Home LIRR On the Montauk Cutoff and a lesson from the Rockaway Beach Branch Line mess

On the Montauk Cutoff and a lesson from the Rockaway Beach Branch Line mess

by Benjamin Kabak
The MTA has asked for ideas for an adaptive reuse of Long Island City's Montauk Cutoff.

The MTA has asked for ideas for an adaptive reuse of Long Island City’s Montauk Cutoff.

It’s been a while, at least on the site, since I’ve delved into the ongoing fight over the LIRR’s unused Rockaway Beach Branch right of way. I’ve kept abreast of goings-on via Twitter, and it has devolved into a bitter fight between and amongst groups that would otherwise be allies. The debate has spilled over into the discussion over nearby Woodhaven Boulevard, and it implicates not only the immediate area and its residents but also disparate neighborhoods and parts of the city that do not have a seat at the immediate table. It threatens to be Queens’ own response to the debacle that was the 34th St. Transitway, and that’s a future and history we shouldn’t want to repeat.

We could get into the nitty gritty later, but in broad strokes, this story pits a few interests against one another. One group — consisting largely of DOT, the MTA and a loose coalition of transit advocates — wants to turn Woodhaven Boulevard into an approximation of NYC’s first bus rapid transit line with dedicated lanes and fewer conveniences for drivers. It’s not a perfect plan as it lacks physical separation, and we could debate center-running lanes over side-running lanes for days. But it’s out there, and it’s a creative and proper allocation of street space on an important north-south corridor that isn’t served by transit.

Opposing the Woodhaven BRT plan are your usual array of Queens residents with assists from some Brooklynites who believe in the primacy of the automobile and cannot suffer the elimination of lanes for cars, left turns or prioritizing transit riders. Some of these opponents are knee-jerk NIMBYs, but others have decided that the better solution is to turn the Rockaway Beach Branch line into an elevated and dedicated busway. Despite the fact that the right of way is in shambles and work to shore up the structure would be both costly and timely, these proponents — who have found voices in local community papers — argue that the right of way is perfect for a bus. Never mind the fact that it’ll take years, if not decades, for that plan to become a reality, and DOT and the MTA want an immediate solution.

Then, in yet another corner are the QueensWay proponents. These folks, led by the Trust for Public Land, have pushed hard to get funding and community support before too many politicians wake up to the reality that turning the ROW into a park without a proper assessment of reactivation would be a future folly. They had some momentum from some loud voices in neighborhoods along the park, but pushback by Assembly representative Phil Goldfeder has slowed this effort and given a neighborhood that stands to benefit a voice in the wilderness. Some of the park advocates have lined up behind the Woodhaven SBS plan, in part, because they recognize that QueensWay won’t actually solve Queens’ mobility issues. SBS then is also a pro-park, quasi-NIMBY solution for a group that has dismissed rail seemingly out of hand.

So it’s NIMBYs vs. transit advocates vs. park advocates vs. bus advocates vs. NYC DOT. All I’ve asked for is a truly independent engineering and cost assessment of the various proposals, but it’s hard to escape the bitter name-calling of the disputes. And that’s the mess we’re in. (For a flavor of it on the local level, check out this recent piece and this other recent piece from the Queens Chronicle.)

So now, 500 words later, you might be wondering what this has to do with the Montauk Cutoff. Or you might be wondering just what the *%^$ the Montauk Cutoff is. I’m so glad you asked. The Montauk Cutoff is a 1/3 of a mile LIRR right of way that runs through Long Island City, connecting the Lower Montauk Branch to the Sunnyside Yards, and the MTA has decommissioned it. The agency anticipates no near-term use for it, but they are actively preserving the right-of-way should a future use emerge. It is, writ large, the single biggest lesson to take from the Rockaway Beach Branch Line debate: Keep and preserve what can be used for rail while considering adaptive reuse with the understanding that any potential reuse may be only temporary.

So far, the MTA has issued a Request for Expressions of Interest [pdf] which could lead to a future RFP. In discussing the RFEI with Curbed a few months ago, an MTA spokesman explained the agency’s guiding philosophy: “Specifically, the MTA is seeking expressions of interest from businesses, nonprofits, community groups, and individuals with innovative adaptive reuse concepts, and detailed implementation and operating plans for those concepts. These concepts can include, but are not limited to, public open space, urban farming, or museum or sculpture garden space.”

The RFEI echoes this sentiment. “It is conceivable that the Montauk Cutoff may be required for future transportation needs,” the document notes. “A sale or permanent disposition of the Montauk Cutoff may disadvantage. MTA in the future, and leaving it vacant may invite encroachments and blight. As a result, the MTA wishes to investigate adaptive reuse concepts to preserve the right-of-way for potential future use.

Already, the usual suspects are jockeying for position. Some linear park proponents and rails-to-trails group have discussed a mini-High Line-style park through Long Island City and a variety of community groups are actively exploring ways to incorporate this right of way into the surrounding neighborhood. Community visioning groups have seemingly made this a more inconclusive project than that surrounding the Rockaway Beach Branch, but that is, in part, because the MTA is exerting its control and ownership of the ROW while clearly expressing its desire to preserve the ROW.

It’s not clear yet what happens with the Montauk Cutoff. The MTA could assess the responses to the RFEI and decide to hold back an RFP. They could just let it sit there for a while before a rail use returns. But, for now at least, it’s a project with far fewer people fighting over its future, and that alone should tell you everything about the importance of both the Rockaway Beach Branch Line and the Montauk Cutoff to efforts to improve mobility around an area in need of transit capacity.

