The Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way is a 3.5-mile-long strip of land that will transform our borough in two fundamental ways. First, it will connect the subways in south and central Queens; second, it will create 33 acres of new park space along the way.
Combined, this project will add immeasurable value to both lives and property.
This dual-purpose, transformative project is called QueensLink.
In a city where parks are more plentiful than good transportation options, it’s disappointing that The Trust for Public Land has decided that it needs this particular property for exclusive use as a park.
But the supposedly business-friendly Queens Chamber of Commerce’s suddenly agreeing with them is a real head-scratcher.
QueensLink has asked both organizations to work together to use the corridor for a combined rail and park as many other cities have done but was turned down flat.
Why limit a precious commodity such as public land when it can be used to benefit neighbors and commuters alike? Combining parks and transit is status quo in many cities across the nation and the world.
The Manhattan-based TPL may not know that Queens residents face some of the longest commutes in the nation, but the QCC has no excuse.
The QueensLink would bring travel time from Howard Beach to Midtown down from over an hour to 45 minutes and create faster trips throughout the borough and to Brooklyn.
Queens has 2.3 million inhabitants but the fewest subway miles per resident. Roads like Woodhaven Boulevard and Van Wyck Expressway are constantly congested while buses are overcrowded and average just 8 to 10 mph. Subways are the fastest, cleanest and most efficient way to move many people great distances.
The status quo of pitting two sides against one another so nothing is ever done has to end. Individuals and organizations need to rise above the NIMBYism of the last generation.
We need thought leaders and elected officials with the vision and courage to advocate for projects that achieve the greater good rather than continue to protect the narrow interests of the well-heeled and well-connected few.
The MTA released its long-delayed RBB reactivation study in October and its conclusions were gratifying. The agency determined that reactivating the line as a subway from Queens Boulevard in Rego Park to the Howard Beach/JFK Airport stop was feasible and at least 47,000 riders would use it every day.
Much of the extra costs projected by the MTA were due to its extended construction schedule of 10 years for a project that should take no more than two to three. While the total MTA number associated with the project was $8 billion, the hard construction costs are about $1.6 billion. Experts have estimated that a design-build approach should result in a total cost of about $2 billion. Still a formidable number but a more realistic one.
Even with lower costs, building the rail and park will require thinking outside the box. QueensLink is developing a new funding strategy that incorporates transit-oriented development and value capture through a public-private partnership.
QueensLink takes inspiration from the LIRR Third Track, a large rail infrastructure project on Long Island that was bogged down by small thinking for decades.
This $2.6 billion, 9.5-mile project is finally underway and even though it is a small part of the entire LIRR it will improve the lives of riders throughout the entire island. Local communities along the rail played a big part in the planning and design and are already sharing in its success.
QueensLink represents an investment in transit equity that will help people reach education, employment and recreational opportunities that were out of reach before. It is also fully aligned with city and state environmental initiatives to reduce congestion on our roads and the carbon emissions that come with it.
Will we rise to the challenge of working together for our common good or against each other to our common detriment?
A well-designed QueensLink can provide both rail and green space. The only obstacles are the people who say it can’t be done. If Long Island figured it out, so can we. After all, we are New Yorkers!
Rick Horan is the executive director of QueensLink and Andrew Lynch is the chief design officer.