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.
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.
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.