Home Queens Link: Why the QueensWay isn’t the High Line

Link: Why the QueensWay isn’t the High Line

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Walt Gekko August 22, 2013 - 2:32 pm

This is where if I were running Genting (which runs the Casino at Aqueduct), I would make it clear that I would be willing to help pay to have the former LIRR tracks converted to subway as was originally intended with as I would do it a revived (W) train running from Whitehall Street, through the tunnel and replacing the (R) along Queens Boulevard (with the (R) returned to its old Queens terminal in Astoria and swapping Brooklyn terminals with the (D) so the (R) has direct access to a yard since the (D) has Concourse Yard), with the (W) then running along the rebuilt LIRR tracks to Rockaway Park. This would give Casino patrons on Broadway and parts of northern Queens easier access to get to Aqueduct while giving those in the Rockaways improved service as well as providing an additional route to JFK airport.

What is not mentioned is the real reason some are against reactivating the tracks for subway use, and it isn’t the noise: From what I have read elsewhere, apparently some homes and backyards and businesses were illegally extended onto the ROW and would be forced out if the line were re-activated for rail usage. That as I understand is the real reason some either way “Queensway” or nothing done at all.

Walt Gekko August 22, 2013 - 2:37 pm

Neglected to mention in the first post I wrote it like that since by the time this were done, the SAS would be open and the (Q) would be going to 96th Street.

Robert LaMarca August 22, 2013 - 3:02 pm

Just a thought, since an architecture group is running a competition forl designs for this park, why not do the same or similar but for rail?

proposals for any use could be considered, but rail would have to be included

marv August 22, 2013 - 3:40 pm

Compromise(even if it is a dirty world in era of a dysfunctional congress):

Some ideas:

*returned to rail use
*no service between 10pm and 6am for a period of 10-30 years
*neighborhood parking passes for those living near stations to that they are still able to park
*rail – include such bicycle friendly features as: bike friendly trains, gates that bikes can get through with ramps to the street, and ample bike parking/bike sharing facilities near stations

Woodhaven Blvd: reduced by one lane in each direction creating a 2 lane wide bike path plus. – Buses in the rush hour direction to be allowed to use one these two lane during rush hour only. Rebuild the blvd to high esthetic level

Near by: Funding for green street and “mini parks”

In other words, something for everyone. Then let’s have a contest to see how we best design all features to enhance the quality of life of the locals while still providing valuable corridors toward the center of Queens.

Phantom August 22, 2013 - 9:23 pm

If there’s no service after 10pm, there’s really no point to what is already a dodgy proposal?


marv August 22, 2013 - 10:38 pm

please explain.
what portion of the users would ride 10pm-6am?
many rail systems around the country shut down during these hours and at night buses can use free flowing highways to get any users into the city in reasonable if not competitive times.

compromise means something for everyone

let the people the nearby residents sleep and maybe you can get a rail line by day.

Bolwerk August 23, 2013 - 12:36 am

A properly designed, modern electrified rail line can be so quiet you can’t hear it if you’re standing next to it, something buses can’t do. “Night buses” are a significantly more expensive proposal, given there will be subway service on the lines Rockaway would feed.

Henry August 23, 2013 - 2:29 am

No subway system closes at 10pm. New York City is a 24-hour metropolis – this isn’t some backwater New England college town with an awful baseball team and stores that close as early as 7.

Phantom August 23, 2013 - 8:12 am

A 10pm shutdown would be really, really early.

Look at -any- NYC subway line and you’ll see plenty of riders at 1030 or a lot later than that. Some get off work late, some had dinner in Manhattan, etc.

A 10pm shutdown would preclude anyone who went to a night Mets or Yankees game!

Why bother?

marv August 27, 2013 - 9:12 pm

The responses are indicative of the problem.

Rather than recognizing that something needs to be given to those who are going to be adversely affected by a rail line that benefits others, and trying to come up with accommodations for them (even it the 10pm is made 11pm etc), the notion is that each person feels that their needs or perception of what is good trumps the feelings and needs of others.

My concept was for xxx amount of time service be limited at late night hours. This would accommodate both the real and feared quality of life issues of those who will otherwise hold up such a line from ever being built.

I suggested that their parking concerns be addressed – this was ignored by all who commented.

I suggested that some sort park/biking alignment be considered to partially offset what the objectors hope to get in Queensway. No one offered comments or suggestions on this as well.

Are the stances of Queensway supporters surprising light of those of the supporters of a transit line?

