With a comprehensive study still pending, the Friends of the QueensWay and the Trust for Public Land said they were placing an emphasis on outreach as consultants sift through feedback collected at various community workshops in the borough.
Queens has been grappling over what to make of an abandoned 3.5-mile stretch of railway that runs through Forest Hills, Rego Park, Glendale, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill, and Ozone Park, with one proposal considering converting it into a 47-acre linear park and cultural greenway and another advocating to reactivate the former Rockaway Beach Rail Line in the same area. The Friends of QueensWay helped facilitate two community workshops over the last two months, asking borough residents what they thought about the concepts, and so far, the process has gone according to plan.
“So far, we’re very pleased with the level of interest,” said Andy Stone of the Trust for Public Land organization. “We have seen a lot of really great engagement and we are pleased that the team we hired has done a really good job of presenting their ideas.”
Members of WXY architecture and urban design were on hand at the community workshops in Forest Hills and Richmond Hill last month to discuss different facets of the proposal, which Stone said garnered constructive results. The Trust for Public Land representative said there was a lot of attention given to some specific issues at the workshops, including how to align paths along the railway and how to incorporate buffers to help assure privacy and security.
Queens College announced it would help conduct a comprehensive study along with consultants working on the project as well as graduate and undergraduate students in its Department of Urban Studies to assess the community impact of the different proposals.
The consultants will be returning with a final comprehensive report in June with a technical analysis compiling all the input they have received, Stone said.
“We are now in a period of synthesizing the work that has already been underway,” Stone said. “But outreach is also a major ongoing part of this process.”
A spokeswoman for the Friends of the QueensWay plugged one upcoming community cleanup on April 26th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as the next chapter in the group’s ongoing outreach efforts to keep the community engaged as the study is completed. The group announced it would partner with the city Parks Department to host its second annual community cleanup day with a meet up set at Forest Park Drive.
Wayne Sosin has worked with Worksman Trading Corp selling bicycles and bike parts along the railway line in Ozone Park since 1979 and said he was supportive of seeing the property transformed into a greenway. The visual benefits alone were enough for him to stand behind the Friends of QueensWay, he said.
“There’s nothing that could be negative about it in my mind,” he said. “it might make our building more prominent because of foot traffic, and it would certainly improve the neighborhood. Real estate values would improve and I think everyone would like to see something that makes the area more desirable.”
Opponents of the plan have argued that reactivating the abandoned line would spur economic growth for the city, but City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz announced her contrary opinion earlier this month. She said a reactivated rail line would negatively impact quality of life and public space because of issues like train noise.
“The negative impact reactivation would have on residents whose property abuts the rail bed cannot be overstated,” she said in a statement. “Currently, there is a Long Island Rail Road railroad line, which cuts through my district. For those whose windows face the rail bed, conversations have to be stopped in mid-sentence when a train goes by…the effect of this reactivation would be even more severe.”
Still, supporters of the rail line said the need for public transportation is dire in Queens, particularly in a number of the area that the rail line once served, including Rockaway and South Queens. Advocates for reactivating the line have said the train could bring a much-needed economic jolt to the peninsula following the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy and would significantly cut residents commute times – which can be as long as two hours each way if they’re traveling from Rockaway to Manhattan.
“The key to our success as a borough, and city, is to expand our public transportation infrastructure,” Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, an ardent support of reactivating the rail line, said in a previous interview.
Fans of the rail also recently held rallies in support of the proposal to bring back the trains, and Phil McManus, a Rockaway Park resident who founded the Queens Public Transit Committee, said in a recent interview that he hopes the Rockaway Beach Rail Line will become “the new Queens Cross Town.”
“We have overcrowded buses and trains, our roadways are clogged – there are so many things going on,” he said. “We’re going to have a bigger population. We need the rail line.”
Still, others favor nixing both proposals and leaving the area as it is now. Woodhaven resident Neil Giannelli, founder of the group No Way QueensWay, has stressed that he and others living on 98th Street harbor serious concerns about security and decreased property values with any kind of development on the tracks.
By Phil Corso