The city’s trying to figure out what to do with the old Rockaway Beach Rail Line. It’s three and a half miles of deserted track in the middle of Queens. A study released in November by the Trust for Public Land shows 75 percent of residents wouldn’t mind if the rail bed turned into a bike path and pedestrian walk, something like the High Line in Chelsea. Pola Lem reports.
LEM: Selfridge Street is your typical street in Forest Hills. It’s quiet here this Monday afternoon: a row of two-story red brick homes, the occasional dog walker.
Maxwell Taub and his wife Phyllis are raking leaves in front yard. Behind their house the elevated rail line is overgrown with trees. It hasn’t been used since 1962.
TAUB: 52 years. [Laughs.] When we moved in the train was still operating…three four months, and then it shut down.
It used to be a branch of the LI double R that ran between Rego Park and Ozone Park. Now, proponents want to turn it into a highline-style green space. That’s no comfort to the Taubs. They worry it would become an unpoliced corridor, the way it used to be years ago.
TAUB: –we used to have homeless people up there. They used to build fires and they used to be drunk.
The crime spilled over onto their property.
TAUB: We were on vacation once, and we found someone tried to break into our house.
TAUB: Greenway is the wrong name for it. Should call it Drug Dealers’ Way. That’s what it’ll really be.
Matsil: I agree with him. Right now, it’s absolutely unsafe.
That’s Marc Matsil. He’s director of the Trust for Public Land in New York State, and he knows the rail line now is in pretty bad shape.
MATSIL: We’ve walked the entire 3.5 mile length and we found bottles and needles all over the place.
MATSIL: It’s basically a trash-strewn, very easy for somebody to scope into a backyard and to break into a house.
And Matsil says turning it into a highline-style park would make it safer.
MATSIL: There would be cameras. It would be closed. Modes of access and egress would be controlled by gates. So it would be dawn-to-dusk. It actually becomes a lot more secure.
But opponents say there already are enough parks in the area. Forest Hills Park just some blocks away has over 500 acres–that’s over half the size of Central Park.
Matsil says sure, but there’s just no way to get to them. You’d have to be pretty brave to walk.
MATSIL: The two most deadly roads in Queens are bookended by the Queensway. One runs parallel; it’s Woodhaven Blvd.
He says the rail line would give hundreds of residents a way to get to Forest Park by foot safely. Access could lower pedestrian traffic deaths, another big ticket item for Mayor de Blasio.
Still, you can’t make everyone happy.
MATSIL: This is New York. How many New Yorkers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One to screw it in and 8.3 million to criticize it. [Laughs.]
But proponents for Queensway have yet to get out the word. Many residents haven’t even heard of their proposal.
COYLE: I don’t know much about it.
That’s Aaron Coyle. He’s folding his laundry a few blocks from the rail line. Coyle moved here last year–and he’s not the only one who knew nothing about the project. But he likes the sound of it.
COYLE: Uh, I like parks, parks are good for kids. Parks are good for kids. I have two kids, so…yeah.
If all goes according to plan, they’ll break ground in about three years. The cost of construction is estimated at 120 million dollars.
Pola Lem. Columbia Radio News.