as politicians eager for more revenue would like.

Categories : Queens
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The powerfully connected proponents of the QueensWay — a misguided plan to turn the Rockaway Beach Branch ROW into a park — are pulling out all the stops as they forge forward with their plans. Earlier this week, an email from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects arrived in my inbox trumpeted the annual AIANY Emerging New York Architects design competition, and the subject is the QueensWay. On August 22, ENYA will launch the 2014 version of its biennial contest that calls upon young architects to design “a viable green space” for the park.

In literature associated with the competition’s upcoming launch, ENYA refers to the QueensWay as “an abandoned elevated railway snaking through some of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in central and southern Queens.” The contest will focus around designs that “include a strong connection between the proposed elevated park and the adjacent urban fabric below” in an effort to create “a community hub which extends the street activity up to the future park.” In the past, QueensWay proponents have seemingly wanted to remove activity from the street into the future park.

Now, this competition, led up by Adrian Benepe, former Parks Department head Senior Vice President of The Trust for Public Land and representatives of Friends of the QueensWay, is all well and good, but where’s the competing rail contest? The need to consider some rail connection via the Rockaway Beach Branch Line is evident, and Albany voices have been calling for a study for months. Maybe such a study would show a clear need and way forward for the restoration of rail service; maybe a study would show that rail service is unnecessary and impractical. Either way, before we proclaim the QueensWay the future, the rail study must go forward.

Ultimately, ENYA’s contest is a failure in creativity before it begins. It’s convenient for them to support the QueensWay, but imagine what a bunch of young architects could design if the task involved putting forward a proposal for rail as well. A future-forward vision of rail for young designers is exactly would this project needs. The Queensway, well, that will look just like any other rails-to-trails park.

Categories : Asides, Queens
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Over the past few years, I’ve wholeheartedly embraced the MTA’s countdown clocks. Despite a seemingly interminable wait for technology that leading international subways have enjoyed for years, Transit finally figured out how to introduce a modern technology into its 100-year-old system, and now we never have to guess when the next 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or L train is coming. But what of the rest?

While the lettered lines are still years away from a countdown clock solution, one sliver of Queens is getting something resembling next train information today. As the Daily News first reported, five stations along the BMT Astoria Line — 39th Ave., 36th Ave., Broadway, 30th Ave. and Astoria Blvd. — will soon enjoy the MTA’s next-train announcements. These are audio messages broadcast into each station that proclaims a train one or two stations away. Decidedly low-tech, they allow passengers some measure of relief, but I’ve never been too convinced of their utility.

The system that will go live today in Astoria is the one in place at a few other stations. The BMT platform formerly known as Pacific St. has these announcements, and the IND level at Columbus Circle enjoys this system too. It’s not the most useful though. As Donohue notes, the audio announcements will not specify whether the next train is an N or Q, and it’s unclear how much advanced warning these systems give. As Queens riders note, it’s better than nothing.

My problem with this system is the lack of information. As opposed to offering something useful, the MTA here is providing a service that doesn’t deliver the key information. What train is arriving is equally as important, if not more so, than when that train is arriving. At Pacific St., the announcements simply talk of an arriving local or an express train one station away. That’s fine if you don’t care what train you’re taking, but except for Herald Square-bound passengers, everyone else wants to know if the next train is a D or an N. Columbus Circle suffers from the same problem. I want to know if a C or B is next because I need one and have no use for the other.

In Astoria, that problem is mitigated a bit. Most riders who board in Astoria don’t care if an N or a Q is next. Few of them are heading to the reaches of Brooklyn far from Queens where the N and Q diverge. It will be a relief for riders whose only way of trying to guess where the next train is involves peering down the elevated tracks. Still, these announcements can end up as noise pollution if they’re warning only of trains one or two (visible) stations away.

Meanwhile, according to the MTA, a countdown clock solution for the IND and BMT subway lines is still three to five years away. That’s a long time to wait, and I’m glad my nearest subway lines have countdown clocks. From the Subway Time API functionality to the in-system clocks, this technology has made waiting more tolerable and trip-planning easier. When these — and not just audio announcements — are available system-wide, the age-old New York complaint involving endlessly waiting for the subway may just go up in smoke. For now, though, the next Manhattan-bound train will be two stations away.

Categories : MTA Technology, Queens
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