Home Queens Inside an Assembly rep’s NIMBY compromise for QueensWay

Inside an Assembly rep’s NIMBY compromise for QueensWay

by Benjamin Kabak

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?

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BruceNY November 14, 2013 - 1:28 am

I wonder how many people actually reside along the ROW vs. the potential number of annual riders along such a line? I imagine the needs of the many will outweight the needs of a few NIMBYs.

BruceNY November 14, 2013 - 1:29 am

sorry–outweigh the needs…

Michael Sherrell November 14, 2013 - 2:34 am

I do not think it is a good idea, in a knee-jerk kind of way invoke the idea of the “needs of the many”. There are “so many needs of the many to satisfy”, that at times, the needs of the few can get overlooked or dis-regarded. At times, the “needs of the many” can also conflict. There are also times when attempting to satisfy the “needs of the many” that great impacts are placed upon the few, in a very negative way. I’m just saying that sometimes there has to be a balancing between the needs of the “many” and the needs of the “few”. The majority should not always win, is a good general idea, depending upon the context.

In any case, to those that propose a transportation usage of that land – what is the really honest potential, costs, and feasibility of that pathway’s return to rail usage? Noting that the line has been abandoned for decades, and that it’s usefulness as a rail line in the present and future would need to be honestly looked at. And since rail transit public works cost money, a lot of money, just from where will that money come from? And how soon? Was the MTA actually saying that it has a plan to actually use that land, or was it just a nice idea to put on paper? To those who might say it is a potential vital transportation pathway – then the question would be, why has this segment been closed and abandoned for decades, if it so vital? Does this new-found energy for the renewal of this land as a transit pathway stem from the idea that someone else wants to actually do something with the land that has been sitting abandoned for so long? These kinds of questions need honest answers.

The folks that support the turning of this land pathway into a park trail seem to have done much of their homework. That is a good thing. It means that those plans or proposals can be looked at honestly. Looking at the impacts and benefits to nearby residents, as well as potential users of the park pathways. Yes, in many proposals there is an aspect of NIMBY and sometimes BANANA type sentiments. Sometimes such concerns are reflected in statements by those who might be impacted in a negative way, and sometimes those impacted might have something really important to say about the impacts.

Yes, the political folks can often be self-serving, and cautious in trying to determine the sentiments of the community, or even timid in trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing, before acting – they are the political folk. Personally while I have no “dog” in this particular issue, it is always good to try to keep abreast of happenings around the city. Looking forward to future developments, and the answers to questions.


Bolwerk November 14, 2013 - 11:25 am

Noting that the line has been abandoned for decades, and that it’s usefulness as a rail line in the present and future would need to be honestly looked at. And since rail transit public works cost money, a lot of money, just from where will that money come from?

It’s funny how this standard always materializes for rail, but never for any other mode or public works project. Nobody holds a busway or a highway or – ahem – a rail trail to such standards for public discussion.

And what is this idea that rail is Super Expensive Oh Noes We Can Never Afford It? It seems tailor-made to excuse shitty transportation planning. The cited total cost for conversion to a park ($70M?) is roughly what should be expected for reactivation something like the Rockaway Line, though I guess that might not include new trainsets.

Benjamin Kabak November 14, 2013 - 11:27 am

In what world will restoring service along this ROW cost just $70 million? In no countries in the world would the cost be that low. As much as I’d like to see a closer look at rail, the costs are considerable despite what you’ve said over and over again. Take a look at the state of the structure, what would need to be built and current ADA requirements.

Bolwerk November 14, 2013 - 12:11 pm

Heh, yes, in other countries they’d possibly be lower because they don’t demand IND compliance; we complain about the FRA, but NYCTA has a weight problem too. Still, we’re talking about three miles here. Lackawanna Cut-Off was about $7M/mile for two tracks, and that was an FRA railroad. I get that overbuilding is likely, but it’s by no means a technical requirement. Demanding massive overbuilt stations instead of simple concrete slabs is what will make costs too high,* not simply reactivating a bought and paid for ROW for train traffic.

