But over the last two years, debate over the future of the 3.5-mile rusting tracks has since taken on two distinct forms: a High Line-inspired green space and the revival of the former rail line, connecting the Rockaways to the rest of Queens and the city.
A recent study in support of the $120 million plan to develop the QueensWay was released by the Trust for Public Land.
"This will be a wonderful park for Queens," said Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land. "It will provide a safe way for people to get to Forest Park without having to cross dangerous traffic, and the visitors of the QueensWay will help local businesses.”
The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council, provided a $467,000 grant for the study, along with an additional $140,000 from the city's Department of Environmental Protection.
Following a community outreach initiative earlier this year, the blueprint for the new park – running through the neighborhoods of Rego Park, Forest Hills, Glendale, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven and Ozone Park – is expected to provide a wide range of community benefits.
Outdoor classrooms, bike trails, food from local ethnic vendors and art space are just some of the possibilities that have been suggested by the Trust for Public Land, along with their architects at WXY architecture + urban design and DLandStudio Architecture & Landscape Architecture.
“It will also provide outdoor recreation for thousands of people who need that access,” Rogers said. “We look forward to making this park a reality."
The High Line in Manhattan has provided an estimated $2.2 billion in new economic activity in that area. The QueensWay is expected to see one million visitors every year.
“This incredible project will finally put the long abandoned railway to use bringing our community more equitable access to family friendly open space, improving our quality of life and delivering significant economic impact," said a spokesperson from the Friends of the QueensWay advocacy group.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, a lead supporter for the revival of the Rockaway Beach rail line, issued a statement questioning the validity of the study.
“The Queensway and Trust for Public Land have wasted taxpayer dollars on expensive, out-of-state consultants and one-sided studies that don't actually represent the interests or needs of Queens families,” Goldfeder said. “Elected officials and community leaders from every part of the borough and as far as Manhattan have expressed full support for the complete restoration of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line and increased transit options.”
Goldfeder has publicly supported a separate study being conducted by students at Queens College under the guidance of their professors. Desptie Goldfeder's support, the college has stated the study will be an objective look at the competing visions for the rail line.
The Trust for Public Land study has received a wide range of support, including from congress members Joseph Crowley and Grace Meng and numerous state and city legislators.
"Investing in parkland is critical to the quality of life in Queens,” said Meng. “The plan would provide sprawling public parkland and would be a treasured resource for local families, children and seniors, as well a boon for the environment and the Queens economy.”
Other benefits cited in the study include safer streets through the alternative north-south passive transportation passageway, as well as numerous health benefits. Additionally, the study points out benefits the park space would have in fighting obesity and chronic illness as well as provide an educational and cultural hub for the community.