“We have a half-million dollars, which is more than anybody’s had before this,” one supporter of the park plan thundered at opponents back in 2013. “Shut up and sit down!”
The money allowed them to pay for a feasibility study which, big surprise, found that expanding the park was completely feasible. The funding secured by the Friends of the QueensWay also allowed them to pay for some goofy renderings of the planned parkland, some slick handouts and a few boxes of nifty buttons.
More importantly, what all the money did was give the QueensWay plan an advantage over its opponents. It gave the plan momentum and some powerful friends advocating on their behalf.
In contrast, those who were fighting to restore the Rockaway Beach Line along those tracks were fighting a pauper’s fight. Whereas the QueensWay supporters came to events armed with glossy portfolios, the transit advocates had oak tag signs with magic marker slogans.
The balance of power in this battle has shifted a little bit this past week, as Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder secured funding for the MTA to perform a feasibility study on reactivating the railway. The study will take place over the next year and needs to be completed by June 2017.
The funding won’t provide the transit advocates with glossy handouts and fancy signs; they’ll still be stuck with oak tag and magic markers. But for the next 15 months their slogans will be a little more optimistic.
The Rockaway Beach Line began in the 1870s and ran through Woodhaven until 1962. There were two stations in Woodhaven: Brooklyn Manor at Jamaica Avenue and 98th Street and Woodhaven Junction at Atlantic Avenue and 98th Street.
Transit advocates have been pushing for the reactivation of this line for decades, but their efforts never gained much traction. So what’s changed?
Local transit has gotten a lot of attention lately, particularly Woodhaven Boulevard. One thing that people on all sides of all of these complicated and very connected battles agree upon is that the current state of Woodhaven Boulevard is unacceptable and has been for years.
It’s the wisdom and effectiveness of the Select Bus Service plan proposed by the Department of Transportation that people are sharply divided upon.
But the powers that be have to be looking at the rising cost estimates of the SBS proposal stacked up against their fear that this plan will need to be walked back after it’s been completed, like the disastrous and short-lived changes they made at Liberty Avenue and Cross Bay Boulevard.
I hope the MTA will take the time during their feasibility study to look closely at a proposal by the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association to turn the tracks into a “bus way.”
It would certainly be a cheaper alternative to the rail line and give planners the flexibility to work around some of the challenges that rail presents.
Another alternative is a plan touted by Assemblyman Mike Miller in which the Rockaway line would connect to the LIRR at Atlantic Avenue, leaving the stretch of line through Woodhaven as is, while freeing up the line north of the park for a smaller version of the QueensWay; a compromise in which everyone walks away with something.
As for the quagmire on Woodhaven Boulevard, taking a healthy percentage of commuters off of the road completely and putting them on a faster alternative just a few blocks away is a much better long-term solution than SBS.
The money saved not implementing SBS or building the QueensWay could go a long way to improving transit within our borough.
At the very least, I hope the study will help drive home the point that even if they can’t build the railroad right this minute, it would be foolish to eliminate that possibility forever by expanding upon a park they don’t have the funding to properly maintain right now.
Whatever your position on this, it’s important to come out and voice your opinion. The next Town Hall meeting of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association will be held on Saturday, April 16, at noon at Emanuel United Church of Christ, 93-12 91st Avenue, at the corner of 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.