* This may be why people like Michael Sherrell imagine rail construction to be so ungodly expensive. Bus users can sit on a cold street corner and wait, but for some reason people imagine that train users are just too good for that. They’re not.

BruceNY November 14, 2013 - 1:36 pm

I still believe that the best usage of the ROW would be to connect the LIRR directly to the central terminal area at JFK Airport. Re-connect it to the main line at the northern end, run it above or adjacent to the A train from Liberty Ave. to Howard Beach, and then across the parking lot and into the CTA. Can anyone think of a less costly way to provide a direct one-seat ride from JFK to Midtown? The problem is that the PA already invested in Airtrain, and they won’t want to play nice w/ the MTA. This is why our transportation option to JFK is so inferior to any other major world city’s airport.

Henry November 15, 2013 - 5:27 pm

At the very least, you’d need an ADA compliant setup with turnstiles (and at the very least, the turnstiles would need to be covered with a roof; I’m not sure how well they’d do exposed to the elements.)

Station construction only gets ungodly expensive once you start blowing up bedrock. Aboveground stations shouldn’t cost much; LIRR has terrible cost control, but rehabs and rebuilds its stations relatively cheaply and quickly.

Bolwerk November 19, 2013 - 11:29 pm

You don’t need any of that, at least not at first. It would be perfectly acceptable to collect fares at a transfer point, like SIRT does.

Boris November 14, 2013 - 12:44 pm

In any case, to those that propose a transportation usage of that land – what is the really honest potential, costs, and feasibility of that pathway’s return to rail usage?

That’s why Ben’s been calling for a study. We need to evaluate all alternatives for this transportation corridor before settling on one that seems to have the minimum benefit to city residents. (In fact, isn’t an alternatives study required for this project to get federal money?)

Sasha November 14, 2013 - 3:30 am

The railway should be rebuilt. That’s more important. We need more and better rail and public transit. This is a rail right-of-way; it’s fully within rights to put rail there. That’s what it’s for, after all.

David Brown November 14, 2013 - 6:59 am

This should shock no one. There is a major vote in the City Council to Down Zone the area of Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park and of course, Woodhaven (except the area around Aqueduct Racetrack). Sad to say, Transit in the minds of certain people is the enemy (see CB 9 (Woodhaven) & Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society For Historical Preservation). Why? Because Transit = Construction = More People, and that is what NIMBY’s do not want. Note: Why else would Berman stay quiet on the pig sty known as West 4th Street? Because he likes it that way so less people visit the Village. The MTA like Developers are not stupid, they will shift the focus (and of course $$$) from areas like Woodhaven, and Midtown (after the Non-Vote), to areas that are more receptive to Construction like The Bronx & Brooklyn.

Jonathan R November 14, 2013 - 8:34 am

Cap’n Transit put the finger on the problem that Ben describes; folks from one neighborhood who would benefit from infrastructure in another neighborhood never get their voices heard. West 181st St, 34th St Transitway, etc.

Bolwerk November 14, 2013 - 11:30 am

That’s always the problem. How this affects the immediate neighborhood is almost immaterial. We don’t talk about tearing down the Jamaica El because of noise, and we shouldn’t scope the Rockaway reactivation in terms of how loud it might be. This has potential to help people in The Bronx too.

Henry November 17, 2013 - 1:01 pm

To be fair, the first one already kind of happened. Noise abatement can be achieved through cheaper means though, like noise barriers.

marv November 14, 2013 - 9:28 am

Having the train line end at Atlantic Avenue (merging on to the Brooklyn LIRR) would provide faster passage to downtown from the Rockaways/JFK Airport. It would do nothing for travel to Midtown.

A better way to provide that transit to downtown would be to build a line from the Howard Beach station along or over the very wide Conduit Blvd right of way (once intended to be I-78) before merging with the A train express tracks east of the Euclid Ave station at Pitkin Avenue.

