Arguments Against The QueensWay
I was born at night, my mother would say, but I wasn’t born last night.
The homeowners and residents of 98th Street in Woodhaven are united in our opposition to the development of the old, abandoned Rockaway branch of the LIRR. None of us were consulted by either the Friends of the QueensWay or, remarkably, by our own Community Board 9.
There will be no rail link. The MTA is broke, and the Rockaways have bigger worries right now. Their disaster was an act of God. The impending disaster on 98th Street is the work of a small group of well-meaning but clueless individuals who seemingly only talk to each other.
The people of 98th Street deny the claims of greedy realtors and woolly-headed planners, most of who live elsewhere. If their promises fall through, these people will shrug, congratulate themselves for their efforts, admire their own altruism, and move on in search of another neighborhood to ruin.
And the people of 98th Street will be stuck with the mess.
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They tell us property values will increase. Nonsense. Property values along 98th Street will tumble.
Astudy out of Reed College done for the City of Portland, Ore. (May 2003) noted a decline in property values for houses that abut any kind of greenway. In fact, bike trails caused the largest decline in property values. Any other kind of development was preferable to a bike path.
It’s buried in the footnotes, but here’s how it works in round numbers. The 100 houses closest to the greenway, those houses along the east side of 98th Street from Atlantic Avenue to Park Lane South, will decrease in value by 10 percent. The next closest 400 houses, those at least 200 feet away from the greenway, will increase in value by 20 percent. On average, therefore, property values in the neighborhood will rise by 15 percent.
According to that Reed College study, “…trails and cemeteries within 200 feet of a property were found to have a statistically significant effect on a property’s sales price…trails and cemeteries were estimated to decrease a property’s sale by 6.81 percent and 4.36 percent, respectively.”
The people of 98 Street would be better off with a cemetery.
Admittedly, housing prices on 96th Street and 104th Street might go up. Houses in the proximity of the greenway, not adjacent to it, might experience the positive effect. But it’s the homeowners on 98th Street are the ones who will pay for it. They bought houses on 98th Street because there was an abandoned, unused railway back there. No one bought a house on 98th Street in the hope that someone from Kew Gardens would swoop in and improve it with a bike path.
The people of 98th Street love their block, one of the loveliest in Woodhaven, the way it is.
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The homeowners and residents of 98th Street think it’s time for a fiscal reality check.
Our existing streets, our existing parks and our existing sewer system are all poorly maintained due to budgetary restraints. Trees need pruning. Sidewalks need repair. Let’s find the money to repave 102th Street; to repair the lights at Victory Field; to fix the catch basin on 97th Street at 91st Avenue; to replace the FDNY call box on 98th Street; and many other neighborhood needs.
Senior centers go begging. Library hours are cut. Every few years, this neighborhood of old-fashioned wooden houses has to take to the streets to save the firehouse. Let’s maintain what we have before we start building new stuff.
On Jan. 9, 2013 the American Legion buried Clifford “Billy” Williams. He was 54 years old and died last summer. Billy served his country, died broke and alone. The American Legion raised the money to bury him with as much pomp and circumstance as they could muster.
Last year, a local state senator requested $3,500 in the state budget to help a local veteran groups bury those vets that fall upon hard times. Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed the request, calling it “pork.”
But somehow, the state was able to find $467,000 so the Friends of the QueensWay can conduct a study. One member of Community Board 9 called it “an adrenaline shot.” It’s nice to have friends in high places.
They tell us it isn’t that simple. We say it should be. In a country that claims to celebrate the individual, it should be that simple.
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The homeowners and residents of 98th Street are worried about the impact upon traffic and parking this project will create. Street parking is so tight now on some stretches of 98th Street that people have to maneuver just to back out of their driveways.
A bike path will increase traffic in this community. Imagine all those Volvos and Priuses, with bike racks on the roof, clogging the streets of Woodhaven and Richmond Hill. Imagine all those Sunday drivers, unfamiliar with the neighborhood, crawling down 98th Street at 5 mph in pursuit of parking.
Imagine them backing out of the cul-de-sacs on the west side of the greenway, wreaking havoc on traffic along 102th Street. Imagine a siege of cyclists pedaling side-by-side down Park Lane South in search of their nature fix.
The homeowners along 98th Street diligently maintain their property. They worry about the rise in automobile traffic. Driveways will be blocked. Litter will increase. The creation of a bike path will inexorably lead to the imposition of alternate side parking, further eroding the suburban character of the neighborhood.
A spokesman for the Trust for Public Land, “a group of lawyers, real estate professionals, and finance experts” according to their website, told the Daily News (Jan. 3) that they want to “celebrate Queens’ magnificent cultural diversity.” Well, part of that diversity is the existence of suburban like blocks lined with trees and single family homes.
Apparently, to celebrate our diversity, these folks want Woodhaven to look just like Chelsea or Williamsburg or Portlandia.
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A headline in the Daily News (Dec. 22, 2012) read, “QueensWay could be boro’s own High Line.” Why are these new arrivals so anxious to remake Queens in the image of somewhere else?
