Student researchers handed out surveys to nearly 5,000 residents and 800 businesses along the former Rockaway Beach Rail Line, questioning their awareness of the proposed rail revitalization and the QueensWay park plan, as well as which one they preferred in their community.
With valid responses from just 363 residents and 44 businesses, the students found that support for both proposals was nearly split. Considering the roughly 5 percent margin or error, nearly 40 percent of middle-class residents were in favor of the rail line reactivation while a little more than 25 percent preferred the parkland.
Urban Studies professor Scott Larson spent the last year conducting the study with students over the summer, as well as collected and analyzed the information when it came back.
“We didn’t get the response we wanted,” Larson said, stressing that with the percent of error on the study, support could have potentially been split between both proposals. “There needs to be more done.”
Larson said while the study shows where a small subset of the community stands on the matter, awareness of both plans remains in question. “Some of the people understood to some degree that they wanted something there, so I think there is a lot of work that can be done around assessing that,” he suggested for future studies of the plan. “As much as we hear about it - we’ve talked to the QueensWay folks and the train line folks - the community doesn’t seem to have that same sense of awareness.”
Longtime train revitalization supporter, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, praised the school for their work on the report.
“The results of this study clearly show that reactivating the Rockaway Beach Rail Line is the best, most cost-effective way to decrease commute times, improve access to existing parkland and grow our small businesses in Queens,” Goldfeder said.
In an effort to gain additional support from the city, he added that he plans to pressure the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to include the renovation of the train line in their next capital plan.
“Complete restoration of the rail line will increase transit options for every resident in Queens and New York City, create quality jobs, boost our economic development, ease commutes and congestion, and clean our environments by taking thousands of cars off the road,” he said.
Marc Matsil, New York State director for the Trust for Public Land, said their own study, which was conducted a little over a year and a half ago, found that nearly 78 percent of community boards in the borough supported the QueensWay proposal.
According to Matsil, their competing study shows that the QueensWay proposal would produce a seven to 10 percent increase in real estate value, citing nearly 30 similar, “rails to trails,” across the country.
“Nobody wants to see their real estate, that they invest and pay their mortgage on, decrease,” he said. “That is not to mention quality-of-life issues with five schools directly adjacent to the QueensWay, some built in the last couple of years.”
After hearing the results of the study from representatives of Queens College earlier this week, Phil McManus, founder of the Queens Public Transit Committee, said he is concerned about the results.
“I believe that this was a neutral report,” McManus said.
He added that the next step for his organization is to spread the word about bringing back the transit option, however he admits that it will be an uphill battle.
“There’s a lot of people in Queens that speak different languages,” he said. “I really do feel that we have a civic duty.”