Former PTNY Heathy Trails Healthy People Project gains traction

Featured in the NY Daily News,  Wednesday, February 8, 2012

By Andrea Crawford / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, link to original post

Friends of the QueensWay formed as a coming together of all the communities along the abandoned right of way that was once the Rockaway Branch spur of the Long Island Rail Road. Since its formation, multitudes of people around the world have expressed support.

As of today, an online petition calling on the City of New York to convert the Rockaway line to a park has 1,426 signatures which include those of more than 300 people from the Forest Hills/Rego Park area, more than 700 people from Queens and those of people from nearly 50 countries around the world.

Most importantly, the potential of this project has ignited an outpouring of support from Queens residents who are confronted with the paucity of available safe, scenic bicycle routes in the borough. The ability to bicycle around Queens and perhaps get to a safe park, such as Forest Park, a jewel in city park system, is extremely limited, and in fact, can pose danger to anyone but the most experienced cyclist.

The ability for residents from South Ozone Park and Rego Park to safely ride through their own neighborhoods and meet up in Forest Park is most certainly an ambitious project, but one that is feasible by converting this long-abandoned right-of-away into a greenway.

The Rockaway line was decommissioned 50 years ago and is currently owned by the city. Since decommissioning, communities have developed around the old tracks but the land itself has been left desolate and covered in debris. Much of the old tracks are gone but the beautiful trestles remain, with the right-of-way weaving through Forest Park, Little League fields, industrial neighborhoods as well as through residential areas. This 3.5 miles of unused, city-owned land inspired the 1,426 people (at least) who have signed on to support the creation of new open space.

The opportunities of creating the QueensWay are endless – families would be able to walk, run, stroll or bike for miles, uninterrupted, through the entire Borough of Queens. As evidence shows in similar rails-to-trails conversions across the country, business, economic and cultural activity would be catalyzed, property values would increase while public safety and health would improve. Communities throughout the borough would be connected as the line would link five subway lines, more than a dozen schools, at least nine shopping districts and two other greenways that currently exist in Forest Park.

Finally, the conversion to a park would reclaim derelict land that acts as an attraction for dumping, illicit activity and graffiti from Forest Hills to South Ozone Park. Once the city’s Bike Share program, which begins this year, reaches Queens, the potential for the QueensWay will be fully unlocked.

While we commend our friends in the Rockaways for their continued advocacy for improved transit to their community, it is hard to believe that reactivation of the Rockaway Line is the right solution. Studies have shown that it would be infeasible – costs would be in the billions as a result of its current state of disrepair from having been abandoned for more than 50 years and the fact that the line currently runs next to schools, ballfields and hundreds if not thousands of homes, circumstances that could present numerous dangerous situations.

Further, there are alternatives that can be explored to improve transportation, such as implementation of Select Bus Service on Cross Bay and Woodhaven Blvds., increased A-train express service; licensing of a Fast Ferry to Lower Manhattan and Midtown and re-opening of the Woodhaven station underneath Atlantic Ave. on the LIRR’s Atlantic Branch.

Friends of the QueensWay feels strongly that to ensure a successful park, a significant amount of planning must be conducted that includes the participation of a variety of stakeholders. That is why we are thrilled to have the support and commitment of the Trust for Public Land – the country’s most successful creator of parks. As a first step, we will conduct a thorough feasibility study to determine, among many other things, the current condition of the line, how the park will be maintained and operated and what will be the cost to construct the ultimate vision. Once all of this information is parsed, we will be able to accurately make a presentation to the public and government why investments in the QueensWay constitutes a sound investment that will benefit the residents of Queens for generations to come.

Andrea Crawford is Chairwoman of Community Board 9 and a member of the Steering Committee of Friends of the Queensway. This project was supported by a Healthy Trails Healthy People technical assistance grant from PTNY.

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