The full Rockaway line should be used for transit to Midtown. As the Queens Super express bypass does not provide service to new areas and meets major local resistance, an elevate line over the LIE from Woodhaven Blvd to Manhattan should be explored. Stations at Grand Ave and Van Dam could provide service to non-served areas. The Van Dam Station could be a major economic engine. An extension east over the LIE could finally provide service to eastern Queens. A spur north along the GCP could also provide LGA service.

Michael Sherrell November 14, 2013 - 12:37 pm

From a previous message:

A better way to provide that transit to downtown would be to build a line from the Howard Beach station along or over the very wide Conduit Blvd right of way (once intended to be I-78) before merging with the A train express tracks east of the Euclid Ave station at Pitkin Avenue. – See more at: http://bkabak.wpengine.com/201...../#comments


Just why would one build a NEW TRANSIT LINE that connects to an existing subway station, runs over a highway, and then connects back to that same subway line – the A train express tracks? The A-trains out of Howard Beach already use the express tracks, so just what would be gained by spending the money for this new pathway?

I do not understand. What would be the purpose?

marv November 17, 2013 - 10:13 am

why build such a connection/bypass (from the howard beach station over or along Conduit Blvd connecting to the IND Euclid Station?

-because the 4 track Fulton IND switches after the Euclid Station on to 3 track (2 in active service) old Fulton El – This creates merging delays as Lefferts Blvd trains and Rockaway trains have to wait for each. This would be eliminated under my “conduit blvd bypass”
-because it would eliminate 5 stops and some mileage from the currently slow Rockaway runs
-because it would add capacity and open the way for premium fare hybrid trains running directly into Kennedy Airport

Henry November 15, 2013 - 5:32 pm

Transit stations over that segment of the LIE would not be helpful, in any sense of the word; you’d have a very limited walkshed from the stations due to the amount of land dedicated to highway users. It’d also be a complete waste of money, because there would be no place to send it in Manhattan.

lawhawk November 14, 2013 - 9:48 am

NIMBY. It’s the acronym that says it all. People who would benefit in the surrounding and adjacent neighborhoods get drowned out by a vocal few who are opposed to any change in the status quo.

These people bought homes adjacent to a rail line – disused as it was. Some may have even been around when it was still active.

The NIMBY folks will complain about any kind of development that disrupts the status quo. Heck, I was recently up in Poughkeepsie at the Walkway over the Hudson, and some adjacent landowners were peeved at the walkway’s usage – being “forced” to put up privacy screens to keep prying eyes out of the elevated walkway. The rail bridge existed for decades before these people lived there, and it was a fire that ultimately led to the bridge being shuttered to traffic before it was turned into a pedestrian park.

The park opponents have signs up complaining about noise, prying eyes, and that they’ve had increased costs, all while ignoring that the park has brought in additional revenues to local businesses, and that’s a good thing.

The Queensway park would likely result in something similar with people then complaining that the walkway opens up the area to prying eyes and a loss of privacy. We see that with Rep. Miller’s response.

Frankly, the MTA needs to get that study completed to see if it indeed makes fiscal sense to reactivate the rail line before we go down the route to turning this into a park, that some people will oppose in any event.

Bolwerk November 14, 2013 - 10:58 am

One common refrain is that people who have built houses along the defunct right of way do not know want trains zooming by their homes at all hours of the day.

If they don’t mind living near a street, they have no reason to complain about living near a passenger railroad.

John Doe November 14, 2013 - 11:34 am

LOL!!! you know what will happen here friends??? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!! no park, no re-activation of transit!! c’est la vie! i cannot wait to move outta this dirty, ugly town to cleaner, warmer pastures where things actually get done!!! it’s time to cut thru the red tape and get our transit system top notch like the Europeans! ehhh who am i kidding this is never going to happen…too sad…

Bolwerk November 14, 2013 - 12:12 pm

So. You’re moving to Berlin or Tokyo?

