ROUND 2 OF RAIL DEBATE
Train, ‘Queensway’ Advocates Come To Wdhvn.
A forum on the future of the Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) packed the Queens Tabernacle in Woodhaven on Saturday, Sept. 29 with local residents eager to loudly voice their opinions.
Sponsored by the Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA), the forum featured two speakers who previously spoke at a similar forum on June 18 run by the Queens Civic Congress at the Center at Maple Grove in Kew Gardens: John Rozankowski, a Bronx community activist pushing for the line to be used once again for mass transit; and Andrea Crawford, the chairperson of Community Board 9 and an advocate into transforming the line into a public park dubbed the “Queensway.”
For the railway
“Many people take mass transit for granted, as an afterthought,” Rozankowski stated in his opening remarks. “A difficult commute means you come home and crash. An easy and quick commute means more time for education, for civic engagement and also time to spend with your family.”
“Mass transit here is inadequate,” he noted, pointing out that the J andA trains serving southern Queens head to downtown Manhattan, an increasingly residential area.
Reactivating the 3.5-mile line would cut a southern Queens resident’s commute to midtown Manhattan from one hour to 23 minutes, Rozankowski claimed, adding that it would also help employees of Queens businesses small and large get to the area.
As an example, he looked north to Boston. Small businesses—mostly software companies—populated Route 128 in the 1980s, taking advantage of a nearby rail line.
“Route 128 was the backbone of what was called the Massachusetts Miracle,” said Rozankowski; a similar growth in small businesses could happen in Queens, he added, but “the area is so hard to access.”
Reactivating the line would “launch a spree in economic growth in southern Queens” that would increase property values, he added.
Rozankowski then turned to shopping and recreation, noting that southern Queens is blocked off from the rest of the borough by “the great green barrier”—Forest Park and local cemeteries.
“The only artery to cross them is Woodhaven Boulevard,” he added, causing traffic problems. A Rego Park station on the Rockaway Beach Line would facilitate access to the Rego Center, Queens Place and Queens Center malls, and additional bus service could provide access to Citi Field and other points of destination.
In his home borough of the Bronx, use of the Metro-North station to get to Yankee Stadium has proven so popular that nearby garages for cars may have to be torn down, according to Rozankowski.
Rozankowski urged residents to get involved, pointing out that the recent $2 billon Airtrain project “was built in such a way not to benefit the resident community.”
“This was an insult to Queens,” he stated, “and only you can make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
For the Queensway
“As things have changed, Queens has changed,” said Crawford, beginning her presentation by claiming that the Queensway could lead to a revitalization of the area similar to the growth of some neighborhoods in neighboring Brooklyn.
“It is our vision to really create a cultual greenway,” she said. “This isn’t just a biking and hiking path.”
She then went through a quick chronology of the line: fully built by 1910, the line extended through Jamaica Bay, but a trestle caught fire in 1950, cutting off access south of South Ozone Park. The line closed in 1962 due to poor ridership.
The area was studied in 1997 when the Airtrain was proposed, but reactivating the line was deemed not feasible, according to Crawford.
Currently, the line is “a mess,” she added.
Looking for inspiration for the line, the Friends of the Queensway— the group pushing for the park—has looked to Paris, Chicago and Jersey City, as well as to Manhattan’s High Line, which generated $2 billion in new business last year.
Each portion of the rail line has its own physical characteristics, Crawford said, which can be highlighted in the plan.
Crawford also noted that the park would offer access to Forest Park in the northern end as well as to Jamaica Bay and Gateway National Park on the southern end.
“The people of Queens deserve what Prospect Park has, what Central Park has,” she stated.
She urged the crowd to support a feasibility study of the proposed park. Crawford and Travis Terry of the Friends of the Queensway would later note, in response to several questions, that a feasibility study would include a thorough environmental review of the area.
From the crowd
Addressing a resident’s question on security concerns, Crawford pointed out that the Queensway would be “a lockable, secure park;” tree plantings could be added to block noise.
“It’s going to be monitored, it’s going to be policed,” she assured residents.
Rozankowski countered that nobody would dare climb onto an active rail line.
He was then asked to address concerns that the train line would increase noise in the area.
“You remove welded rails which remove the clickety clack,” he responded, “and you also have lightweight vehicles on the rails.”
Rozankowski pointed to the 1980s, where residents near Columbia University complained of noise near the elevated train line. Once the MTA substituted new train cars, “the complaints stopped.”
He also urged residents to visit the B/Q line between Newkirk Plaza and Avenue H in Kensington, Brooklyn, which abuts local homes.
Rockaway resident Joe Hartigan urged the crowd to support the railway plan, pointing out that an uncapped landfill around Jamaica Bay was large enough to build “seven 18- hole golf courses.”
He pointed to Bayonne, N.J., where a light rail was installed near residents’ homes.
“They’re going to build a convention center, they’re going to build a new racetrack, they’re going to improve the airport,” he warned, referring to the center previously proposed at Aqueduct Racetrack. “If you want the greenway, please give me a solution to the traffic.”
Crawford countered that while mass transit is needed in the area, “we don’t think, and we strongly believe that this tract of land ... is not feasible to create mass transit on.”
Several residents would bring up the racetrack again, claiming that the proposed rail line was being pushed by Genting New York, the operator of the Resorts World New York casino at Aqueduct.
Terry pointed out that the Queensway was started and staffed by community residents. Rozankowski told the crowd that “I am not a lackey of casinos or the MTA or any interest group. I am a lackey for New York City.”
Local resident Tom Mennecke asked Rozankowski why he felt so strongly that the Queensway would not have any traffic benefits.
“Not everybody wants to ride a bicycle,” the transit advocate responded. “Taking a bicycle to midtown (Manhattan) from here, I don’t think so.”
“The greenway is the way to go,” said resident Dominick Artelli, citing its environmental benefits.
“Nothing makes more clean air than trains,” Rozankowski countered.
Mildred Facinelli, a resident of 98th Street, noted that “when P.S. 254 was built there, the noise was so excruciating,” adding that vibrations from the school’s construction resulted in cracks to the walls in her home.
If the rail line were to be reactivated, “what will happen to the structure of the homes that were built in the 1920s?” she feared.
“We need to speak up, 98th Street,” she told the crowd, many of whom were from that area in Woodhaven.
Jerome Schlesinger, who lives in the Forest Park Co-op apartments, noted that at one point he had proposed that the co-ops purchase a portion of the rail line from the city and use bonds to convert the area into a park area.
“Not one car less will travel on Woodhaven Boulevard” if the rail line is reactivated, he claimed. “These people come from Manhattan.”
WRBA President Ed Wendell told the Times Newsweekly that the civic group will not take a position on either plan at this time.