Trail or Rail?
In a densely populated area of central Queens, a coalition of local residents and the Trust for Public Land are working to create new open space from a partially elevated rail line built in the 1800s. The line originally connected the Rockaways neighborhood in the south to the main train tracks in the central part of Queens. Service was eventually stopped in 1962. Now the line sits abandoned, the property overrun.
The Trust for Public Land is urging the landlord, The City of New York, to transform this 3.5-mile stretch of abandoned rail line into an elevated pedestrian and bicycle pathway connecting the communities of Rego Park, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill, Glendale, Woodhaven, and Ozone Park. The QueensWay, as it is being hailed, is designated to be the Queens equivalent of Manhattan’s highly successful Highline, which turned an elevated rail line into a park, creating open space and driving economic development in an underserved part of the city.
The project will have 3.5 miles of walking and biking paths and offer a recreational experience for all ages. Central to the park’s design are access points to the neighborhoods; they’ve even drawn a map highlighting foods of each neighborhood to mirror the diversity of Queens. Early design ideas for the Rego Park portion of the QueensWay include a habitat wetland area, a children’s adventure playground and multipurpose seating areas near the Forest Hills Little League baseball fields.
The naysayers would like to see train service restored along the line, citing its’ importance to commuters from the Rockaways to other parts of Queens and/or to New York City. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which would run the trains, has cited they have no plans to bring service back to the line. Residents who live next to the track have voiced their concerns about privacy issues. The Trust for Public Land have calmed those fears with promised vegetation and public art to provide natural barriers, and not infringe on their quality of life.
The Trust for Public Land has raised about $3 million for design studies. It believes it can raise the rest from a mix of city, state, federal and private sources, and hopes to start construction within the next three years. All that is needed now is a commitment from City Hall.
“We look forward to continuing conversations with stakeholders about the future of this asset,” said a spokesman for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Comments from random spectators have drawn only favorable reactions from Queens residents. If given the green light, QueensWay will alter the landscape of our borough forever.
What’s your opinion – park or track . . . trail or rail?