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vanshnookenraggen December 8, 2015 - 4:46 am

Bottom up planning at its finest.

wise infrastructure December 8, 2015 - 8:47 am

The Long Island City Montauk Cutoff looks like a potential route for bringing :
*Mountauk branch running subway trains (from southeast queens or south queens) via jamaica to the underused 63rd street tunnel (upper level)
*Mountauk branch running subway trains (from the rockaways or Kennedy airport) via the former rockaway LIRR branch to the underused 63rd street tunnel (upper level)
*an elevated subway line running over the LIE to the underused 63rd street tunnel (upper level). The LIE elevated line could connect with the former rockaway LIRR branch and/or run all the way out to Douglaston
*A light rail rail to Queensboro (Koch) Bridge trackage. The light rail would the run via the Montauk line

All the above Montauk line uses could be done with time sharing/FRA waivers to allow freight at night.

In short this ROW should definitely be kept in tact

mister December 9, 2015 - 2:04 am

Keep in mind that any attempt to use the Montauk cutoff to access 63rd street means:

-It has to cross the mess of commuter rail/Amtrak to get to 63rd.
-The Montauk line approaches Manhattan at roughly the high 20’s, streets-wise. You would be asking it to swing north to 63rd and then go back south.
-The Montauk doesn’t exactly have an existing right-of-way that’s friendly to passenger rail.

Control December 8, 2015 - 8:56 am

The cutoff has two things going for it the Rock line doesn’t”

1) It’s still entirely owned by the MTA, who knows they have no money to maintain it.
2) If it gets converted to park, the MTA still owns it and can take it back if a need ever arises (say, captain transit’s thoughts on stations for passenger rail on the lower montauk).

With the rockaway beach line – the feud has grown bitter because once it becomes ‘Queensway’ – there is NO going back. There will never be rail along the route. And our idiot governor is the one funding the park project.

The rock line could create a one seat, 30-40 minute ride from Manhattan to JFK. It would remove thousands of taxi and bus trips from our streets… there is a hard link between reopening the rock and Vision Zero. Where the F*CK is DeBlasio? And why is he allowing a governor who never has our best interest run amuck on this project?

Bolwerk December 8, 2015 - 10:12 am

Re #1: I’m not clear on the ownership of RBB, but it looks to me like it’s entirely owned by the city. That actually might be what saves it from Cuomo’s clutches.

If we’re lucky, Preet will have Cuomo in prison next year. As usual, de Blasio is just waiting to figure out what is popular before taking a stand, I guess.

Tim December 8, 2015 - 2:18 pm

Preet is doing a bang up job, FWIW.

Larry Littlefield December 8, 2015 - 9:11 am

‘Considering adaptive reuse with the understanding that any potential reuse may be only temporary.”

Politically there is no such thing. See community gardens, now the tax-free private property of certain organized groups in a way similar to Gramercy Park.

Bolwerk December 8, 2015 - 10:18 am

If they can assert their rights, I don’t see why the MTA can’t. That means providing year-to-year leases to groups that want to make a park.

In the specific case of parks, it looks like you can’t allow anything to become a public park. Once it’s a public park, it’s illegal to get rid of it. Public parks are literally a sword to use against urban form now.

John-2 December 8, 2015 - 9:14 am

The mania to ‘High Line’ every piece of unused rail ROW in the city really has gotten out of hand. The busway re-purposing of the Rockaway Beach Branch makes a little more sense, but if you look at the map, once you get south of Metropolitan Avenue, the line pulls away from Woodhaven Blvd. to the point that it wouldn’t be all that great a service for the people and businesses on Woodhaven Blvd., only for those trying to connect to the M/R trains at Queens Blvd. Might as well just go with the subway connection under those circumstances, since that would at least provide a one-seat ride into Manhattan.

As far as the subway and the Mountauk Cutoff goes, its location — about five blocks due south of 23rd-Eli-Court Square — actually makes it a better fit for a connection to the 53rd Street tunnel, if and when the MTA wanted to try and re-purpose the Mountauk Branch for subway service via Maspeth to Jamaica (a change that probably wouldn’t be workable at least until the SAS was extended south of 63rd and a Second Avenue-Queens Blvd. route could be put in place to replace the lost Sixth or Eighth Avenue route along Queens Blvd. coming through the 53rd Street tunnel. Which, given the speed of SAS construction, means we could be waiting quite a long time for a Lower Montauk link….).

Eric December 8, 2015 - 5:03 pm

“actually makes it a better fit for a connection to the 53rd Street tunnel”

I think the 60th St tunnel would be an even better fit. The R would go on the Montauk rather than Queens Blvd, and the extra 63rd St tunnel service (from the SAS) would be added to Queens Blvd.

Construction for this would be super easy – the R is the highest level tunnel, so a short cut-and-cover tunnel would connect it to the Montauk without interfering with any other lines.

Eric December 8, 2015 - 5:07 pm

The F and M would be Queens Blvd locals, while the E and (SAS line) would be Queens Blvd express.

mister December 9, 2015 - 2:11 am

To get to the 60th street tunnel, it would need to cross the 53rd street tunnel, trek further north to then go back south in Manhattan and add another connection to a tunnel that already has two. Additionally, why have 2 sixth ave local services? The one that operates through 63rd would be perpetually underutilized.

Eric December 9, 2015 - 6:01 am

The R tracks already cross the 53rd St tunnel tracks from above, and it would be easy to modify this crossing. This crossing is also extremely close to the end of the Montauk Cutoff.

This plan would put the express services on 2nd and 8th Ave, which is more useful than the current 6th and 8th Ave. Meanwhile, both locals would go on 6th Ave, which is relatively centrally located.

