BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Last month Friends of QueensWay, elected officials and the Trust for Public Land announced that they will begin the design process for Phase One, a half-mile-long stretch from Metropolitan Avenue to Union Turnpike, which is a proposed 3.5 mile, 47 acre family park put in place of the 60-year old abandoned Rockaway Beach Rail Line in Central Queens.
The announcement reignited the discussion of what would be a better fit for the location, with options for the vacant land becoming QueensWay, a passage way for the Select Bus Service, the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line or simply remaining dormant.
“Whichever way we go, we have to proceed with caution,” state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) told the Queens Tribune. “There are a lot of hurdles and issues that need to be addressed on all ends.”
Earlier this year, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), a long-standing supporter of the rail line, announced that the Metropolitan Transit Authority agreed to conduct a feasibility study of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line reactivation.
“Transportation in Queens is a priority,” Goldfeder told the Queens Tribune. “Having another park would be great, but transportation is our priority. I don’t oppose it, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the new train.”
Until 1962, the train served Long Island Rail Road commuters between Rockaway, Ozone Park and Rego Park.
According to Goldfeder, the line provided a 45 minute commute to Midtown Manhattan from the Rockaways.
Because the tracks and infrastructure still exist, the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Line is projected to cost less than $1 billion.
“It is correct that the MTA has committed to study transportation options and issues along the corridor, and submit a report no later than June 30, 2017,” Aaron Donovan, Deputy Director for External Communications for the MTA, told the Queens Tribune. “It would be premature to comment on what could be done with the former LIRR right-of-way until the conclusion of the study. In fact, the costs and benefits of various transportation options and alternatives are exactly what the study is designed to shed light on.”
Also opposing the QueensWay proposal but supporting the rail line is Queens Public Transit Committee Chairman Philip McManus.
“It goes against common sense to take away traffic lanes for bikes and buses,” McManus told the Queens Tribune.
“Woodhaven Boulevard is overcrowded and the city is making it worse with the SBS.”
According to McManus, when buses are in their lanes, they have no problems because they’re able to move at a fast pace but as soon as they drive off their bus lanes, they are stuck in traffic with everyone else. He added that because buses are ‘stuck in gridlock’ it is resulting in a decrease in ridership.
“QueensWay doesn’t want a park, they want a wall,” said McManus. “They want people to stop using the train. It’s a pretty wall that says ‘keep out, we don’t want you.’ They [QueensWay] talk about how they are going to benefit thousands of people but we can benefit the whole city. We don’t need a park. We need transportation, real transportation.”
McManus says that the city invests more capital funding on the borough of Manhattan’s public transportation while Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx get bike and bus lanes instead, resulting in an increase in traffic and a decrease in speed.
“We need railways like this Queens Rail line, which is adjacent to the Woodhaven Boulevard traffic nightmare,” he said. “The Queens Public Transit Committee guarantees the Queens rail. This is an example of a ‘rising tide’; when the tide starts changing, all of this gridlock is going to help people start realizing what we are more in need of.”
Although there is a strong push for the reactivation of the Rockaway Rail Line, the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association is strongly in support of studying the track as a right of way for the SBS.
WRBA sent a letter to Queens Borough DOT Commissioner Nicole Garcia asking her to explore the possibility of having bus-only lanes along the right of way before DOT undertakes a project along the boulevard that would cost over a million dollars.
In the letter, WRBA wrote that the ‘busway’ is close to Woodhaven Boulevard and runs parallel to it, it avoids buses having to share the road with other vehicles, it allows buses to travel safely at faster speeds, amongst other benefits they described.
“Our position is simple, at least consider and look carefully at all of the options, which include running a bus along the right of way,” Alex Blenkinsopp, director of communications of the WRBA, told the Queens Tribune. “Maybe it won’t work, but you can’t know that unless you’ve studied it.”
Last November, the WRBA held a meeting in which they all voted on the proposal, with Assemblymen Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Goldfeder present and in support.
“I would happily support that,” Goldeder said at the meeting. “I would not be opposed to any transportation options that would preserve the right-of-way.”
WRBA doesn’t support neither the QueensWay project nor the reactivation of the Rockaway Rail Line.
“Our city has enough difficulty maintaining Forest Park,” said Blenkinsopp. “We already have a greenway that crosses the path of the proposed QueensWay that is badly maintained. Before expanding the amount of park land in the area, our city should establish that it can take care of the park land it already has.”
“The position of the WRBA has been that we are not in support of neither the park nor the rail line,” he added. “Instead we support cleaning up the land and keeping it as it is, with the new development that we encourage the city to explore the bus lane.”
Although McManus is strongly in support of the reactivation of the rail line, he is not opposing the idea of putting either the SBS or the bike lanes on the vacant line. However, he is for it only if it will be placed in addition to the subway line.
“If we can get a bus up there and it works well, no problem. If we can get a bike lane with the train, no problem,” said McManus. “Let’s have the train and the bike trail. We could have an elevated line, putting the bicycle underneath, over or adjacent to the subway line.”
Although there are both people in support of and opposing the different ideas for the area, there is no finalized decision.
“As an advocate for transparency and government, I hope there will be public hearings, town halls or other community hearings before an official decision is made,” said Addabbo. “Public input is crucial at this point.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org