Assemblyman pitches new Queensway plan

By Sarina Trangle

State Assemblyman Michael Miller (D-Woodhaven) says his plan for the abandoned Rockaway Beach LIRR spur would please commuters, park proponents and wary homeowners, but the compromise seems on track to create some controversy of its own.

Miller proposed using a few blocks of the spur near the end of the A train in Ozone Park to connect subway riders with the Atlantic Avenue Long Island Rail Road line. Linking the tracks would bring passengers to Atlantic Terminal in downtown Brooklyn, which connects to several subway lines and would offer riders a quicker route o Manhattan than riding the entirely of the A train, according to Miller.

The rest of the roughly 3.5-mile spur, running from Rego Park to Howard Beach, would remain untouched south of Myrtle Avenue. Miller said residents in southern Queens have balked at the idea of trains barrelling through their yards or passers-by using it as a trail.

North of Myrtle Avenue, he said neighbors have clamored for transforming the tracks into a High Line-inspired park, so a path would be fitting.

“There’s something that should be appealing to everyone involved,” Miller said. “South of Myrtle Avenue, they want to see nothing …. Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, those are people that really want a parkway, a walkway.”

Most elected officials have not waded into the foray.

The Friends of the QueensWay group wants to transform the rail bed, which has not carried trains since 1962, into parkland and expects to have feasibility studies and pitches out this fall.

The Queens Public Transit Committee is calling for the tracks to be revived so Rockaway commuters’ ride into Manhattan is halved. Queens College is also leading a study into the best use of the spur.

Indeed, Miller’s plan drew criticism from nearly every corner.

The Queens Public Transit Committee said it viewed the compromise as a start, but would like to see it come with additional phases to eventually connect southern and northern Queens by rail or subway.

The Friends of the QueensWay said cost will prohibit the rail bed from moving trains and that the park plan “is the best and only way to maximize the quality of life and economic development benefits that will be realized when this property is adaptively reused.”

And transit bloggers, such as 2nd Ave. Sagas, branded Miller’s proposal a “not in my backyard” move that keeps the QueensWay out of his district and cedes a few blocks of his territory for a rail line that “solves no one’s mobility concerns..”
Borough President Melinda Katz, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said they have not taken a position on the matter, with most citing their desire to hear from more constituents or see concrete plans and cost estimates before making a decision.

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) has come out against rail service, saying it would destroy quality of life in her district.

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach) and U.S. Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), whose district includes southwest Queens neighborhoods, have indicated support for bringing back trains.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said he sympathizes with the transit activists, but believes the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s lack of support may make it untenable.

Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), whose district encompasses the northern part of the rail bed, did not respond to requests for comment.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.