Archive for QueensWay

Flashy renderings of the Queensway have captured the attention of The Times. (Via Friends of the Queensway, WXYand DLANDStudio)

Flashy renderings of the Queensway have captured the attention of The Times. (Via Friends of the Queensway, WXYand DLANDStudio)

When I first wrote about the plans to turn the LIRR’s old Rockaway Beach Branch back in 2011, I never imagined it would become a major rift issues for otherwise-civil transit advocates. Of course, considering how I framed that first post — as a referendum on the finality of a rail trail vs. rail reactivation — I should have seen this coming. Now groups that usually fight for better transit, pedestrian and biking infrastructure are going at each other over a $120 million plan to build a High Line equivalent deep in the heart of Queens. All I want is some intellectual honesty.

As I mentioned in early November, I don’t know if the rail line is the right answer, and I don’t know if a park is the right answer. I find it hard to believe, based on geography, demographics and overall transit needs, that a park would trump rail all things being equal, but while we’ve gotten a park study funded by the pro-parks side, the pro-rail study was more of a school project sponsored, nobly so, by Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder. The numbers out of that study proclaimed 500,000 daily riders — almost too exorbitant to be believed — and no independent engineering group has been commissioned to give equal assessment to either option. That’s what I want.

Meanwhile, The Times is not only content with how the story has played out; they’ve decided to throw their editorial weight behind the QueensWay. In a piece published Saturday, rivaling Cuomo and Christie in their attempts at burying the lede, the Gray Lady wrote one of the worst argued editorials I’ve read in some time. The whole thing is a maddening read, but let’s take a look at the worst offenders:

The question is not whether a new park in Queens is a good idea. It’s a spectacular one. The question is whether it is a better idea than a less-flashy alternative — reviving the rail line so people in Queens, particularly in the Rockaways, can get to work without creeping along congested boulevards in cars and buses, or taking the hour-plus ride to Midtown on the A train…

Of the two tantalizing possibilities — rail or trail — trail now has the upper hand. A half-million-dollar study, released in October, resoundingly affirms the foregone conclusion of the national conservation group that commissioned it, the Trust for Public Land. It found that the QueensWay would be a boon to the borough, transforming a humdrum stretch of residential-commercial-industrial-whatever with the sylvan graciousness that the High Line brought to the West Side of Manhattan, but on a far bigger scale. It would open a walk-and-bike gateway to another big park, Forest Park, that is now dangerously hemmed in by roadways.

The study tallied other benefits: fewer traffic fatalities, better flood control, cleaner air, fitter New Yorkers and new commercial and cultural amenities. As new parks go, it would be relatively cheap — about $120 million.

The rail idea has no counterpart study, but it has its advocates, like Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, whose district includes the Rockaways. They say it’s foolish to give up an existing right of way in a part of the borough so starved for mass transit. They have a point, but they may be understating the difficulty of reviving those rails for trains. Of the QueensWay’s 47 acres, seven are parkland. If the city, which owns the land, was to return it to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for transit, it would have to find replacement parkland somewhere else. Then there is the question of when the M.T.A. would get to this capital project, which would be one of many on its overflowing, underfunded to-do list.

The likeliest answer is never. The M.T.A.’s capital plan is only half-funded; the agency is strapped by debt and is hard-pressed to protect the infrastructure it has.

First, there is the use of the adjective “less-flashy” as a way to describe rail. Immediately, The Times has relegated something they admit will improve commutes for thousands as less flashy than a park that won’t even be open 24 hours a day. If avoiding “creeping along congested boulevards” is considered less flashy that some fancy renderings, count me in.

Next comes my favorite line in any Times editorial: “A half-million-dollar study, released in October, resoundingly affirms the foregone conclusion of the national conservation group that commissioned it.” Read that again and soak in its absurdity. The basis for The Times’ pro-park argument is a biased study that shockingly affirmed the views of the biased group that paid half a million New York taxpayer dollars for it. If anything, that should be a reason to doubt the pro-QueensWay rhetoric, not line up in support of it.

