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.