It might be worthwhile to connect SAS to the 53rd St tunnel rather than 63rd St (if this is physically possible – I haven’t checked), so that both locals could take the 63rd St tunnel while both expresses could take 53rd St.

mister December 10, 2015 - 12:16 am

There is a massive, inherent flaw in sending both locals through to 63rd.

I’d rather see the E, R and M continue to operate as they do now (maybe with a slight bump up in the frequency of the E), a new SAS/63rd/Queens Blvd express (which would likely have lower demand), and the F getting re-routed to a new Queens Line (Montauk is not really a great candidate, maybe Something towards northern Queens using the LIRR ROW to the LIE and then following some of the old Horace Harding expwy plans).

Bolwerk December 8, 2015 - 10:08 am

While we’re at it, they should try to preserve the Essex Trolley Terminal for future reuse too. I somehow doubt it would see transit service again, but it even seems like it could be a retail cash cow for the MTA.

There are glaringly obvious differences between RBB and the Montauk Cutoff: RBB passes through some dense yet transit starved urban neighborhoods, it connects two distant parts of the rapid transit system in that the Woodhaven bus improvements can’t, and it’s in a very park-rich area. If the Montauk Cutoff were to be integrated into a future subway project, it would only be a tiny component of that project, not miles of unused line.

Larry Littlefield December 8, 2015 - 10:46 am

Could buses maneuver in that space? Could it be connected to the Willie B roadbed?

Give the Chinatown buses a terminal with subway access and take them off the street.

Bolwerk December 8, 2015 - 11:13 am

Lanes that currently support cars were once trolley lanes that fed that terminal, so I assume it’s possible to restore that.

Space for buses to reverse is might be iffy, but maybe it could be done.

Eric December 9, 2015 - 6:08 am

Ventilation would be a horrible problem.

Subutay Musluoglu December 8, 2015 - 10:56 am

With the city’s population anticipated to reach 9 million within the next 20 years or sooner, and with all the housing initiatives that are being proposed, and the ones that are sure to come as the needs grow by the day, we should be doing everything possible to preserve all of the remaining railroad rights-of-way within the city limits, not giving them away for parks or other non-transportation related uses. The RPA issued a report last year that addresses this directly. The current pace of subway construction is glacially slow, and with all the pressing state of good repair needs, we are clearly not going to tunnel our way to solving our passenger rail capacity challenges.

This makes it all the more imperative that there is an organized, concerted effort to thoroughly survey and catalog all of the remaining rail rights-of-way, and then undertake the steps necessary to evict any illegal encroachment (which is rampant on the RBB, by the way), followed by sealing the rights of way for safety and legal purposes, and then wait for the right time in the future when the need for new service is so overwhelming that there will be no choice but to reactivate these lines. Hopefully at that time, the city and the state will be able to provide more direct funding for transit, and the MTA’s financial outlook will have improved to the point that state of good repair is not taking up such a large share of the capital budget, so it becomes more viable for these lines can be brought back to life. One also hopes that a more enlightened population resides in the areas adjacent to these rights-of-way, one that is not so quick to either cry NIMBYism, or be in a rush to dispose of these vitally important assets, and instead loudly proclaims a desire to see these lines carrying people once again.

AlexB December 8, 2015 - 12:49 pm

Run some DMUs on the Lower Montauk branch, build an elevated station over 49th Ave, and reactivate/re-build some of the abandoned stations along the route out to Jamaica. Folks can transfer to the 7 at Hunterspoint Ave. Start the service with 15 minute frequencies and you could get about 10k-20k riders a day for a billion dollars, give or take, with a lot of room for growth. Would be a better use of money than the $2.5 billion 7 extension that gets 8,000 riders a day. Eventually you could rebuild the Howard Beach station to allow for island platforms between the A and light rail and reactivate the Rockaway cutoff too for express airport service and faster midtown service for Rockaway residents. Not saying it’s the best idea, but it would be a pretty cheap and quick way to increase transit to Queens and JFK. A high line in that area would not be that great. No one lives there, it’s just warehouses. If you’re going to build a new park, there’s a lot of more deserving locations.

Adrian Benepe December 8, 2015 - 1:00 pm

While I am writing as a proponent for the QueensWay, let me first state my and our (Trust for Public Land’s) strong support for enhanced public transit across the nation and New York City, including either Select Bus Service (SBS) or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Woodhaven Boulevard, with service to the Rockaways over existing roads and bridges. That is the most cost-efficient and likely significant transit improvement that this area is likely to see over the next half-century.
And while the notion of reactivating the Rockaway Beach Branch (RBB) of the LIRR is alluring to some, the reality is that it would be very unlikely for several reasons. So too, is the notion that it could be turned into a bust transitway.
First is logistics and cost. Reactivating the RBB woudl require, among other things:
1. Alienating 7 acres of mapped parkland wher the former ROW crosses through Forest Park. In additon to a time-cosumong legal process involving the State Legislature and City Council, those 7 acres would have to be replaced nearby.
2. Building a new bridge across Jamaica Bay. Unless the MTA wanted to remove the A-Train service to Rockaway and replace it with LIRR service, a second bridge to carry the RBB across the Bay to Rockaway would have to be built. The engineering, environmental approvals, and construction costs for such a bridge would be onerous and ennormous.
3. Restoring active rail service (or a transit way) along the former ROW would require the removal of two little league complexes and existing parking areas for housing complexes, as well as adjacent business. Local elected officals, community groups, and neighbors are already on the record as opposing any rail reactivation in the former ROW.
4. Connecting a new LIRR line to the existing lines would disrupt existing service, already overburdened, and cause new and permanent delays to existing service.
5. There is already a major shortfall in the MTA’s capital plan and budget. Its most recent long-term capital plan included no funds for LIRR RBB reactivation.

