Civic weighs park and rail plans

Civic weighs park and rail plans
Photo by Steve Mosco
By Steve Mosco

Two groups with opposing plans for the abandoned Rockaway rail line clashed with residents in Woodhaven at a special forum Saturday.

While transportation advocates want to revive the railway and give southern Queens easier access to the city, Friends of the QueensWay, an organization consisting of city residents, hopes to transform the tracks into an outdoor park similar to the High Line, an elevated park in Manhattan.

“This is 3.5 miles of derelict land,” said Andrea Crawford, who sits on the QueensWay committee, about the rail line running through Forest Hills, Glendale, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park. “We want to create a cultural greenway to spur development along the tracks, boosting the soul, spirit and economy of the area.”

The Rockaway Branch of the Long Island Rail Road has been inactive since 1962, when it was shut down due to lack of ridership. Since its closure, there have been many attempts to revive the line, but reactivation routinely proved infeasible for a variety of reasons, including cost, environmental impact and detrimental effects on residents.

Many of the residents attending the forum, held by the Woodhaven Residents Block Association at Queens Tabernacle, at 86-03 96th St., voiced their concerns about a revived rail. Some cited train noise, while others questioned what train vibrations would do to the structural integrity of the older houses in the area.

“What will happen to the houses built in the 1920s?” asked Mildred Facinelli, whose house on 98th Street is adjacent to the abandoned rail. “And the area is not secure at all. I see teenagers walking those tracks every day — it’s not safe.”

But not all residents were in favor of the QueensWay. One resident said easing the traffic on Woodhaven Boulevard is far more important than greenery.

“A garden? Forget that,” said Rockaway resident John Mack. “We need to help people get to work.”

Transportation advocate John Rozankowski said modern advancements in transit would mitigate noise and vibrations from the trains. He also said the economic impact of a rail line far exceeds the need for arts and culture.

“The only thing stopping business from coming to south Queens is poor mass transit,” said Rozankowski. “This section of Queens is blocked off from the rest of the borough by the great green barrier — Forest Park. Business can’t grow here and residents can’t even move around their own borough without having to deal with the traffic on Woodhaven Boulevard.”

Rozankowski said a railway would benefit residents 24 hours a day, 365 days a year as opposed to a greenway, which would be dormant during a typical New York winter.

“In these times of tight budgets, it is more important to help kids get to school on time and help people get to work than to have this greenway,” he said. “Tell the political world that we have had enough of mediocre transportation, and we want Queens to be a better place to live.”

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), while not yet siding with one project over another, said she is leaning toward a greenspace over a revived rail line.

“I’m resistant to the idea of a railroad at this point because of the impact it would have on the people of Woodhaven in and around the rail area,” she said. “I want people to reach out to my office and tell me what they think is best for the community.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.