Queens is getting closer and closer to getting their own high line park. Similar to the High Line in Chelsea, the QueensWay, converted from an old, unused, abandoned railway, is intended to serve Queens residents as a vibrant, elevated public green space.
Originally a commuter passenger train of the Long Island Rail Road, the Rockaway Beach Branch rail has been nonoperational and unused since 1962. For the last fifty years, the abandoned rail has been overgrown by weeds and trees, serving as a popular spot for tagging and dumping trash. Park activists naturally jumped on the opportunity to repurpose the space.
The QueensWay redevelopment, which will stretch roughly 3.5 miles–from Rego Park to Ozone Park in Queens–is projected to cost somewhere between $75-100 million. To get the wheels turning, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration granted the project $500,000, while the City of New York chipped in roughly $140,000. Though hardly putting a dent in the $100 million dollar project, the grants, plus additional donations–which have thus far totaled to about $1 million–will be used to research and assess the feasibility of such a project.
The QueensWay assessment, which is being organized by the Trust for Public Land, will include studies that determine the structural integrity of the tracks, whether or not the project is environmentally safe, soil testing, construction cost estimates, and identifying sound funding sources. If everything checks out, Queens will be one step closer to developing their own “rail-to-trails” park.
However, there are a number of obstacles that stand in the way of this project. Funding, thus far, has been a major handicap to the fruition of the QueensWay project. As Eleanor Randolph of The New York Times puts it, “the QueensWay has no celebrity patrons, no Diane von Furstenberg, no Barry Diller, no big-name donors to give enough seed money to turn the park into a fashion statement,” a luxury that the original High Line was fortunate enough to enjoy. With only $1 million towards the project, the QueensWay advocates have plenty of work set out ahead of them in satisfying their $100 million budget.
The project also faces a practical or ethical issue: does Queens even need this park? Should the borough be spending large amounts of money on a park, when maybe those funds can be used for far more pressing matters like addressing the millions of dollars of Sandy damage?
Woodhaven resident Neil Giannelli, who has been running the blog NoWay QueensWay for the last couple of months, argues that the funding should instead be used to clean up Queens infrastructure. “Our existing streets, our existing parks, and our existing sewer system are all poorly maintained due to budgetary restraints,” he writes. “Street trees need pruning. Sidewalks need repair. Graffiti needs to be removed. Let’s maintain what we have before we start building new stuff.” Furthermore, Giannelli believes the QueensWay will be invasive, deplete property values within direct proximity of the park, and bring down the overall quality of life in the neighborhood.
The project also faces opposition from a number of groups, like the Rockaway Transit Coalition, who believe that reactivating train service would better serve the community. However, reactivation of the rail is estimated to cost a substantial amount of money–much more than developing and maintaining a park–and seems less feasible at the moment.
But perhaps it is most important to ask: Will the park be used? The success of the High Line is in part attributed to Chelsea’s high density. The neighborhoods in between Rego Park and Ozone Park are significantly lower in density, and are practically suburban in nature, where many residents already have their own green space in the form of backyards. It would be a shame (and a waste of resources) if such an expensive and well-planned park project were to only be used by the squirrels and birds who inhabit it.
Nonetheless, QueensWay advocates remain optimistic, believing that the 3.5 mile stretch will have an overall positive effect on the communities that it runs through. If the QueensWay is developed, bikers will have easier, less dangerous commutes; joggers and walkers will have more pleasant outings with far less exhaust fumes; bird watchers will have a suitable place to, well, watch birds; and vibrant culture will be shared throughout (there is talk of implementing a “Cultural Greenway” into the park, which would spotlight more than 100 ethnic groups that live in Queens in the form of vendors, landscape architecture, and art).
Let’s not forget about the important issues at hand, such as infrastructure and storm relief efforts, but also, as Eleanor Randoph insists, “just imagine the food!”