LA Lady November 14, 2013 - 12:13 pm

Thank you! Got tired of all the BS myself, moved to a warmer, cleaner city that is in the process of building/expanding subways, light rail AND busways! And at $1.50 per ride, it’s a sweet deal. My house to Downtown LA in 12 minutes, and no pissy smelling platforms LOL.

Let Queens residents fight over a project that will never, EVER get off the ground (literally); I’m taking the subway downtown for some lunch and shopping.

Epson45 November 14, 2013 - 12:49 pm

That is a really good post!

Anon256 November 15, 2013 - 1:15 am

To be honest the status quo seems fine. All of the proposed uses for the right of way seem pretty dubious and half-baked, solutions in search of a problem, but it’s a valuable asset that would be very expensive to replace and should not be thrown away lightly. Leave it fallow so that later generations can find an actually worthwhile use for it.

pete November 14, 2013 - 4:16 pm

The Rockaway ROW stares me a couple times a month. I often shop at Union Turnpike and Woodhaven or Metropolitan and Woodhaven. Currently the only subway using route to get there is train to 71 Ave, then Q23 to nearly the end of the Q23. The Q23 bunches and is never on time based on the MTA Timetable on the Q23. The Woodhaven Blvd buses are slow when local, most of them are Limiteds and useless, and it means taking 2 trains to Woodhaven Blvd station. Woodhaven Blvd is basically a pre-interstate highway, just like Queens Blvd was sized (mass demolition) to have Cross Bronx style submerged highway built in the middle. The shortcut the express lanes on Queens Blvd take under the LIE is a small part of the never built Queens Blvd highway.

Also there is pretty bad traffic at the LIRR Main line bridge over Woodhaven Blvd where it narrows from 4×4 lanes to 3×3 lanes with threatening columns. Another traffic problem is the Woodhaven Blvd bridge over the lower Montalk line. Metropolitan and Union Turnpike have large amounts of gridlock caused by left turning cars in all the directions at the 2 ends of the Lower Montalk overpass.

Metropolitan and Myrtle have so pre-car (walkable) retail, there is non stop left turners and double parkers, traffic lights, and truck unloading on the 2, that you have to be stupid to drive down them unless you want to visit a business on Metropolitan and Myrtle. Driving on Union Turnpike by the Interboro which is nearly retailless and either residential or park area is fast. Also Metropolitan and Cooper through the cemetary is fast, but that involves using Woodhaven to go from Union to Metropolitan.

The rockaway ROW will make the whole area much faster to get in and out of by public transit. The Q23 and Woodhaven buses are the only ones that connect to a subway line. The M train is slow, ends in the middle of nowhere, needs buses to get to, and takes an extra 10 mins to get anywhere interesting once you get onto Manhattan Island. Queens Blvd line is faster and more convient if you have to take a bus somewhere to get to a train in the first place.

johndmuller November 14, 2013 - 5:45 pm

Is that school bus parking legit?

It looks like it could be encroaching big time on property it shouldn’t be using. If they do have some kind of legal parking deal there, it might be hard to dislodge them. There are a lot of buses there, to say the least, and it will take another large area or expensive garage to replace this space. Even Queensway people might have trouble getting them out.

Scott E November 14, 2013 - 8:01 pm

Here’s a thought — could the railway(or part of it) be built underground using the old-school cut-and-cover methods? Construction would be cheaper than the modern methods, it wouldn’t impact traffic as much as when building under a street, and the NIMBYs can still have their park on top — albeit with a few train entrances.

Jeff November 15, 2013 - 7:01 am

This is kind of an out there thing but can they just build up concrete boxes at grade and have the trains run inside? That way everything’s enclosed, and noise is minimized during and after construction. Probably cheaper than trenching too. And they can build a park on top of the concrete.