Next the price tag: Somehow, a $120 million new park is cheap. The most expensive linear park in New York City cost $150 million and was funded in large part through private donations. No one has even bothered to discuss how the QueensWay project would get off the ground with the support of the same group of wealthy patrons who, for better or worse, rammed the High Line through Chelsea. No matter what, $120 million for an area rife with parks it can’t adequately maintain today is not cheap, and the idea of using value capture that helped fund the Hudson River or Brooklyn Bridge Parks is as controversial to the neighborhood NIMBYs as rail reactivation is.

Finally, we arrive at the criticism of the MTA. When will the MTA get to it, The Times asks. Why aren’t they interested, say QueensWay proponents. Of course, in recent history, the city doesn’t wait for the MTA to do something; rather, interested parties deliver the dollars, and the MTA gets to work. Chuck Schumer got money for 2nd Ave., and Mayor Bloomberg funded the 7 line. The 9/11 recovery fund built the Fulton St. Transit Center, and George Pataki delivered dollars for East Side Access. Imagine if the QueensWay proponents had lined up political and economic support for rail reactivation instead of the park. It would be a much more likely outcome.

Ultimately, The Times betrays itself in its conclusion when it notes “the rare chance to plug a spectacular park into a densely built streetscape that really needs it.” A densely built streetscape needs transit not a park “plugged” through it. All I want is a fair study by an independent group that gives equal air time to the park and the rail. That seems too much to ask once The Times gets seduced by that flashy park.

Ed. Note: I’ve updated this post with a rendering from The Queensway’s presentation. The use of an ENYA design was misleading and distracting from the content of this post.

Categories : Queens
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Over the last few years, a rift has emerged between the well-funded QueensWay proponents and the well-intentioned advocates calling for a reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Branch. It’s either one or the other with the political muscle in the form of money from the Governor and the voice of formers Parks Commission Adrian Benepe backing the rails-to-trails side while Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder has been the lone politician trying to keep the hopes for rail alive.

As anyone who’s read my thoughts on this topic knows, I’ve been a supporter of the Rockaway Beach Branch reactivation effort but with a twist. I’m not entirely sold on the idea, but I’m much more against turning over a dormant rail right-of-way to parks advocates without a full study assessing the rail option. We need to know the costs, the potential ridership and impact on Queens and the work that would go into restoring rail before we decide that some über-expensive park in a relatively isolated area of Queens is the way to go.

But what if we can have both? And shouldn’t we be as willing to study all uses of the right-of-way as certain factions are to embrace a park? That’s the argument transit historian and former LIRR manager Andrew Sparberg makes in the Daily News this week. He writes:

A rail line could serve thousands of people per hour. A walking and cycling trail won’t serve those kinds of numbers, but it would still give the community the benefits of a new greenway. What might be the best approach is to research the feasibility of both land uses in the same corridor, before it’s too late — why not incorporate rail transit and a recreational trail together?

…The debated piece of land for this right of way, which has been owned by the city since 1952, now resembles a small forest. Some of it lies atop an embankment. Much environmental study and engineering work, including bridge repairs, would be needed if any re-use occurs. Only an extensive engineering survey can reveal what can or cannot be built, but any proposal should study the feasibility of both a new two track subway route and a greenway. In many areas, the right of way appears wide enough for both uses. Innovative construction techniques and designs could permit trains and people safely side by side.

If this line is completed, Queens would gain its first true north-south subway route, giving Rockaway and southwest Queens easy subway access to Forest Hills, Rego Park, Jamaica, Citi Field, and the Arthur Ashe tennis stadium without long roundabout trips through Brooklyn and Manhattan, or long bus rides. Transfers to the J line could be provided at jamaica Ave., where the LIRR once had a station called Brooklyn Manor. Rockaway, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Woodhaven would have a second, more direct option for travel to and from Midtown Manhattan. Whatever the final outcome, the time to do a real study of reactivating rail transit and providing a recreational trail on the abandoned line, is now.

The QueensWay fight has pitted folks who are usually on the same side of the transit/livable streets/park advocacy debate against each other, but Sparberg wants to bridge that gap. Perhaps we should give him a listen.