John-2 August 22, 2013 - 4:07 pm

With the extensive building/rebuilding either option would require, and the fact the rail route would operate on a ROW free of underground utility lines other than at cross streets, it still seems to me as if building a cut-and-cover ROW from Rego Park to Forest Park and sticking the QueensWay on top would be the best compromise.

A ribbon park of that length would be roughly the same distance as the High Line in Manhattan, and as long as the rail was connected to the IND Queens Blvd. route, it would just be a subway branch off the existing subway. The portal for the line could be south of Jamaica Avenue, so it could rise up to the embankment to meet the A tracks south of Liberty. QueensWay advocates wouldn’t get their three-mile lone park, but those south of Forest Park would be the main ones benefiting from a more direct link to midtown Manhattan (along with the Resorts World people, who’d get a rail link from Midtown East and from East and North-Central Queens).

Bolwerk August 23, 2013 - 12:39 am

If you’re going to spend that kind of money, Rockaway is just stupid. More usage would be found on Woodhaven Blvd, and you may as well use it if you’re gonna cut ‘n cover anyway.

(Cut ‘n covering an embankment sounds like a bitch anyway.)

Henry August 23, 2013 - 2:31 am

There are also overpasses on the line, so not exactly sure how you would end up cut-and-covering that without destroying the structural integrity of the overpass itself (and if you’re going too deep to do that, Woodhaven it is!)

Woodhaven has the additional benefit of being wide enough to accommodate those giant cavern stations that the MTA seems to like (they seem to not have learned the lessons of IND and 1970-era overengineering)

Brian October 22, 2013 - 11:48 pm

Why cut and cover when you could just build directly on the existing ROW? It’s 100% elevated/embankment.

BruceNY August 23, 2013 - 12:58 am

While connecting the Rockaway Branch line to the Queens Blvd. line is very appealing, I think the difficulty and costs of actually building this connection, including tunneling beneath a neighborhood between the LIRR main line & Queens Blvd. would ultimately become the deal-breaker. I believe that rebuilding the connection to the LIRR would probably cost far less, take much less time to achieve, and therefore gain more political support to find funding. The LIRR should use this route as direct access to JFK Airport, perhaps even extending tracks across the long term parking lot and into the central terminal area. A train running every 20 minutes would mean a one seat ride from the airport right into Midtown–finally providing what most other major airports in world capitals provide.

Henry August 23, 2013 - 2:33 am

There are turnouts from the Queens Blvd local line to the Rockaway branch. Not exactly sure where they end, but it’s not like they’re building from scratch. Plus, LIRR riders have been dealing with waves of train cancellations due to Harold Interlocking work – surely they can deal with tunneling under a four-track line that’s going to take one to three weeks, at best (or several weekends, if that’s what they more likely want to do)

BruceNY August 23, 2013 - 11:44 am

I think the “bell mouths” you are referring to only stretch a one or two hundred feet at most. Maybe someone knows more about that and can prove me wrong here. And true, while the LIRR riders have been dealing w/ delays during Harold Int. work, that work is taking place mainly within a rail yard, and under a couple blocks of mostly industrial buildings in LIC. The blocks between Qns. Blvd & the LIRR at Woodhaven Blvd. is packed with apartment houses. Those people aren’t going to be so welcoming to this sort of construction.
Don’t wish to sound negative, but these are the political obstacles we face.

@Gil_Lopez August 23, 2013 - 1:09 am

Thanks for this article, it irks me to no end every time I hear the “HighLine of Queens” comparison with the proposed QueensWay. I’m enjoying the thoughtful and nuanced comments as well.

JMB August 23, 2013 - 9:06 am

What a waste. As someone who has frequently accessed different portions of the ROW for photos (and to find some relics of the past), this stretch of wilderness they are trying to create will barely be utilized. It crosses through so many aging neighborhood(demographically speaking) and I can already see it being a great place for teens to take over during the multitude of down times in attendance this will surely have. Seriously, if neighborhoods want parks, there are better ways to go about it than taking over this ROW.

I lived in Rego Park, Forest Hills, and that weird area where Woodhaven and Metropolitan cross. The area is transit starved unless you’re lucky enough to land near Queens Blvd. The majority of residents would never use this park and definitely don’t want to have to be inconvenienced by either the construction, noise, or possibility of losing land that they stole when they illegally encroached. Throw in a dash of old-school latent racism and/or classism and this is why a new subway service is having difficulty gaining traction.

SEAN August 23, 2013 - 9:54 am

The waist line??


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