‘Queensway’ – So much for democracy?

Published on: December 26th, 2012 | Last updated: August 7, 2014 Written by:

Here is a story that will frustrate anyone who has ever been tasked with trying to get to JFK airport from anywhere in NYC. Instead of reusing a branch of the LIRR which was shut down back in the 1962 (when LIRR was the red-headed stepchild of the Pennsylvania railroad – which looted its cash), the current governor of New York is backing a plan to convert the tracks into a park.

These tracks run from the current LIRR mainline in Rego Park (connecting to Penn station and soon Grand Central) south through Queens to Ozone Park, where the tracks continue south as the present day ‘A’ subway line (NYCTA took over these portion of the line from the LIRR back in the 50s to serve Rockaway Beach).

In a transportation idealist’s world – these tracks would be reactivated and extended from Howard Beach into JFK – providing a one seat ride from 2 major rail hubs in Manhattan direct to JFK. This would wipe out a significant amount of automobile traffic on all major highways through Queens and Brooklyn, and cut the time to get to the airport from Manhattan from 1-1.5 hours to a half hour.

NYC is one of very few world class cities that do not have a direct rail link from their major international airport to their downtown.

Instead of this vital rail link, some people (including apparently the governor) are now backing a ‘High Line’ style park – which would eliminate any chance for future transportation reuse. The cost of this project is also completely unmeasured:

But the Queensway plan favored by park advocates and local groups faces significant hurdles: Is the site contaminated? Can elevated tracks abandoned for 50 years still support walkers and cyclists? Will a project stretching from Rego Park to Ozone Park attract the Chelsea-size checks that helped bring the High Line to life?

The proposal for an elevated park paired with bike trails, fitness zones and ethnic-food stalls got its first nod from the state when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday gave the Trust for Public Land a $467,000 grant to study the project.

“That is the first step toward making the Queensway a reality,” said Christopher Kay, chief operating officer of the Trust, the nonprofit group helping spearhead the new park.

Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324461604578193983027166730.html

In a post-Sandy Queens, I can think of a lot of better ways to spend half a million dollars. A lot of people could be given actual work for that money, instead of a tiny few high paid consultants who’ll come up with a plan to – you know- spend more of your tax money. On a park… Queens has many parks, though very few of them are maintained very well in comparison with those of Manhattan or Brooklyn. Who would pick up the costs of this new park maintenance in the long term??

I would be willing to wager a nickel that the cost of converting these tracks to a glitzy ‘high line’ style park would be similar to those of reactivating it as a rail line.

Who would stand to actually benefit from this new park? Likely the very same people that benefited from the construction of the High Line in Manhattan: Real Estate Developers. What was once undesirable property is now worth billions of dollars.

There is a fundamental difference though between ‘Queensway’ and ‘The High Line’ – the high line passed through a former industrial area without many actual residential neighbors. The old LIRR rockaway branch passes directly along the backyards of dozens of homes. How many people want an actual public park directly in their back yard, where one never existed before? The NIMBYs will certainly not be pleased. (They wouldn’t be pleased with a rail line either – but the rest of the city might outvote them on that if given the chance…)

What would the actual effect of building the park be on air quality across the entire region, as compared to removal of a significant amount of road traffic? You might think a park equals trees, but in this case, the old LIRR rockaway branch is currently a forest with large 50 and 60 year old trees growing tall throughout. Building a ‘park’ here would actually necessitate the wholesale slaughtering of hundreds of trees.

If we’re going to fund a study on converting this land to a park, why not have a study on the impact of reopening it as a direct rail line to JFK? Why can’t both be studied in parallel and the citizens of NYC be allowed to decide what they want, instead of this decision being made for them via some shady land grab with no public input whatsoever?? The way this is being handled is much more like something you’d expect in China, not the U.S.A.

Clearly we’re a little bias in this matter, but that is by design. I’ve seen very few people speaking out publicly against the park plan and for better public transit. This is something that should be openly debated, studied, and decided upon by the citizens of this city. I suspect there are more people that would like the rail line reopened than those who want what would be a very small park.

5 Responses to “‘Queensway’ – So much for democracy?”

  1. Phoenix says:

    Main question: would the trains there be able to smoothly cut under the section where the branch crosses into the A line? it seems like a bit of a squeeze.

  2. Control says:

    I believe so – pretty sure it was designed to fit a train under there. NYCTA had a plan to convert the entire line to a subway line and connect it on the north end to the queens blvd tracks.

