Miller proposes buses on defunct Rockaway line; SBS postponed until 2017

By Gabriel Rom

Buses on rail tracks?

That’s the idea behind a proposal from state Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) that would put an express, or Select Bus Service, route along the abandoned Rockaway Rail line.

The plan, which Miller advanced this past Saturday at the monthly Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association meeting, comes on the heels of a separate announcement that Select Bus Service along Woodhaven-Cross Bay Blvd. will be postponed to make time for more community discussion.

Miller’s proposal puts him in the middle of a pitched debate over the increasingly complex fate of a single stretch of rail track. At a Nov. 13 City Council Transportation Committee meeting, a number of competing proposals for the now-defunct line were floated. U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) put his political muscle behind Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder’s (D-Rockaway Beach) plan to reactivate the line, while Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) proposed a light-rail solution on the tracks. Environmental advocates have also rallied to turn the line into an elevated park called the QueensWay project.

Alex Blenkinsopp, spokesman for the block association, said the group has long opposed both the QueensWay biking and jogging paths and Goldfeder’s Rockaway Rail plan, contending that the existing right-of-way along the Rockaway line should be maintained. But in a major shift the association reacted with “overwhelming support” for Miller’s bus proposal.

Blenkinsopp added that putting a bus line on the elevated route would utilize the line for transportation while also being less intrusive for Woodhaven residents than the other proposals.

“Buses will be less noisy than a train and will allow for more privacy than a park where people can stroll in our backyards,” he said. “At least, at first blush, there are plenty of clear advantages.”

Martin Colberg, the association’s president, was similarly enthusiastic about Miller’s plan.

“We took a quick survey and everyone was unanimous that it was a good idea,” Colberg said. “We are hoping someone from DOT can at least entertain the idea.”

Colberg said the question for him is not whether something needs to be done to alleviate transit problems in the area, but whether the Department of Transportation’s SBS plans had to be accepted as-is without alterations.

“Something needs to be done, we understand that,” Colberg said. “But the proposals that were coming out just seemed rushed and poorly thought out, but that seems to be changing.”

Indeed, the DOT’s postponement of its SBS plans as well as a newly scheduled meeting Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. at the American Legion Post 118 in Woodhaven, between the DOT and local leaders are both widely seen as signs that community push back is having an effect. According to the DOT, it is planning to perform a robust amount of community outreach about Woodhaven-Cross Bay SBS service and hopes to start construction in the next few years. Neil Giannelli, a staffer for state Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), called the news a “victory” for the community.

“We have been very vocal with our hesitations regarding this SBS proposal,” Addabbo said in a statement. “I am truly grateful that both DOT and MTA have listened to our concerns and are willing not to rush the project along.”

Colberg also welcomed both announcements.

“It’s great to see that they’re coming out of their shell a little bit,” he said in reference to the DOT. “It’s a big sign that they’re willing to listen to the community and willing to take some additional time to develop new plans with community input.”

Miller had also proposed adding street markers on Woodhaven-Cross Bay that would indicate the traffic direction for specific lanes. The markers would change the direction of the lane depending on where traffic was heaviest. In the current SBS plan, Woodhaven-Cross Bay would lose two lanes of traffic and Miller said the markers would make remaining lanes of traffic more efficient.

“The SBS plan put forth by the city is a questionable solution to our transportation woes,” Miller said. “I am glad to see that our voices are being heard. I thank DOT and MTA for making an effort to compromise on this proposal.”

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.