Home Asides Emerging New York Architects set to launch QueensWay competition

Emerging New York Architects set to launch QueensWay competition

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Chet August 15, 2013 - 12:43 pm

I wish I were an architect…(Actually, I wanted to be a civil engineer- but my math abilities seem to limited to counting.)

Anyway, if I were, I’d submit my proposal for The QueensWay… a rather unusual park. It would have several intermittent parklike area with seating and maybe some sculpture. To move between the different areas there would be this amazing machine that ran of steel tracks that could whisk hundreds of people at a time up and down the QueensWay. As an added bonus, this machine would also take park visitors to other places away from this strip of park… to places like Manhattan or Jamaica or the Rockaways.

If my mathematics abilities were as strong as my sarcasm, I might have actually become an engineer.

Bolwerk August 15, 2013 - 2:13 pm

This is a great idea. Somebody really should submit a simplistic rail proposal to troll these clowns. Just a modestly landscaped ROW with some simple concrete slab stations. You know, the kind of thing that will do good for the 95% of people who will never care about a park and will have no input into this process.

It makes a somewhat subversive point about overbuilding with regard to transit expansion too. Probably the absolute best way to start Rockaway service would be a 2- or 3-car shuttle with POP fare collection (sort of like on SBS). If it grows enough where more sophisticated fare collection is called for, that can be changed.

Peter B. August 15, 2013 - 1:09 pm

Look, if the rail proponents want a study, or a competition, great go do the hard work to justify the need and interest for it. This “highly connected” rubbish really drives me crazy. We started out as just a bunch of local residents with an idea. We only made connections after we studied and proposed and presented to people all over the place. Instead of trying to piggy back on our efforts, and whining every time we get good press or come up with an interesting approach to promoting our proposal, encourage the rail proponents to do more than just chant “rail is best” over and over. I love trains, I want more. But 3 times this has been passed over for reactivation. The land is now owned by the City not the MTA and 20 acres of park land have already been mapped on it together with parking lots and other leased uses. The opposition to it is huge. Meanwhile the MTA budget simply isn’t there, nor has the agency expressed any interest. And the Rockaway stations have – as a group – the lowest ridership in the entire system. Plus their are other transportation options to be explored – including biking on the QueensWay, which really needs some recognition instead of this close-minded automatic rebuff it gets here and on other train blogs. So do the hard work of actually showing the ridership would be there, the communities would support it, etc. Before we got any attention we did the hard work of researching how these areas are some of the least served by parks in the entire City. We showed how many people live nearby and what the connections would be to a park and a bikeway. And we have been presenting at schools and civic organizations, most of whom we have met with support us. Not to mention the much larger petition numbers. It was that hard work that got us recognition and contacts. If the train supporters cannot pull off the same, then why should they get a 4th study and why should young planners and engineers spend their time looking at reactivation?

Peter Beadle

I am a member of Friends of the QueensWay, though what I express here are my own thoughts.

VLM August 15, 2013 - 1:12 pm

It’s always so fun to see what happens when a group gets cold water tossed on its hot idea! Come on now, Peter. Friends of the QueensWay is run by CB members who don’t want a rail line running through backyards of theirs that encroach on a train ROW. It’s a completely imbalanced process. And signing up Benape, a former Bloomberg official, is icing on the cake.

Recent studies have shown that reactivation would be warranted. Let’s get one that’s official from the state or MTA. All it takes is money.

Peter B. August 15, 2013 - 1:21 pm

Most of us are not CB members and I wasn’t until well after I got involved in the process. And none of us have backyards on the ROW. I was just a local guy, living in an apartment with no greenspace and two kids who like to bike and noticed this abandoned property full of trash. I would love to see the studies you are talking about, because I haven’t seen them at all. And how is it an imbalanced process? Rail supporters have Goldfedder and a couple Congressmen supporting them, so this “powerfully supported” narrative is really bizarre. Stop portraying us as elitists. We are community people who want a beautiful park and bikeway for our families. And of course money is key. That is why I support the QueensWay. There is no money for rail on that line. I am not choosing between rail or a park, I am choosing between a park and a bike transit trail over another 50 years of abandoned junk yard.

Bolwerk August 15, 2013 - 2:07 pm

Cuomo blindly stole our tax dollars and let them go to funding a “study” that with the goal of blindly encouraging stealing an irreplaceable transit asset away from the entire city. That’s pretty “elitist.”

And there is plenty of money for rail on the ROW. Given that there is little or no need to actually condemn any new property, rail is about the cheapest potential use for the ROW.

Phil August 15, 2013 - 4:59 pm

Give me a break Peter. If you need this for you and your kids so badly you could just move somewhere that already has green space and enjoy it now.