Categories : Queens
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Some folks stroll along the virtual QueensWay. (Rendering via WXY architecture + urban design and DLANDStudio Architecture & Landscape Architecture)

Thanks for bearing with me over the last few days. I’ve started a new job, and time was at a premium earlier this week. I’ve missed some big news though as someone smoke-bombed Bar Pitti by popping out of an emergency access grate just south of the West 4th St. subway station and Transit Wireless is set to unveil subway cell service at nearly 30 stations in Queens. I’ll cover that in due time, but tonight, we talk about the QueensWay.

Earlier this week, the folks behind the QueensWay — some CB heads in Queens, the Trust for Public Land, formers Parks Department head Adrian Benepe — unveiled a snazzy new website and the results of their state-funded study regarding the proposal to turn the defunct Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way into a 3.5-mile park. They’ve designed something that they keep referring to as the High Line of Queens. It will supposedly have space for ample pedestrian pathways and a two-way bike lane; it will cost at least $125 million; and around 1 million people per year — 250,000 from outside of the area — will visit.

In a vacuum, it’s not a terrible idea. The costs are high; for only $25 million less than what it cost to build two phases of the High Line, the QueensWay would draw in around 3 million fewer visitors per year. But the renderings sure are nice, and Queens needs the to improve alternate transportation modes on a route that parallels Woodhaven Boulevard. But planning doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I’d rather see the city reimagine Woodhaven itself, and the RBBL ROW offers the city a unique opportunity to take advantage of a rail ROW through a neighborhood that badly needs high-speed transit connections. (Just look at the completely unironic Subway Links section of the website.) Unfortunately, no one as powerful as the Trust for Public Land or Benepe, let alone Gov. Cuomo who funded the latest round of renderings, is backing rail reactivation.

Over the past few days, a lot of voices have come out against the QueensWay plan. Assembly member Phil Goldfeder, one of the few politicians skeptical of the park, released his own statement:

The Queensway and Trust for Public Land have wasted taxpayer dollars on expensive, out of state consultants and one-sided studies that don’t actually represent the interests or needs of Queens families. Elected officials and community leaders from every part of the borough and as far as Manhattan have expressed full support for the complete restoration of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line and increased transit options.

In a few weeks, the Queens College Department of Urban Studies will release its own comprehensive and objective study, done by local scholars, faculty and students. I am confident that this new independent study will reflect the true needs of Queens residents and small businesses. Our growing coalition, including the MTA, will continue the fight to expand transit in Queens while easing commutes, creating jobs, cleaning the environment and expanding our economic development.

Gothamist too issued a takedown of the Queensway, echoing arguments I’ve made in the past. To me, though, there are two distinct problems with QueensWay. The first is that the people in the area and those arguing for it don’t really want it. Everyone keeps calling it the High Line of Queens as though that’s a net positive, but a non-insignificant portion of Manhattanites feel that the High Line isn’t what they wanted New York to become. It’s become a tourist trap and a high-end condo trap. Long-time residents and business have become priced out of what has become a very exclusive neighborhood. Even as I stray into NIMBY territory, divorce yourself from that Manhattan experience, and imagine it in Queens. It just wouldn’t fly.

But worse is the way this area needs rail. The MTA vaguely committed to RBBL reactivation in its 20-year needs assessment, but the project has no fiscal champion. As we’ve learned, if someone delivers money, the MTA will deliver a project. If the RBBL becomes a park, no matter how much we spend on that park, it will never be rail. When or if an impartial study says rail reactivation is a definite impossibility that no one would use, we can turn it over to the QueensWay. For now, though, this artery preserved for rail from the Rockaways to Queens Boulevard is too important to give up. It’s a shame that advocates who are usually on the same side have wound up fighting each other over this plan, but the choices we make now with regards to this 3.5-mile ROW will reverberate for decades.

Categories : Queens
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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.

* * *

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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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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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.

Categories : Asides, Queens
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A school bus parking lot has overtaken the Rockaway Beach Branch ROW at the Atlantic Ave. intersection.

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:

  1. The QueensWay should be built only on the part of the rail line that stretches from Rego Park to Park Lane South.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

Categories : Queens
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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.

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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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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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