So given the realities, creating a linear park and greenway is the best use of these publicly owned 47 acres, currently abandoned and neglected. It would provide parks and open space, particularly to the park-starved neighborhood of South Ozone. It would provide a significant bicycle and pedestrian route through central Queens, with on-street connections to the Jamaica Bay Greenway and to Flushing Meadows Park. It would provide a safe way for children and families to get to school, to parks, and to little league fields. It would provide a park setting to schools that lack adequate space for exercise and connections with nature.

That is why it has such strong support from the local community, from elected officals, from business groups, and from many other non-profit organizations, including New Yorkers for Parks and Transportation Alternatives. The opportunity for Select Bus Service on Woodhaven Boulevard, which is moving forward, AND for a great new park and alternative transportation network, makes building the QueensWay an affordable and practical win-win for Queens and NYC.

Bolwerk December 8, 2015 - 1:54 pm

The first four things you mention either aren’t problems or could probably be resolved at much lower expense than an alternative rapid transit route. #5 is a real problem, but your mention of it should nonetheless set off everyone’s ironydar.

Here’s an analogous problem: NYC parks are often in really bad shape, and you want to add another one. NYC hasn’t actually budgeted anything for another park. You aren’t showing a lot of concern for parks that already exist in that area, like Forest Park, or decrepit parks all over the city.

Meanwhile, the transit alternative you’re arguing for, BRT on Woodhaven, over the long run is probably more expensive to build+operate than simply reactivating RBB. Certainly that’s true when you add up the cost of Woodhaven BRT plus the cost of building and maintaining a zero revenue public park.

Subutay Musluoglu December 8, 2015 - 2:43 pm

Mr. Benape – I thought you did a fine job of NYC Parks Commissioner, and while I appreciate your continued advocacy for the necessity of open space in our city, especially in areas that are deprived of it, myself and many others are disappointed in your support for the QueensWay effort, especially when we see the immense transportation challenges facing our city. Of course we should not be surprised by the arguments you have put forth in your post above, having seen this in many other venues and media, but let me offer a point by point response to your statement:

1. The railroad land that you are referring to as mapped parkland that would need to be replaced – that is the first time I have heard of this. It is my understanding that the rail ROW is still mapped as railroad, and that in fact it is Queensway that is seeking a change in use. Please present to us evidence that the line was demapped as railroad ROW.

2. The need for a second bridge across Jamaica Bay is not necessarily required. You are making an assumption that the LIRR would once again operate over the RBB, when in fact there are numerous pre-existing studies and plans going back decades that have called for a connection between the RBB and the city subway system. The Queens Boulevard Line has provisions in place for indeed such a connection, in the form of a bellmouth and a diveunder tunnel on the line between 63 Drive and 67 Avenue. The city’s Board of Transportation planned for this back in the early 1930s, and variations of this intention were still on the books up until the 1960s. Furthermore, there is adequate sufficient capacity available across the existing bridge to accommodate an increase in trains coming from the Rockaways across the bay. And since those trains currently utilize the existing A line into Brooklyn, there is more than adequate capacity on the RBB itself north of the current junction with the A. Of course we both know that a proper transportation analysis would have to be conducted and alternatives weighed against each other fairly to determine this.

3. The removal of the existing encroachment, much of which has been allowed to occur illegally, does present a significant challenge, but it is not a fait accompli that those same business, residences, and little league fields are necessarily receptive to the idea of QueensWay. Whether it’s Queensway or rail reactivation, any change in use represents a change to the status quo, and draws attention to the fact that many have taken public land illegally for their own use, and as such would be resistant to any action that brings that to light.

4. Again, you are assuming a revival of LIRR service, when in fact it makes more sense for the reactivation to be in the form of a subway extension. The LIRR does indeed have capacity issues, much of which will most likely be addressed when the East Side Access project opens eventually, but as we all well know, the LIRR already has a poor record of serving the existing stations it has in Queens, so we do not anticipate that they would embrace this. Having said that, the Queens Boulevard Line has its own capacity issues. Again, a fair, impartial, and proper engineering and operations analysis needs to be performed to flesh this out, in accordance with state and Federal regulations governing transportation projects. The MTA is beginning to address the Queens Boulevard Line’s issues with the installation of CBTC signaling system, which is being undertaken right now. Furthermore, the new Capital Program does contain funds for a corridor analysis of the line, which can yield to the initiation of further studies of adding new trunk line capacity in Queens, a need that goes back for 50 years.

5. We are well aware of the MTA’s funding issues. While there may be no money in the foreseeable future for a rail reactivation, the MTA did in fact mention the RBB in its last 20 year Capital Needs Assessment. We know that the MTA is not going to step out in front and advocate for a particular position on the RBB as long as it receives its cues from Albany. In an ideal world it should, like other transit agencies in world class cities, but instead the agency remains mum, while your organization receives seed money from the governor.

Of course you support SBS – it represents no threat to your proposal, and would most likely seal the fate of the RBB. Open space is a legitimate issue, but that can be addressed in a more targeted manner. A linear park stretching for a few miles does not necessarily help South Ozone Park, but a city takeover of abandoned and neglected properties in the neighborhood would be much more practical. And Forest Park represents a tremendous asset that needs more investment for all of the surrounding communities.

The critical question here is this – 1 million more residents are anticipated in NY, the city is proposing upzoning in many neighborhoods, and the currently overburdened subway system is expected to shoulder this influx. This is a recipe for disaster. As I said in my previous post – we should be protecting rail ROWs – not giving them away. Yes, we don’t have the money now, but we will have no choice but to find it the future when we our city grinds to a halt.