There are far more commuters who would benefit from this than a couple of families who need a park for their kids. You know you could even use this reactivated line to get to other much larger parks with your kids… shocking right? Took me a few hours to think of that possibility.

Bolwerk August 15, 2013 - 5:31 pm

It’s hardly a park-starved region of Queens to begin with.

Justin Samuels August 16, 2013 - 6:29 am

But you guys are missing the point. Peter organized people who thought like him, until they built up momentum and now a Queens Way study is underway.

People who benefit from rail activation need to speak out for it and demand that? If no one is doing that, you need to organize several group of people who might be interested. Rockaways, Howard Beach, and Ozone Park residents would benefit from better transportation options provided by reactivation. Gamblers from Western and Central Queens on the Queens Boulevard line would benefit as well. People from Western and Central Queens who would like direct rail service that doesn’t involve them going through Manhattan, into Brooklyn,and back into Queens would benefit.

Peter B. August 16, 2013 - 2:53 pm

If you need a train so badly you can move somewhere with more transit options. What sort of an argument is that?

Bolwerk August 20, 2013 - 10:26 am

Will you stop with the neighborhoodism? This could be useful to hundreds of thousands or even millions of people no matter where they live in Queens or Brooklyn, and to a lesser extent the rest of the city. To say the least, it’s probably the one shot we have for a relatively cheap Midtown-JFK subway connection.

The park really does only “benefit” the people who live there, and they are unlikely to use it anyway.

Alex C August 15, 2013 - 10:19 pm

Hi there!
I remember when you trolled this blog a few months ago telling us how much *you* would like a park going through other parks. I’m sorry, but your argument is still weak. Rail service would benefit thousands, a faux high-line would benefit dozens. I’ll go with the thousands. The only sensible thing to do is subway service. Unfortunately, thanks to people like you and the community boards (which somehow manage to always get packed with SUV-driving road rage NIMBYs in every single NYC district), we might never get it. If you consult a map, you will notice there are a few large park areas in the general vicinity of this abandoned ROW. There’s a really big one called Forest Park, too.

John-2 August 15, 2013 - 2:50 pm

The plan would create a park roughly three times the length of the High Line (i.e. — three times the area to maintain), in an area that, given all the already-existing parkland, has maybe 25 percent of the population density in the immediate area of 10th Avenue in Manhattan.

So bigger cost for smaller benefit. At the very least, park backers should consider a shorter option that would dig out and deck the rail line in the northern section of the Rockway Branch, so those north of Union Turnpike could still get their park option without depriving everyone else of improved rail service through south-central Queens.

Toby Sheppard Bloch August 15, 2013 - 5:40 pm

I’m pretty disappointed with the tone of commentary here about the Queensway. We are all advocates of livable streets and sustainable transportation. Arranging ourselves in a circular firing squad does nothing but allow the forces of status quo to do nothing.

I also think making the ROW a useful rail link is more complicated that some assume–the line was closed for lack of ridership, and while things have changed, lots has not. Many of my neighbors (yes, I live near the ROW) drive east to work, or work in the Bronx or far out parts of Queens and Brooklyn with poor transit on the other end, so it’s not as if every commuter within miles would just jump on.

VLM August 15, 2013 - 5:48 pm

If a lot of your neighbors work in transit-poor areas, why would you advocate for dismantling a rail right-of-way and turning it over to a park that won’t see enough usage to justify the construction costs, let alone the annual maintenance?

Toby Sheppard Bloch August 15, 2013 - 6:27 pm

I said many neighbors _work_ in transit poor areas. While I don’t have excellent transit where I am, I’m a couple miles from the M, F, R, and E, plus LIRR and J. The A also serves part of the area the ROW traverses.

I think there are strength and weaknesses in both ideas. They serve different purposes, and that is fine. What isn’t fine is letting a public resource sit fallow for another 50 years.

We don’t really know how many people would ride a train or use a park–I suspect there would be plenty of users for either.

Alex C August 15, 2013 - 10:23 pm

I think there’s plenty of parkland there.
This high-line-wannabe isn’t going to draw tourists; because the real High Line park already exists in Manhattan.

Peter B. August 16, 2013 - 2:56 pm

It is not a Highline wannabe. Really a quite different idea. And the three Community Boards it runs through are some of the least served by parks in the city. Instead of staring at Google Maps and counting either inaccessible park land or cemeteries, do the actual park research which shows that per capita this section of Queens has very low parkland.

Benjamin Kabak August 16, 2013 - 2:59 pm

It is most definitely a High Line wannabe. If it’s not, then Friends of QueensWay should work on the image they’ve been presenting for a few years now.