We oppose the gentrification of Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park. The Friends of the QueensWay plan to displace existing businesses beneath the railway south of 101st Avenue. Check out their website: sidewalk cafes along 100th Street.
Those existing businesses may not be pretty, but they’re here. They obviously meet a societal need or otherwise would go the way of blacksmiths. These are businesses that pay taxes; some of which went into that $467,000 adrenaline shot. These are businesses that pay good wages.
Why does Community Board 9 want to replace these businesses with sidewalk cafes, chic-chic boutiques, coffee bars, and other assorted franchise “shoppes” that pay minimum wage and siphon off profits to out-ofstate corporations?
That business model didn’t work for Atlas Park. Why don’t they do something for the shopkeepers and storeowners in our commercial districts. Why draw outsiders into the neighborhood and then discourage them from shopping along Jamaica Avenue and 101st Avenue?
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They tell us a greenway will make the neighborhood safer. Maybe their neighborhood will be safer as the low-lifes and skells migrate to new hunting grounds.
We live on 98th Street. Our backyards and garages back up to the old Rockaway line. As it stands now, we get the occasional teenager or two or three picking their way along the tracks. They hop the fence at one of the cross streets searching for adventure.
What they find is a dense tangle of tree branches, briars and fallen tree trunks that would test the mettle of Lewis and Clark.
Anyone who has attempted to walk along those tracks knows how tough it can be. Once up there, these kids slowly, painfully make their way to the next cross street and gladly escape by climbing the nearest fence. Few, if any, ever try it again. Once is usually enough.
The bike path advocates want to make it easier for those kids; easier for them to get up on the tracks; easier for them to navigate past our backyards. Easier access to the bike path will somehow make our property safer.
Let’s get real. If you clear a path, it won’t just be 12 and 13 year olds up there. It will be easier for a kid to get up there and easier for a jogger or cyclist to get up there. It will also be easier for the homeless and easier for the criminal as well.
Every cat burglar and home invader and junkie with a jones will be up there casing the back of our houses. How many honest, law-abiding folks will be using that bike path Monday through Friday while we’re at work? How many joggers can we count on after the sun goes down?
They tell us there will be gates. There are gates now, and occasionally, we get kids and the homeless. Every ball field and park and school yard in Queens has a hole cut in the fence to make access easier. Why will this bike path be different?
They tell us there will be lights. There are lights now at Victory Field. Those lights don’t work and neither Parks & Recreation nor Community Board 9 can figure out how to fix the problem. Should we let the Friends of the QueensWay take a crack at that problem?
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They tell us there will be security cameras. When you throw grass seed on your lawn, it draws a flock of birds. What kind of “bird” will all this expensive hardware bring into our backyards? The scrappers have stolen manhole covers from Woodhaven Boulevard. What will stop them from stealing those security cameras?
This brings us back to an earlier argument. When the gates, and the lights, and the security cameras on the bike path are vandalized, will the city have the money for repairs? The city doesn’t have the money for the lights at Victory Field, the catch basin on 97th Street at 91st Avenue, the FDNY call box on 98th Street, or the 102nd Street resurfacing. Why doesn’t Community Board 9 study this?
A similar project was foisted on the people of Cobb County, Ga. Leave aside for the moment, the question of why Queens wants to be more like Cobb County, Ga. The proponents of that project actually had the gall to write, “…users of the [bike path] actually become another set of eyes for ill-behavior, thus [sic] such facilities make neighborhoods safer.” The tortured syntax is enough to convince me that they know they’re lying.
They tell us all those “users” will make the bike path safer. As Judge Judy once said, “Please don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.” Those “users” are the people we’re worried about. Those “users” are they ones checking out our backyards and garages. Those “users” are the ones peeking into our second floor bathrooms and leering into our daughters’ bedrooms.
If kids or the homeless are up there now, they are easily chased away. They’re not malicious and they’re not looking for trouble. Build a bike path and what was once outof bounds becomes a public space and hanging out is allowed.
They tell us there will be a wall to protect your privacy. How high will this wall be? To protect our privacy, it will have to be 25 or 30 feet tall. To raise any earlier argument, how will a 3 story wall increase property values? But now, imagine the impact this wall will have on the bike path itself.
Imagine an unlit tunnel running from Rego Park to Ozone Park. Imagine the privacy afforded to the criminal element and to the homeless inside the tunnel. Imagine the stampede of graffiti artists into our neighborhood. Imagine all the safe, family-friendly sights along the bike path.
We have an offer for the Friends of the QueensWay. If this is such a good deal, let’s swap houses. You think a bike path is a good idea and we disagree. Now is the time to put up or shut up. The offer has already been made to two members of Community Board 9 and both walked away in a snit.
I opened this jeremiad with a quote from my mother. I’d like to close with a quote from my father: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Editor’s note: Giannelli is a resident of 98th Street and a founding member of the “No Way Queens Way” group.