As the fate of the land that was once the Rockaway Beach rail line remains uncertain, residents of the area are divided between a nature walkway and revival of the LIRR.
At a public forum on Saturday, September 30, hosted by the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, there were advocates for the QueensWay — the proposed nature walk’s official name — and for the reinstatement of the LIRR line, which has not been in use for half a century.
The QueensWay would open economic development to the neighborhoods running from Rego Park to Ozone Park, and help arts and culture in southern Queens to flourish, said Andrea Crawford, a member of Friends of QueensWay. The Queensway, she said, would be a safe area, closed at night.
“This isn’t just a biking or hiking path,” she said. “This will help spur an economic development all along where the tracks run with restaurants, with shops, with all the things that feed into the great cultural space that Queens is.”
Crawford, also chair of Community Board 9, said an LIRR path was not ideal for the area, which has been heavily developed since the original line completely stopped service in 1962.
The train line, on the other hand, would cut the commute from south Queens to Midtown by roughly a third of what it is on the current “A” and “J” train services, according to transit advocate John Rozankowski.
“Today, if you want to get from Midtown Manhattan using the “J” train, the trip takes you a solid hour,” he said. “If the Rockaway line is reactivated, that same trip will take 23 minutes.”
Rozankowski said a new, faster and quieter Rockaway Beach line should be the top priority for the land, because it would bring tourists to the area and provide faster access to Manhattan for those who work in the city. “Reactivating the Rockaway line will launch a spree of economic growth in southern Queens,” he added. “And what that means is property values around the railroad and around the small businesses will soar.”
Woodhaven residents on both sides of the issue are worried about what impact either project would have on day-to-day life, and voiced some of these concerns following the two presentations.
Several living on 98th Street said a potential LIRR line would heavily impact their life and over-urbanize their quiet neighborhood. Joe Guzman, who lives on 98th Street and Jamaica Avenue, said he moved to Woodhaven for a touch of comparatively suburban life. Guzman brought into question whether or not Resorts World Casino New York City had anything to do with the push for the line in order to attract more customers.
The QueensWay, at the same time, could also possibly affect Guzman and his neighbors, he said, and suggested the city simply clean up the heavily polluted strip of land.
“I understand that it’s all junked up there and it’s messy, [but] the trees there provide already quality of life,” he said. “If you look at the tracks, you’re going to probably have to remove most of the trees.”
Those in favor of the Rockaway Beach line noted that there currently was no mass transit system that ran north to south in Queens and, as a result, traffic on Woodhaven Boulevard was unbearable.
“I commuted to Woodside for nine years along Woodhaven Boulevard,” said Allan Rosen. “If the Rockaway Line is not reactivated, the MTA will propose taking two lanes of traffic and parking away from Woodhaven Boulevard, replacing them with exclusive lanes for Select Bus Service.”