Asher December 9, 2015 - 9:39 am

Hi Mr. Adrian Benepe

I assume that the reasons that you gave below are the basis of your reasoning, and are not post-decision rationalization (had you first decided that the park is the right idea, and then searched for reasons – there would be no sense in discussing these reasons).

In response to your reasons:

1. This isn’t accurate. The ROW through Forest Park is not parkland, and is still a railroad ROW (just as the Montauk Branch through the park is a railroad ROW, and is in active use until this very day).

2. There isn’t a single proponent of reactivating the RBB who has proposed to build a new bridge over the bay, and there’s no reason to build additional capacity over the bay. The current A service is just fine (see point 4 below).

3a. There are no adjacent business that need to be removed (unless you’re referring to the (illegal?) auto-shops that operate under the tracks), and the parking lot can be easily replaced at a relatively low cost.
In 2015 NYC dollars, it costs about $1.5-2 Billion per mile to build a new ROW. Being that this is about 3 miles long, we’re talking about 5 billion dollars. Are you seriously proposing giving up a $5 billion dollar city-owned asset because a sports team will need use a different field?!
Just curious: When Amtrak purchased the 10th Ave. ROW on the West Side, which in the future will allow for Metro-North Penn Access – would you have said to scrap that plan, since the Freed Tunnel provided housing the homeless?

3b. “Local elected officials, community groups, and neighbors are already on the record as opposing any rail reactivation in the former ROW” – that’s hardly a way to decide best public policy. Furthermore, in a city as NYC, there will always be someone who’s unhappy of a proposed plan.
However, if you wanted to decide public policy based on which NIMBY screams loudest (again – not a smart public policy), then the opposition to the Woodhaven BRT is actually a lot greater (than opposition to reactivating the RBB) amongst those groups.
4. This is isn’t accurate, and if anything, the contrary may be true. The current two options are:

a) Subway: Extending the A line northbound to continue to the Queens Blvd. line, as originally designed, or to terminate there with an option of transferring to the subway and LIRR;
b) extending the LIRR to meet with the A train at Rego Park.

Option A clearly doesn’t affect LIRR service, and option B would utilize the additional RBB tracks that run parallel to the LIRR mainline. Remember, the LIRR mainline is 4 tracks wide, and when the RBB meets the LIRR mainline, it’s expanded to 6 track wide (currently unutilized) for a couple of miles. Any RBB trains can wait if necessary in those tracks for the signal to continue further in the 4 track territory.

But here’s why the contrary is true: Restoring passenger LIRR service on the RBB and on the Lower Montauk Branch would actually INCREASE LIRR capacity, as well as create redundancy, as it would change from the current mostly 4 track between Jamaica and the East River Tunnels, to 6 track capacity between Jamaica and the East River Tunnels – and being on a different ROW, creates redundancy when there’s a signal problem or a derailment on the 4 track ROW.

5. Regarding a cost estimate, one doesn’t need to look too far: after Sandy, the A track over the bay was completely wrecked, and was rebuild from scratch, ballast, tracks, third rail etc., for a similar length of miles – in about 6 months for a couple of hundred million dollars.
The union in charge of the work actually compared these two adjacent ROWs, and said that reactivating the RBB would be similar in cost and time. As others here mentioned, reactivating the RBB was mentioned in the MTA’s 20 year needs assessment.

I’d also like to make a general point to the NYC branch of TPL: Trails are beautiful and beneficial, and in certain parts of the country, rails to trails do make sense – but in NYC they simply don’t.
We are still paying the price for not incorporating the LIRR Whitestone branch into the 7 train in Eastern Queens.

What I think you should support is rebuilding the 4th Ave. Parkway in Brooklyn to the way it used to be – with tree-lined medians with benches, similar to Eastern & Ocean Parkways, and to do so also on Kings Highway and Linden Blvd. – and also a center tree-lined median with benches on Atlantic Ave, as well as other wide avenues throughout the city that are starving for pedestrian space (but who are allocated to motorists who do not have Second Amendments rights to operate a weapon on our streets, but yet continue to kill and maim NY’ers every day – without going through any background checks before getting behind the wheel)
As mentioned earlier, I hope you consider my points in your objective viewpoint. Thank you,

Nathanael December 22, 2015 - 3:16 am

#1 is absolutely false. The railroad right-of-way is still considered a railroad right-of-way and was NEVER legally converted to parkland, something which could not be done without the permission of the Interstate Commerce Commission — which was never obtained.

If you have maps which claim that it’s parkland, they’re *inaccurate* legally speaking.

This makes me not want to read the rest of what you wrote because you did not do your research.

BrooklynBus December 8, 2015 - 2:02 pm

BRT on Woodhaven is neither cost effective at $231 million, nor is it a major transit improvement shaving off at most 10 or 15 minutes from a trip that is currently at least 90 minutes when you consider trips to Manhattan via subway and bus.

It would be a detriment to traffic by cutting road capacity for motor vehicles other than buses by up to 75%.
During off peak hours, there are currently four northbound through traffic lanes. BRT proposes to install a new island in Rego Park, leaving only three through lanes, one of them only for buses, 24/7. That leaves only two northbound through lanes for vehicles other than buses, a 50 percent reduction in road capacity.

Further, dedicated left turn lanes are being eliminated at Furmanville, 64 Rd and Penelope and left turns will be banned there as well. Only about 8 cars will be able to queue in the left turn lane at 63 Av. Adding the cars that will no longer be able to turn at the three intersections where left turns will be banned, cars will back up into one of the two remaining through lanes leaving only one moving through lane when now there are four. That’s a 75 percent reduction in road capacity. DOT has provided no traffic counts to show that road congestion will not increase.


adirondacker12800 December 8, 2015 - 3:10 pm

The people who are making left hand turns are in cars and can alter their trip in one way or another. Going around the block works. So does using an alternate to Woodhaven Blvd.

