If one proposal for the old Rockaway Beach LIRR line comes to fruition, a 3.3-mile-long stretch between Rego Park and Ozone Park that has been abandoned since 1962 would become a park similar to Manhattan’s High Line.
To say the proposal is controversial may be an understatement. The idea for the park — and a competitive plan to reactivate the railroad — has created a lot of opposition among residents living along the stretch, especially in Woodhaven where backyards abut the right of way and many residents moved in after the trains stopped running. Concerns over privacy, safety, noise and the proposals’ effect on property values have driven the opposition.
But proposals like the QueensWay are not new. Besides the High Line, there are a number of other similar parks around the world. These greenspaces are being used by firms involved in the QueensWay study as models for their plan.
One of those greenways is Parkland Walk in London, a similar rail-turned-park project that first opened in 1984 in a residential section of the British capital.
Like the proposed QueensWay, Parkland Walk runs very close to homes and in some cases apartment windows look directly onto the path. But the parallels between that trail and the proposed QueensWay don’t end there.
“I know it sounds funny, but Queens and London have a lot of similarities,” said Adam Lubinsky, a principal at WXY design firm, and a co-leader of the QueensWay study, who lived less than 100 yards from Parkland Walk for almost a decade. “That’s part of what makes the Parkland Walk a really interesting comparison.”
Both are located in urban environments with a suburban flair. The neighborhoods that Parkland Walk meanders through — Highgate, Crouch End, Upper Holloway and Finsbury Park, about four miles north of Central London — are similar to Rego Park, Forest Hills and Woodhaven in their housing stock and demographics. Most residents live in single-family homes and commute to Central London by train or bus for work, but travel locally by car or by foot.
The demographics are diverse, especially on the eastern end of the trail, home to many families and immigrants. The communities have a wide variety of familiar issues, including, mostly notably, scarce street parking.
Due to Parkland’s proximity to homes, the issue of privacy has always been present, Lubinksy said. Many homes along Parkland Walk, especially in Highgate, are closer to the trail than homes in Woodhaven and Rego Park would be to the QueensWay.
Chris Mason, secretary of the Friends of the Parkland Walk, is one of the residents whose backyard is up against the trail. He said there isn’t much concern from residents as far as privacy or security goes and that some residents have even built their own routes onto the path — illegally.
One problem Parkland has is residents who enroach onto the land and “steal” parts of the nature preserve for their own gardens.
Government involvement is also an issue. One main point of opposition to the
QueensWay is that the city has not provided resources for Queens parks and won’t for the QueensWay either.
Mason noted that the Parkland Walk has multiple designations to protect it on different governmental levels. The trail is a nature preserve, part of a greenway that encircles London, and a local park.
Financially, it is taken care of directly by the two local borough governments whose areas it passes through — the London boroughs of Haringey and Islington, which Mason said had been “quite good” at taking care of the park, though budgets are getting tighter.
“British local government is being squeezed and it’s gotten worse,” Mason said, adding that groups like Friends of Parkland Walk have tried to fill in the gap with volunteers to help cover maintenance so government can focus on safety and infrastructure.
Mason noted that other parks in London have received the limited amount of funds given to maintenance, which really focuses on cleaning and infrastructure, and the boroughs have a mandate under British law to keep the park environmentally safe. However, since Parkland Walk is designated as a nature preserve, the plant life along it is allowed to grow naturally and that keeps some maintenance costs down.
On safety, Parkland Walk does have a graffiti problem, but much of it is tolerated.
“If there is anything crude or vile, we cover it up,” Mason explained.
Police have also adopted a program called “secure by design,” in which the actual design of a park is done in a way to discourage criminal activity.
One such example is the construction of barriers, like fences or bushes, in backyards which are placed to make it more difficult and less appealing for criminals to climb off the walk and into yards.
Michael Radford, vice chairman of Friends of Parkland Walk, said he built a fence with a trellis on top.
“Burglars hate clambering over something like that because it’s flimsy,” he said, adding that some residents have chosen to put prickly bushes or trees with thorns at their property line as a means of discouraging trespassing.
But that’s on private property. On the trail, it’s a different story.
Since Parkland Walk is a nature preserve, the flora along the trail is all natural, often overgrown. Mason said another problem Parkland Walk has is residents introducing plants to the preserve from their own backyards adjacent to the walk.
“We really discourage that,” he said. “We want to keep this all natural.”
Among the other issues, Radford said, is conflict between bicycle riders and walkers — a problem the QueensWay planners have foreseen by planning separate paths along part of the trail — and dog owners who don’t pick up after their pets.
Residents who live near the line interviewed by this reporter while he was on a vacation in Europe, had few complaints about it, but several did mention the opposition that arose when the plan to build it was unveiled more than 30 years ago.
“I work in [Central London] and spend most of my day in the hustle and bustle of the city,” said Verita McHale, who lived next to the park for several years, but said some of her neighbors, who have been in the community for decades, opposed the construction of Parkland Walk in the 1970s.
“They still are not fully comfortable with it,” she said. “But they haven’t said anything bad about it.”
Janet Worth said her parents lived along the line in Crouch End when the proposal to turn it into a park was being debated in the 1970s. They were opposed to it.
“Mom and dad fought it, they thought it was a terrible idea,” Worth, whose parents have since passed, said. “They never really grew to like it, but it has not brought all the problems they worried it would.”
She noted that in some cases, what works with Parkland Walk, notably its prioritization by the local governments, may not apply everywhere.
“A park like this requires a lot of financial commitment,” she said. “In Britain, that has never been a major problem. I’m not sure how it would go in America.”