In one corner, the QueensWay 'park' advocates and organizers of the workshop, were joined by the transportation advocates known as the Queens Public Transit Committee in the other corner and they kind of duked it out. The 'prize' in the middle of the ring (so to speak) was the 3.5-mile abandoned rail line that was once operated by the Long Island Rail Road as the Rockaway Branch Line.
While the final disposition of the right of way is far from decided, an ally of the rail transportation advocates stepped up to the table and made an effort to level the playing field. New York State Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder came up with the $50 to $100,000 dollars out of his discretionary expense account to fund a study to be conducted by Queens College's Department of Urban Studies. The money to fund that study is less than the $500,000 in state funds from the New York State Trust for Public Land but should prove to be a useful competing opinion on how to better serve the transportation needs of southern Queens versus a bike path.
To their credit, the Friends of the Queensway welcomed to 'opposition' study but stated that if it had not happened in the last 50 years, rail might not happen and they're seizing the opportunity to get their way. They seek to mimic the Highline in Manhattan even though the economic and land use doesn't match the largely residential make-up of the area. Another issue not addressed by the park plan are security issues which has a huge negative attached to it.
There is a major dividing line in this fight - the park advocates want the entire 3.5-mile tract of land exclusively while the Queens Public Transit Committee is willing to share the former 4-track mainline so both sides can benefit.
Philip McManus, Chairman of the Queens Public Transit Committee and made the statement that:
"Reusing the former LIRR Queens Rockaway Beach Line (RBL) for transportation is the best plan. It will reunite north and south Queens and decrease travel times and increase investments for everyone especially the poor and middle class areas that are underserved, excluded and separated from the American dream.
The QueensWay plan and the No Way plan are exclusive and divide our borough. It also prevents development and investments in Queens. We need jobs and businesses for all the people so we can grow and help each other. The QueensWay plan sounds good [on the surface] but it will only benefit a few people and a small area of Queens. It’s the small plan while the transportation plan is the big plan, the most inclusive plan.
The reactivation of the RBL will expand the transit system, increase social and economic opportunities, increase property values and tax revenue. As a rail line, the RBL will increase transit options including faster travel times to work, home, school, shopping, recreation, dining, family visits, and doctor visits.
The RBL will decrease pollution, accidents, unemployment, crime and government dependence, reduce present and future overcrowding and unreliable buses, trains and roadways at a much, much greater level than the QueensWay plan.
Thank you also to New York State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder and Queens College for organizing this affordable study."
Clearly, the battle lines are drawn and the fight is on. In this era of evolving 'green' transportation and lifestyle, the rail transportation plan offers greater economic benefits and an actual return on investment with a better quality of life. No matter which option is chosen, the right of way needs to be rebuilt, the rail advocates seem to have the upper hand when it comes to an all-around solution.
Below is Assemblyman Goldfeder's press release:
Assemblyman Goldfeder and Queens College Urban Studies Department to Launch Comprehensive Study of Abandoned Rockaway Beach Rail Line
Faculty, students, and staff from the college Urban Studies Department will perform a comprehensive community impact study to help assess the best use for abandoned tracks
Flushing, Queens—Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway), joined by Professor Leonard Rodberg, Chair of the Queens College Department of Urban Studies, announced plans for a comprehensive study to assess the community impact of the proposed options for the abandoned tracks of the old Rockaway Beach Rail Line.
“The Queens College Department of Urban Studies’ Office of Community Studies is renowned for its community-based research. It is the perfect partner to help determine what is in the best interest of Queens and city residents,” said Assemblyman Goldfeder. “Now that the MTA has signaled an interest in reactivating the Rockaway Beach Rail Line as an efficient and cost-effective way to significantly increase public transit for Queens residents, it’s important we do appropriate studies to determine the next steps. While other groups are using tax dollars to hire expensive consultants and do one-sided studies, we’re utilizing local expert resources and educating our students while supporting an objective study that will enormously benefit all our hardworking Queens families.”
The project will be led by Professor Rodberg together with Dr. Scott Larson and other faculty and students from the college’s Department of Urban Studies. The collaborative effort will include assessments of community transportation patterns and needs as well as community attitudes about the impacts, costs, need for and feasibility of a range of proposed uses of the abandoned rail line. The study will take approximately nine months to prepare and is expected to be completed by the end of next summer.
“Our Department is pleased to be cooperating with Assemblyman Goldfeder in assessing the options for this valuable, unused area of Queens. We believe our study will help everyone evaluate what is best for the people and communities of Queens,” said Professor Rodberg.”
Queens College of the City University of New York enjoys a national reputation for its liberal arts and sciences and pre-professional programs. With its graduate and undergraduate degrees, honors programs, and research and internship opportunities, the college helps its over 20,000 students realize their potential in countless ways, assisted by an accessible, award-winning faculty. Located on a beautiful, 80-acre campus in Flushing, the college is cited each year in the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s 100 “Best Value” colleges, thanks to its outstanding academics, generous financial aid packages, and relatively low costs. In 2013, Washington Monthly ranked QC #1 among “Master’s Universities” as a Best-Bang-for-the-Buck college and #2 nationwide among colleges that do the best job of helping non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices.
The Rockaway Beach Line, also known as the White Pot Junction Line, was created around the turn of the century and was owned and operated by the Long Island Rail Road. It provided residents with safe, affordable and expedient access to other parts of the city and 40 minute commutes to midtown Manhattan from Rockaway. In the early 60s, parts of the railroad service were condensed, sectioned off and eventually closed. In the following years, the property was vandalized, encroached upon and has become a source of embarrassment for the families that reside in the area.
Assemblyman Goldfeder has made transportation and the restoration of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line a top priority. In February of 2012, he called on Governor Cuomo to immediately restore the line to ease commutes for Queens residents. In May that year, Goldfeder launched a petition that garnered nearly 3,000 signatures that were later delivered to Governor Cuomo, the Port Authority, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in support of bringing the line back to life. Additionally, Assemblyman Goldfeder continues to work with Congressmen Gregory Meeks (NY-5) and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) to facilitate a portion of approved federal Sandy disaster aid be allocated to fund the restoration of the rail line and assist in recovery for residents.
"I believe that increasing public transportation is the right choice and I look forward to the results of the study and working with my colleges and the community to fund and implement next steps," concluded Goldfeder.