BrooklynBus December 8, 2015 - 6:55 pm

The problem is that it is not always easy to alter your trip. Due to irregularities in the grid system, you can’t always make three right turns. If you are going south and need to turn left onto Union Turnpike to go to Stop and Shop, you have to travel like a mile extra if you can’t turn left onto Union Turnpike. Also, there. Are no nearby alternates to Woodhaven which is part of the reason why this is such a poor idea. Your alternates are the overcrowded BQE, the Van Wyck, or Pennsylvania/Jackie Robinson connection. Pennsylania is very bad.

The cars that are on Woodhaven already rejected those other alternatives because they are much slower. A 45 minute trip on Woodhaven would take 90 minutes to 2 hours on the BQE. After this change, any alternative will take at least 90 minutes.

Does it make sense to add so much time to auto trips who outnumber bus passengers by 4 or 5 to 1, so some bus passengers can save 10 or 15 minutes at most? Those bus passengers who will lose their bus stop or have to walk further to make a transfer won’t save any time.

adirondacker12800 December 8, 2015 - 9:51 pm

… you are in a car. It’s very very easy to alter your trip.

BrooklynBus December 8, 2015 - 10:04 pm

It’s very easy to alter your trip? I didn’t realize cars could fly. Go to Google maps and look at that Stop and Shop trip I mentioned. Try to get there without left turns on Metropolitan Avenue, Union Turnpike and Myrtle Avenue. Your two choices are driving down to Park Lane South, cutting through the park, going north on Woodhaven and then turning east on Union Turnpike adding two miles to your trip. Your other choice is to take Trotting Course Lane all the way to Continental and then coming back on Union Turnpike. Now tell me how fast do you think traffic will be moving on Metropolitan and Continental with everyone adding a mile to their trip?

In fact most anyone needing a left turn not at the eight locations where they will be permitted, will have a mile or 20 minutes added to their trip. A bunch of high school students coud have come up with a better plan than DOT came up with by looking at Google Maps, seeing a wide street and concluding we can put in a bus lane. If their analysis entailed any more planning than that, why have they refused to provide any traffic counts or share the results of their traffic forecasting model which we have been asking for for over a year now?

wise infrastructure December 8, 2015 - 10:41 pm

Instead of mass transit vs cars let’s make this about transportation.

regarding the Woodhaven corridor:

Given the increase in car ownership/usage (not population)since the last major rebuild of Woodhaven Blvd, maybe it is time to consider:

***over/under passes (in addition to those at Atlantic Ave and the LIRR) at:
-Metropolitan Ave
-Union Tpke
-Myrtle Ave
-Rockaway Parkway/Liberty Ave

***and several pedestrian overpasses

With these improvements, Woodhaven could then host a bus lane while still sharing the burdens of north south traffic for most of Queens with the Van Wyck.

adirondacker12800 December 9, 2015 - 1:25 am

If the one-way direction arrows on Google maps are correct you have to drive, I know this is awful, a whole extra block, make a right, go another horrendous whole extra block, make a right and go yet another terrible whole extra block to get to where you are going. It’s just awful.

BrooklynBus December 9, 2015 - 9:10 am

Please specify the streets and your estimated travel time. The option I omitted was going south on Woodhaven to the Montauk line and making a u turn back to Metropolitan Av. If that is what you are referring to, we would need some estimated travel volumes to determine if we are talking about a five minute detour or a 20 minute detour. DOT has refused to provide this.

And with all the cars presently turning left at Metropolitan, Union Tpke, and Myrtle Ave, all having to do that, perhaps with a few turning at Park Lane South, I am afraid that route along with Trotting Course Lane will be hopelessly clogged. As it is now, on weekends it can take ten or 15 minutes to get into or out of the shopping center parking lot on weekends.

Tower18 December 9, 2015 - 12:38 pm

Do you have a citation for passengers via private auto outnumbering bus passengers 4:1 or 5:1? It looks like the Q53 alone has around 33k weekday riders, and the busiest section of Woodhaven has 59k average daily traffic.

Bolwerk December 9, 2015 - 3:32 pm

IIRC, someone posted some numbers on Streetsblog, and it was like 2k-3k cars/hour during the peak hour.

Safe to assume bus usage is much higher when it counts most.

BrooklynBus December 10, 2015 - 5:28 pm

Excuse me for taking so long to reply. I received a virus twice coming to this site on my mobile device with a pop up that would not go away asking me to complete a survey for a free i-phone 5. So I am replying from the library computer. I do not know when I will return to this site.

To answer your question: The 59k was probably measured at Liberty Avenue. It would be logical to assume there may be 30k more coming from the Rockaways and exiting Cross Bay for the Belt or end their trip in Woodhaven or Jamaica.

It also would be logiccal to assume that at least another 20 to 30k are entering north of Liberty destined for Queens Blvd or points south. That totals 110 to 120k. So compared to the 33k on buses, that is like almost 4 to 1.

There are also seasonal fluctuations. I know from experience that July and August are the lightest travel periods for Woodhaven and November and December are the heaviest, so it would not be unreasonable to assume that there are 150,000 non bus motorists during the peak season. That would make the ratio 5 to 1.

adirondacker12800 December 10, 2015 - 8:19 pm

It’s legal to carry Christmas presents on buses.

TimK December 10, 2015 - 8:34 pm

Is there any possibility that you will ever stop pulling numbers out of your ass?

