Campaign Launched To Stop Rail Line
Neighbors of the long-abandoned Rockaway Beach branch of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) in Woodhaven are banding together to keep the line dormant and stop a plan to reuse the space as a “greenway” dead in its tracks.
“No Way QueensWay” was created by Woodhaven resident Neil Giannelli as a coalition aimed at blocking the proposed creation of the “QueensWay,” a combined bike and nature trail modeled after the High Line Park in Manhattan.
Supported by the Trust for Public Land, the Friends of the QueensWay and some members of Community Board 9, the QueensWay idea- which would redevelop a 3.5 milestretch of the abandoned line between Rego Park and Ozone Park-is being studied through a $467,000 allocation from the state.
News of this funding spurred Giannelli, whose 98th Street home abuts the former rail line, to start a campaign to prevent the QueensWay proposal from becoming a reality. He told the Times Newsweekly in a phone interview last Friday, Jan. 11, that he would rather see state funds used to fix local problems before developing a plan which he claimed would drive down the property values and quality of life of nearby residents.
“This isn’t something that’s needed,” he said, noting that nature enthusiasts have nearby Forest Park, where there are trails and bike paths to travel. “This is going to effect 98th Street. We don’t have alternate side parking. People are going to come in, the parking will be miserable and worse than it is now. The bike paths would be nice for those who drive their bikes into the area with their car.”
As previously reported, the QueensWay idea is being pitched as elected officials in southern Queens have advocated for the reactivation of the defunct line-which last saw train service in 1962 and has since been reforested and covered in overgrowth- to improve mass transit through the area. Giannelli stated that plan is “not going to happen,” given that the MTA lost billions due to the elimination of a commuter payroll tax and the damages caused by Hurricane Sandy.
He and other neighbors, however, support a third option for the Rockaway Beach line: leaving it as it is.
Though the branch is now overgrown and has its share of trespassers- usually teenagers “every once in a while,” according to Giannelli- the inactive line is a quiet neighbor. Bringing activity to it, he observed, may benefit individuals living outside of Woodhaven at the cost of exposing local residents to various quality-of-life problems.
Citing one example, Giannelli questioned assurances by QueensWay supporters that there would be fencing and even a wall separating the linear park from nearby homes.
“All of their plans sound terrific and they sound reassuring. But the thing with the gates is that they’re going to cut through them,” he said. “Where will they put a wall to protect my neighbor’s privacy? How is that wall going to improve the value of his property?”
The Rockaway Beach line’s current overgrown condition serves more as a deterrent for trespassing and other criminal activity, Giannelli noted.
Those sporadic trespassers encounter rugged terrain along their way-including fallen trees and brush overgrowth-and often find the going so tough that they don’t come back.
“They can’t wait to get to the next cross street and get the hell out,” he said. “You do it once, and you never do it again.”
Creating a greenway in its place would provide unfettered access to anyone and everyone, Giannelli stated, including potential vandals and homeless individuals. Since the location is currently private property, he noted, law enforcement agents would have the legal ability to expel trespassers; that ability would be lost if a public park were created in the line’s place.
Giannelli stated on Monday, Jan. 14, that he and his wife canvassed the area over the weekend seeking supporters for the “No Way Queens Way” cause. The group’s Facebook page has also seen an increase in activity.
“It’s outsiders coming in and telling us what’s best for us,” he said of the QueensWay movement.
Editor’s note: Giannelli has written an op-ed piece for the Times Newsweekly on his campaign against the QueensWay, which can be found on Page 4.