South Queens debates usage of abandoned rail line
by Heather Senison
Jun 20, 2012 | 2157 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Residents, officials and advocates met at the Maple Grove Cemetery community center in Fresh Meadows on Monday, June 18, to discuss proposals regarding the abandoned train tracks that run through South Queens.

Improving transportation to the Rockaways, creating more open space for Queens, and economic development were among the topics of discussion at the meeting.

One proposal involves building a Long Island Railroad to the Rockaways, while another seeks to turn the three-mile vacant strip, which runs through Ozone Park, Forest Hills, Rego Park and other neighborhoods, into a park akin to Manhattan's Highline.

Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder was among those in support of building a new rail line to service the Rockaways, citing a current hour and 45 minute commute to midtown Manhattan and congestion on major roadways in the area.

"For people in South Queens, that is their reality every single day," he said.

Goldfeder addressed the audience on how they got to the meeting and asked, “How many people would've loved to take the subway and instead sat in their car in traffic?”

He said a train to the Rockaways could alleviate congestion on the Van Wyck Expressway, Belt Parkway and Cross Bay Boulevard, equating to a positive environmental impact.

In addition, the train would help Southern Queens residents access businesses and services in the rest of the borough, creating economic development, he said.

“Long-term it would help the economy in every single neighborhood in the borough,” Goldfeder said. “We need to start thinking about the future and we need to start thinking about the entire borough.”

But supporters of the Queensway argued that a new park would bring economic development to the borough by attracting visitors.

They said a bike lane in the Queensway would improve commutes for Southern Queens.

Community Board 9 Chair Andrea Crawford said building a new rail line to the Rockaways would cut through the heart of Central Queens, which is already divided and overdeveloped.

“This is why we need a park,” she said.

Crawford spoke on behalf of Friends of the Queensway, a planning group that is now partnered with the Trust for Public Land, which builds parks around the country.

Friends of the Queensway has so far collected support from 2,000 people, mostly Queens residents, according to a presentation at the meeting.

Andy Stone of the Trust for Public Land said during the presentation that residents who live near the abandoned rail line, but not near Forest Park, don't have open space for recreational use.

He added that open space raises nearby property values.

“The most exciting thing about the Queensway is the diversity of Queens and how the Queensway can highlight that,” Stone said.

He said the park would encourage healthy living in Queens, a borough where 56.4 percent of adults are overweight or obese.
School classes could also plant vegetable and other kinds of gardens along the Queensway, he said.

If the park incorporates bike paths, it would be eligible for federal capital project funding, Stone added.

Tempers flared among the audience during the meeting, as attendees had mixed reactions to the proposal, with some supporting only the park or the train, and others expressing skepticism at both.

Railien Trails Transportation Blog Editor Jim Calisi, of Fresh Meadows, said that at the turn of the Century, most New York City residents lived in the lower third of Manhattan because they had to live where they worked.

With the creation of the subway, he said, the population expanded to the outer boroughs.

“Transportation is a vital life-sign of an area such as New York City,” Calisi said. “The subway allowed the city to become the metropolis that it is.”

But Bernice Katz, of the Forest Hills Crescent Civic Association, said trains cause noise pollution and disrupt neighborhoods.

“The trains are getting noisier and noisier. I would like to know how they justify destroying the neighborhoods all along the way so that Rockaway can have an easier commute?” she said. “The people of Rockaway can find other solutions, couldn't they?”

Alan Joseph, a Rego Park resident, said he would like more safe bike paths to teach his daughter how to ride a bike.

“The greenway would give a lot of us the opportunity to do family-oriented things that we can't do,” he said. “If we go for a train, are you also going to build something for bike lanes in a way that we can have a safe route to be able to do things with families?”

However, Joseph said he recognized that there are multiple issues that need to be solved in all the neighborhoods near the Queensway.

“The community has family needs and it has business needs and commute needs,” he said.

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