You complain about the MTA not providing data, but otherwise you don’t let a lack of data impede you as you proceed on your merry way, inventing the numbers that will prove your point as effectively as possible.

BrooklynBus December 12, 2015 - 1:41 pm

Actually, I originally thought that 59,000 daily non-vehicular users referred to all users, and was not just the number of users passing a specific point.

I have since been corrected by others including a traffic engineer who more realistically estimated the number at between 100,000 and 150,000 daily users of non-bus motor vehicles in the absence of any data provided by DOT to justify their proposal.

So I am not just pulling numbers out of my ass. Why don’t you try to get some numbers out of DOT. We have been asking for over a year, and all they say is yes we can provide those numbers but have not done so. What are they trying to hide? Could it be that it is this proposal stinks to high hell?

Control December 8, 2015 - 2:19 pm


1) That’s fine. Let’s build replacement parkland at the St. Saviours site and by Rikers is. bridge. Oh wait, where were you when the community wanted those projects?
2) Wrong. The existing viaduct can handle more traffic.
3) Wrong again. The little league field is next to the ROW. If they expanded since I last checked, they should be kicked out. No businesses would be removed, and the parking lot at Union turnpike? Seriously? You’re arguing with transit advocates that we should preserve a parking lot?
4) Wrong, again.
5) True, and our idiot governor is giving you money instead of giving it to the MTA, where it’s desperately needed.

Enough Benepe. Enough with your lies and nonsense. Queens needs real transit solutions. NYC needs a one seat ride to JFK and elimination of tens of thousands of taxi and bus trips through Queens and Brooklyn. Commuters in the transit deprived neighborhoods around the Rockaway Beach route have some of the longest commutes in NYC. Billions of dollars a year in productivity are thrown away – with workers lives negatively impacted. It can take 2 hours to get from Far Rockaway to Manhattan. That’s economic repression, and we’re tired of it. We’re tired of hundreds of dangerous ‘resorts world’ buses running along Woodhaven. We’re tried of not being able to breathe from all the pollution all these cars are creating. Enough is enough.

Take the governors money and go spend it on cleaning up actual existing parks. if you don’t know what I’m talking about, get out of your bubble and take a walk through any NYC park that is not in Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn.

adirondacker12800 December 8, 2015 - 3:14 pm

How many billions of dollars would it cost to rebuild all of the terminals at JFK so that people could have a one seat ride? And we’d still need Airtrain so that people could get to the car rentals, hotel shuttles, kiss-n-ride and the subway. There’s still gonna be people who want to take the subway to Howard Beach or Jamaica. And all the people on Long Island who want to get to JFK who will be using Jamaica.

Control December 8, 2015 - 5:28 pm

Fine. Penn or Atlantic terminal to the Air Train still removes a huge amount of traffic off the roads. Current transit options to JFK are horrible. I’ll take one huge step towards better access than what Queensway offers: which is absolutely nothing.

adirondacker12800 December 8, 2015 - 6:06 pm

What is so different about changing to Airtrain at the edge of the airport versus changing to Airtrain at Jamaica? Doing more than plopping a LIRR station at the edge of the airport, at an Airtrain station, would cost billions and billions of dollars.

Eric December 9, 2015 - 6:09 am


Jamaica is a pretty good people-mover transfer station, all things considered.

Bolwerk December 9, 2015 - 10:50 am

If nothing else is done to make the airport more accessible, RBB reactivation would seem to make Howard Beach much more on par with Jamaica as a transfer.

Granted, there would be some redundancy there, given RBB would probably be served by the M or R, but unlike the E those are fairly underutilized services.

Thomas Graves December 8, 2015 - 3:53 pm

Given that it would bring rail transit to vastly under-served areas of Queens, it blows my mind that there is no plan – even talk of a plan – to turn the Montauk connection into some kind of light rail link from LIC to Jamaica. ROW still double-tracked and not yet encroached upon. Reminds me of the types of freight ROW that Salt Lake City and LA have successfully turned into light rail corridors. Too bad NY has neither vision nor money.

Control December 8, 2015 - 5:35 pm

There’s increasing talk, but our politicians are either clueless or don’t care because real estate investors aren’t involved.

The Queens democratic party boss (congressman Joe Crowley) lives in Virgina and somehow still gets elected-by-apathy. Imagine if we had actual representatives who were well informed, cared about the peoples needs, and actually lived here?

Some of that talk is covered here in depth…


Toby Sheppard Bloch December 8, 2015 - 6:09 pm

There is a proposal afoot to activate light rail on the Montauk line.

FLTD December 8, 2015 - 6:39 pm

Seeing as how the Lower Montauk has stable volumes over the long-term of daytime local freight traffic that can’t be time-separated to the overnight shift to allow for light rail vehicles during the day, light rail mode is an impossibility there. Find a way to do service with FRA-compliant DMU’s and you’ve got a leg to stand on, but there’s no way trolleys or an NJ Transit RiverLINE-type operation can coexist with that line’s current usage.

Nathanael December 22, 2015 - 3:13 am

Someone needs to organize a rebellion to toss out the archaic, non-functional party bosses. They’ll make it hard, but you can do it with about 200 people, I’d guess.

mister December 9, 2015 - 2:35 am

I’m really wondering why every piece of disused rail line in the city is being proposed to be turned into the next High Line…

High Line works because it is a very unique piece of infrastructure. It also works because it is in Manhattan, attracts a lot of tourists, and has a lot of people living directly along its path.

The Rockaway Beach Branch has none of those things. When I see images of food vendors setting up shop along the park, I have to stop and chuckle at this. Who is going to frequent these vendors? Who is going to make use of what is essentially a glorified hiking trail? The thought process here seems to be backwards here.