Peter B. August 16, 2013 - 3:01 pm

Others have foisted that image on us. From inception we have been describing something much more akin to the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, or Hudson River Park and its bikeway than the Highline. The Highline is pretty, but not very functional. I want somewhere I can bike, walk, jog, walk my dog, play frisbee, eat. You can’t do most of those things on the Highline. This would be a functional extension of living space for people in Queens.

Nyland8 August 17, 2013 - 11:23 am

Nobody will be playing frisbee on a bike path. And it isn’t likely there’ll be much eating there either. You’re talking about much wider parklands.

That said, developing greenways may be laudable, but assuming that previous studies somehow account for recent changes in population density, growing development, increased need for inter-connectability, changing demographics, etc, is short-sighted. If equivalent studies that passed over reactivation several times had been done before the building of the 7 Line, or many existing subway lines, they would have never been built.

In a time of tight money, surrendering any viable inner-city RR ROW to formal recreational use seems myopic in the extreme.

Peter B. August 16, 2013 - 2:59 pm

I am not advocating dismantling a rail right of way. It is not a rail right of way and hasn’t beenone for 50 years since it was sold to the City. It has been dismantled and either leased for other purposes or is sitting idle collecting garbage. No rail operator has any claim to it at the moment. Since there is no reasonable reason to believe that all that dismantling will be reversed anytime soon I am advocating installing a bike corridor and park to provide transportation and greenspace to 250,000 people in the immediate area and millions more in easy reach.

Benjamin Kabak August 16, 2013 - 3:01 pm

Just curious: Who do you think owns the subway system and all of its ROWs?

Peter B. August 16, 2013 - 3:02 pm

Most are owned by MTA, as this once was.

Benjamin Kabak August 16, 2013 - 3:04 pm

Nope. The city’s subways are all owned by the city of New York and leased to the MTA for operations. That’s why city ownership of this ROW doesn’t cancel the fact that it’s originally a rail ROW. It could be leased to the MTA for operations very easily.

Peter B. August 16, 2013 - 3:11 pm

Fair enough. Doesn’t change anything really. Still need to show ridership, funding, survival of lawsuits, park alienation for the 20 acres already mapped, etc. Nor does it change my original statement that we are not dismantling a railroad ROW. It hasn’t been one for 50 years and it does not contain a single piece of working rail infrastructure on it. We can go in circles all day on this. If I thought realistically a train in this corridor would work I ‘d be pushing it, but neither my own investigation, nor a single thing I have seen any rail advocate on this or other forums has convinced me otherwise (the ad hominem attacks were particularly unpersuasive) We can all chant “Trains! Trains! Trains!” until we are blue in the face. I don’t see it happening. I do see a bike trail that will connect all the subway lines that Toby mentions above, with shopping on 7 major shopping streets and 14 schools and 6 neighborhoods, so I am going to get that done instead of letting the pit fill with more garbage while bemoaning the good old days when rail was given the respect it deserves.

Toby Sheppard Bloch August 17, 2013 - 1:00 pm

Agreed Peter. Honestly, rail reactivation would be wonderful for me (I’m a block from a likely stop) and would have a material impact on the value of my home, and more than half my trip to Manhattan.

This ROW, like any other, is a public good. If it can be used for rail, then that is likely the highest utility for the asset. But it makes no sense to let ROW’s sit unused for 50, or 100 years and not use them for something else.

Absent a sensible (and viable) scheme for reactivation, rail advocates are suggesting this ROW ought lay fallow in perpetuity, which makes no sense.

But again, we are all much closer than further, as indicated by favorable comments by Peter and myself about rail use. Why Benjamin and the commenters here feel the need to be glib and dismissive is beyond me. Advocates of better transportation and livable streets need to build coalitions with eachother, not defining themselves in opposition to eachother if they want to be effective.

Bolwerk August 16, 2013 - 1:35 am

Behl. I’m sure many of your neighbors do all kinds of things, while many people who are not your neighbors, and would never stop in your neighborhood, would find a reactivated Rockaway very useful.

New York is at least as rail-starved as it is park-starved. And, sorry, but being anti-rail revokes pretty much all your sustainability cred and seriously calls into question a commitment to livable streets.

Toby Sheppard Bloch August 21, 2013 - 4:41 pm

I’m not anti rail, never said I was. We are talking about the same ROW, that has lay fallow for 50 years, for which there is no credible/serious proposal to reactivate, right?

And in light of recent events, I’m not convinced adding rail capacity to the Rockaways (and encouraging development) really falls into the sustainable category.


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