The plan to transform a 3.5-mile stretch of derelict railroad in central Queens into an urban greenway is gaining momentum. The Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road has been abandoned for over 50 years. But thanks to a grant of almost a half million dollars, a feasibility study will soon be underway to examine the possibility of transforming the overgrown railroad into a High Line-inspired linear park called the QueensWay.
Last December New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo granted the Trust for Public Land $467,000 to examine the project's potential. The study, expected to take between six and nine months, will be undertaken in partnership with Friends of the QueensWay, a grassroots coalition of over 2,500 supporters, most of whom are Queens residents living near the abandoned rail line.
In addition to delivering a master plan and cost projections, the survey will assess the structural and environmental aspects of the neglected railroad, including the condition of its trestles and bridges.
Travis Terry from Friends of the QueensWay said: "We are currently in the process of identifying a consulting team to conduct all the engineering, environmental and design work on the feasibility study. We hope to have this team on board in the next few months and launch the study later this Spring."
Proponents of the QueensWay envision a much-needed park amid a densely populated area of central Queens. They foresee a green corridor connecting Rego Park and Ozone Park, incorporating public art and culinary venues, and capitalizing on the borough's rich cultural diversity in a bid to draw visitors from across the world.
Marc Matsil, the State Director for the Trust for Public Land, told the 2012 Municipal Arts Society Summit that more than 100 different ethnic groups resided within a 15-minute bike ride of the proposed QueensWay. "Imagine the potential of a cultural greenway featuring the international foods of Queens to attract New Yorkers and tourists," he said.
The TPL has helped develop a number of railroad corridors and rails-to-trails projects throughout the United States, including the West Orange Trail in Oakland, FL and New Mexico's Santa Fe Rail Trail. The trust is currently working with the City of Chicago to develop the Bloomingdale Trail, a 2.7-mile stretch originally built by the Chicago and Pacific Railroad Company in 1873.
Some Queens residents have voiced concern over the proposals due to privacy and parking. But according to Matsil: "A huge benefit of the QueensWay would be to entice local residents from their cars to their bicycles.
"The 3.5 mile proposed greenway would connect several neighborhoods to Forest Park--which presently is rather difficult to access by bike or foot. Less cars on the road translates into cleaner air and greater opportunity for kids and their parents to exercise".
Meanwhile, the Regional Rail Working Group has advocated reinstating the line to create a fast connection between Midtown Manhattan and the Rockaways.
Despite the challenges, Terry remains confident: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will do incredible things for our quality-of-life and have profound impacts in supporting our local businesses, developing new cultural and recreational activities and connecting our neighborhoods."