All of that goes doubly for the Montauk Cutoff. It’s an even worse candidate for the kind of linear park being proposed for QueensWay. Why not identify what the need is, and then find ways to address them? I find it disappointing that money seems to drive projects and not the other way around.

At least the proposal for the Montauk Cutoff attempts to keep it available for rail use in the future, if needed.

Eric December 9, 2015 - 7:28 am

Even the High Line itself is not THAT successful. It gets 5 million visitors a year, which is 13000 per day. Grand Central Station gets about 4 times that many tourists per day, not to mention the hordes of commuters. QueensWay, obviously, would get many fewer visitors than the High Line.

If people are serious about QueensWay, why don’t they start with the parts of the ROW that would not impact rail? From southern Howard Beach to Atlantic Avenue, the ROW has four existing tracks, only two of which are needed for the subway. The other two could be used to make an elevated linear park which would be just as wide as the High Line is. This is also the most park-deprived part of the ROW – further north, residents can use Forest Park. Why does nobody talk about this possibility? Why is the only part of the ROW they consider the part that would block a future rail line?

Bolwerk December 9, 2015 - 12:23 pm

Whatever you think of the High Line, at least its application for transit was pretty close to nil.

mister December 10, 2015 - 12:20 am

Was it? If it were still available for use, it would have been a logical to connect the 7 to it for a relatively cheap extension further to the south.

Eric December 10, 2015 - 3:29 pm

You still would have had to tunnel to 34th St, and then you’d have an old curvy loud viaduct which could take you at most two stations further south than the current extension, if it was even structurally sound. And no future extension to New Jersey.

There’s a reason they tore down all the Manhattan elevated lines decades ago…

mister December 10, 2015 - 8:14 pm

The point is: we tunneled to 34th (actually, 23rd) anyway. The extension to NJ wouldn’t have been precluded by a connection to the Highline, but I think it’s a bad idea anyway.

I’m also amazed that anyone on a transit advocacy website thinks the removal of elevated lines is a good thing. Chicago has much of its elevated network still in place, and it functions quite well.

Bolwerk December 10, 2015 - 10:25 pm

Even assuming the 7 to the High Line was feasible, I think it makes more sense that they’ve opened possibility up for future extensions south with underground construction.

The other thing is at least that part of Manhattan can be kind of adequately served by bus and was in need of some green space. That’s the opposite of Woodhaven, which can’t be served sufficiently by bus and is in a part of Queens with oodles of green space.

wise infrastructure December 11, 2015 - 12:13 am

a (most likely) unintended question that could come out of this discussion/thread is the viability of some sort of (new) elevated structures in Manhattan and other parts of NYC.

Clearly our 100+ year old decrepit elevated lines have created a bias against what is potentially a much cheaper form construction.

Concrete re-bar elevated structures such as the JFK airtrain are quiet and elastically pleasing than the old els and are way cheaper (and faster to build) than subways.

Maybe use monorails instead of regular trains and eliminate the safety walkways by equipping the local firehouses with

Using POP fair collection would allow stations to be much smaller (no in fare/out of fare areas) saving on both infrastructure costs and the size of the station’s footprint.

With this far cheaper form of building routes, one could engage in discussion regarding potential routes including a river to river lines on 34th Street(servicing Penn Station), 49th/50th streets (one direction over each street), 57th Street etc.

Eric December 14, 2015 - 4:30 am

It is usually proposed to use light rail for routes like 34th. I think this better fits the passenger volumes, and is more accessible for short distance trips.

An elevated line would be great for Utica in Brooklyn and Soundview in the Bronx.

In Manhattan, I might suggest continuing the 7 elevated along the West Side Highway to Lower Manhattan. Or else a 34th St El which continued south on the FDR to Lower Manhattan. I question whether each of these is really necessary, but they would be nice to have if our construction costs were tolerable.

Nathanael December 22, 2015 - 3:19 am

They tore down the Manhattan els due to an earthquake which caused them to be worried about structural stability, actually. I looked up the history; that was the motivation for building all the subways to “replace the els”.

They were overly paranoid. The Els were solid. But they didn’t have good seismic engineering then so they didn’t know.

Spendmor Wastemor December 9, 2015 - 3:13 pm

“Even the High Line itself is not THAT successful. ”

I beg to differ. Go hang out on it some time. It’s an immensely needed break from the city, which you can to and from without expending time most people in NYC don’t have. Being elevated lets you catch a slight breeze (I did say slight) during the summer and get away from the garbage stench and general filth for a moment. It also has an outdoor bar with decent sammiches, beer and a river view, but without drunks and general jerkiness.

Even Spendmor approves of the small indulgence which is the High Line.

Alon Levy December 9, 2015 - 6:33 pm

I have gone there a few times. It’s not a break from anything. Just an additional north-south throughfare with better views than the other north-south throughfares.

Eric December 10, 2015 - 6:31 am

I agree that it’s nice. But it’s small (narrow), so it gets crowded even when a relatively small number of people are using it.

Possible? December 9, 2015 - 8:17 pm

Just brainstorming a little off topic but is it possible to reactivate the LIRR whitestone branch? That would be great and help a lot of people.

mister December 10, 2015 - 8:15 pm

There’s nothing left to reactivate.

Alon Levy December 10, 2015 - 9:00 pm

No, the ROW’s completely gone.

Dave March 19, 2016 - 12:23 pm

Why did he have to use the word “rail”? Why couldn’t he just write” reactivation for transportation purposes”? Then you could study rail, BRT, regular bus service, even cars.


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