  3. slant-40 says:

    One big question is: would this rail line be LIRR or NYCTA, two agencies with differing rules. Once East Side Access is complete, this may become an inviting destination for LIRR trains. Even if they terminate at Howard Beach, this would be a very useful service to the airport.

  4. Control says:

    I would think LIRR since it’s easier to connect and probably has better capacity with ESA than the queens blvd subway – which seems pretty maxed out during the day as it is. The LIRR connection exists, and so far as i’ve seen the queens blvd connection was never fully built. it would take a lot more work.

    Just getting to howard beach for the air train connection would be a huge step up. It’s not rocket science either. Clear trees, fix or replace short bridges, lay new track, and go. If we can tunnel LIRR over to Grand Central, and the 7 to the west side, how can this be any harder? The only obstacle is politics and a few NIMBYS who’d be outvoted if the citzens of the entire region had a chance to actually vote on it.

    I can’t think of a single good reason not to do this. A ‘park’ would just slaughter hundreds of existing trees and perpetuate the taxi, auto and bus emissions associated with JFK today. The existing parks in Queens are barely maintained, and the last time someone tried to get a new park for Maspeth the city basically refused to fund it (the old st. saviours site – once a native forest and church, now an empty lot and warehouse). Why this sudden desire to make it a useless park? What real estate ‘developers’ are behind this land grab?

  5. Philip McManus says:

    The Queens Public Transit Committee supports the reactivation of the unused Rockaway Beach Line. The Rockaway Beach Line of the old LIRR used to take 40 minutes from Rockaway Park to Pennsylvania Station. This train track is only one to six blocks away from Woodhaven Boulevard and runs parallel to it. You can see the RBL from Woodhaven Boulevard at numerous locations. It is about one block from Woodhaven Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue.

    It makes sense to reactivate this tremendous community asset to enhance Queens transit. We have 2.2 million people in Queens and our population is growing. We need more trains, buses, ferries and tracks.

    We need to expand the transit system for an expanding population. We had 1.5 million people in 1950 and 1.8 million in 1960 and now we have 2.2 million people in Queens forced to take overcrowded, unreliable and dangerous buses and trains.

    That’s an increase of 697,000 people.

    The Woodhaven Boulevard, Queens Boulevard, Van Wyck Expressway, Belt Parkway and the Long Island Expressway corridors have too much traffic, accidents, construction, disabled vehicles, trucks, buses, etc. There are just too many variables to keep buses on time, reliable and not overcrowded.

    We also need to reduce air pollution, gas consumption, vehicle and pedestrian accidents and injuries.

    We need the best alternatives to relieve the current and future traffic delays and congestion to our transportation system.

    RBL is the right public transit option to address this growing problem. This dedicated right of way will help alleviate the associated traffic problems on the Woodhaven Boulevard corridor and other corridors. It would also move more people more efficiently throughout Queens to midtown Manhattan.

    People would be able to connect to more subways, buses and the LIRR from Queens and may also avoid the overcrowded subways of Manhattan.

    Commuters and tourists from across the region would have another transit option to use the RBL to live, work, learn, shop, eat, and play in Queens.

    It would improve Queens crosstown transit and bring more people together and reduce travel times. The RBL would increase business, employment, economic development, property values, tax revenues and educational opportunities for many Queens communities.

    The MTA has not provided enough buses or trains for commuters. They have ignored our requests for more buses, longer buses, more express buses and 24 hour service.

    We need more regular scheduled buses not random, haphazard, and inadequate service.

    We need an unbiased legitimate study to determine the real benefits and cost.

    It has cost south Queens billions of dollars and thousands of lives are being adversely affected by the loss of RBL since 1950 and 1962.

    Do you support faster public transportation? Are you tired of longer travel times, dangerous, overcrowded and unreliable trains and buses? Let’s get organized.

    Join our group Queens Public Transit Committee,

    718-679-5309, Rowing612@aol.com, Facebook.com/RockawayBeachRailLine, Twitter.com/RBL1910

    http://rockawaybranchline.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-queens-public-transit-committee-for.html?m=1

    Tell your family and friends to sIgn our petitions to support the Reactivation of the Queens Rockaway Beach Line as a subway or LIRR, eliminate the toll on Queens Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge and expand the Queens Rockaway Ferry:

    http://www.rockawaybeachrail.com/

    •change.org/petitions/governor-andrew-m-cuomo-reactivate-the-lirr-rockaway-line-in-central-queens

    http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/Phillip-Goldfeder/story/45022/

    http://www.keeprockawayferry.com/

    Philip McManus
    Queens Public Transit Committee
    718-679-5309

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