Expand Air Train in Queens

By Joseph N. Manago

Following up on a past editorial letter in which I indicated my preference for neither a Queensway of pedestrian/commercial accommodation, nor restitution of the old Rockaway Beach LIRR line as a North-South Queens transportation alternative, I would like to suggest that the best solution to public transportation inadequacies would be the expansion of the Air Train along the Van Wyck Expressway through Briarwood.

The major source of traffic congestion and air/noise pollution along the Van Wyck Expressway and Woodhaven Boulevard has been the lack of public transit parallel to these two corridors. Robert Moses advocated parkways and expressways, and was no friend of public transit of elevated, surface, or subway lines. His master plan of the Grand Central Parkway in Queens designed the clearance at overpasses low enough to preclude commercial trucks, thus forcing them to be re-routed to the Van Wyck Expressway, with concomitant congestion, and air and noise pollution.

When it had been proposed some years ago to expand the Air Train along the Van Wyck Expressway beyond its present point of diversion to the LIRR Jamaica hub, the Briarwood Community Association, along with Queens Community Board 8, vehemently opposed the idea, which would have provided clean public transit along this corridor for underserved southeast Queens communities, and reduced the congestion and pollution due to the Van Wyck Expressway. Instead, the BCA and CB 8 supported the Kew Gardens-Van Wyck Interchange Project for an expansive widening of the expressway with more pollution. Despite my proposal in another past editorial letter for a structural capping of the Van Wyck with a park deck to ameliorate the issue of air pollution in the labyrinthine region of Briarwood), the project has not been modified thereof.

Now, we have Jay Parker of Ben’s Best deli in Rego Park pushing for a Queensway with an expensive grandstanding Queensway deli sandwich as a prelude to the development of this pristine forested strip as a commercial venue with kiosks for food, and the necessarily resultant foot traffic of people and rodents in the backyards of homes in Richmond Hill (plus the demise of local merchants perpendicular to that corridor). This prospect I know of firsthand, since I had resided in Richmond Hill a block away from the old Rockaway Beach LIRR line for close to 20 years.

The bottom line is that the most viable solution to the question of what to do with the abandoned Rockaway Beach LIRR line is to do nothing along that stretch, thus preserving its forested ambiance. And, the most viable solution to North-South transportation needs in Queens is to extend the present Air Train from Kennedy Airport along the entire length of the Van Wyck Expressway, thus providing public transit and reducing the vehicular traffic congestion on this expressway.

The primary issue for the quality of life of the right-of-way communities, such as Briarwood, should be transportation modes and technologies (such as parkland deck capping of the Van Wyck) which reduce the presently high levels of air pollution from combustion engines. The present Kew Interchange Project is short-sighted, grossly expensive, and shall only worsen the long-term health and well-being of residents through defoliation and increased toxic vehicular emissions. We need the eco-friendly Air Train to be expanded through Briarwood and beyond.

Joseph N. Manago


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