Henry November 15, 2013 - 5:36 pm

Noise barriers are super cheap and are essentially walls. No need to get all complicated with claustrophobic concrete boxes (which would probably cause the piston effect when going into stations)

Nyland8 November 16, 2013 - 1:54 pm

Actually, there is a way to have their cake and eat it too. Using modern prestressed, precast, post-tensioned concrete construction (similar to AirTrain) an elevated train can be erected along the ROW cheaper than tunneling, and with much cheaper long-term maintenance costs. The work can be staged from the rail bed without disrupting nearby residents, and it could be completed very quickly – as in fully operational in a couple of years.

Compared to other els in the city, it would run all but silent. Even the closest homes wouldn’t notice trains running past. It would shelter the park beneath it from rain and snow, and proper landscaping would shield the locals from prying eyes.

The only legitimate NIMBY objection would be that at certain times of the day, it might cast a shadow long enough to reach some homes.

But the MTA could have another active railway, with all that it might entail, the park advocates could have their bike path, and the NIMBYs would quickly just get over it. If the political will existed, there are ways to have a win-win-win project.

Philip McManus November 15, 2013 - 12:08 am

Dear Friends of the Rockaway Beach Line and Queens Public Transit

The QueensWay park plan is trying to stop us from having faster transportation for Queens.

They want to put a park on our right of way and stop the reactivation of the Queens Rockaway Beach Line forever.

Are you and your family tired of long, slow, overcrowded, dangerous, and unreliable buses, trains and roadways? Are you tired of being treated like a neglected animal?

Faster transportation is the key to our prosperity, more freedom and more opportunities.

This is your time to take action with our community. Fight for your family, and a better future.

Don’t allow them to ignore and neglect us anymore.

We want to reuse the RBL for faster transportation for all of Queens and the City.

They want to stop us from growing and developing by destroying the RBL.

Development means increased economic and personal opportunities, employment, lower crime, better schools and roadways, increased neighborhood values, faster commutes, and a better quality of life.

Please tell your family and friends to attend this extremely important meeting.

We will meet Wednesday, Nov. 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Ozone Park Senior Center at St. Mary Gate of Heaven Church, 103-02 101 Ave. in Ozone Park.

Please confirm your attendance at 718-474-0315 or 718-679-5309

Come early and bring a poster. Make sure you get into the hall.

Our goal is not to protest or to be disruptive but to stand up and speak up for the reactivation of the RBL, faster transportation and prosperity for all.

Tell the NIMBYS we have a right to a better life for all of Queens.

Philip McManus
Queens Public Transit Committee

Ron Aryel November 17, 2013 - 10:21 am

Another option would be to offer to sell the ROW in parcels to homeowners. In other words, Miller’s constituents could each purchase the piece of the MTA ROW behind their backyards. That would allow them to legally expand their backyards and also give them the obligation of taking care of the properties. MTA would receive cash that could be used for other capital expenses. And the sale of the ROW parcels would end the current debate…

Nyland8 November 17, 2013 - 1:35 pm

Uh no … that doesn’t work. Talk about a lose-lose-lose, no adjacent property owner can ever be compelled to purchase their back-lot expansion, and there is no other access to those lots, so nobody else would buy them either. Once a single yard has been augmented, nobody else would have to bother buying anything … because no trains could ever run there again.

Under your proposal, everyone’s yard expansion becomes effectively free – a giveaway without even having to pay increased land taxes. Once you know the city has divested itself of the ROW, there’s nobody to keep you from encroaching on it without paying a penny. The city loses; the MTA loses; future generations lose; and the NIMBYs are rewarded beyond reason for their selfishness.

Either you haven’t thought this through, or you own property adjacent to the ROW.

Merrill November 19, 2013 - 8:44 pm

For all of the NIMBYs who oppose the reactivation of the RBL due to noise concerns. Just look at where the B and Q trains run through Ditmas Park and Midwood in Brooklyn. The cut is practically in residential backyards, there are concrete barriers and fencing. I doubt there have been any complaints over the last 80 odd years of operation.


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