A High Line for Queens, or an added LIRR line?

An old LIRR elevated track running over Atlantic An old LIRR elevated track running over Atlantic Ave. in Woodhaven, Queens marks the former rail spur destine to become a park to be known as QueensWay. (Feb. 15, 2013) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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Building a 31/2-mile bicycle trail along an abandoned LIRR line in Queens can lend a boost to the community while promoting an active lifestyle, backers say. But on the other hand, a state lawmaker contends, that same land could cut traffic and commuting time if it were returned to rail service.

"I think it's a great idea," said QueensWay trail supporter and restaurateur Jay Parker, 67, whose father opened Ben's Best deli on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park before the Long Island Rail Road's old Rockaway branch shut down in 1962, and where a faded black-and-white photograph of the station still hangs on the wall.

"It's there. Why not use it?" Parker said of the proposed bicycle path and park, which would be designed with native trees and plant gardens.

"We need the green space and we are tapping into biking and activities that can attract families to Queens," he said. Parker also said the bike path would increase real estate values. "We already have the best schools in the system, and who doesn't want to live next to a park?"

The Long Island Rail Road branch, which stretched from the Rockaways to Montauk 50 years ago, was closed after a spate of track and station fires. Now Rockaway commuters take the LIRR to Jamaica, where they can continue into Manhattan or transfer to another line.

Since it closed, the line's pedestrian bridges, earthen berms, gullies, ravines and ponds have turned into a garbage heap, and trees standing 10 stories high have overgrown the rusty, graffiti-covered trestles.

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Reclaiming the abandoned landscape into a park would be modeled after a former elevated rail line that is now Manhattan's popular High Line, a successful green space that has reinvigorated and transformed areas of the city's once-desolate Meatpacking District into a trendy club and boutique destination.

"The QueensWay, however, will have a flavor of the different neighborhoods and it will trail through forested areas; into an elevated old rail line that runs into green spaces and out to the Rockaways," said Marc Matsi, New York State director of the Trust for Public Land, which received a $467,000 state grant to conduct a study this year.

Matsi envisions a rotation of art installations commissioned by the Queens Museum of Art, and food stands from neighborhood Latin American and Asian restaurants.

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"It would be a catalyst" for the business corridor of Ozone Park, a mix of automotive shops and residential homes.

Assemb. Philip Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park) has a different vision, and wants to reactivate the LIRR line to cut the commute to Manhattan to 40 minutes.

"This is a proven entity that will work for residents who have been waiting to reconnect with the city and Long Island," Goldfeder said. "It will take thousands of cars off the Van Wyck, Belt Parkway and the Cross Bay."

Reopening the train line would also give southern Queens the "economic boost it needs after Sandy," Goldfeder said. "We can really use the jobs," he said, adding the train service also would bring more customers to the Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack.

An LIRR spokeswoman, Marjorie Anders, said of the QueensWay proposal, "There are environmental, economic and transportation considerations, among others, regarding the recently proposed QueensWay rail trail on an abandoned LIRR spur to Rockaway. The MTA has not yet weighed the various proposals for this former line. So we have no comment at this time."

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"I'm all big for public transportation, but three feasibility reports came back and it is not cost and environmentally feasible," said Travis Terry of Friends of QueensWay.

"This has been a blighted area for 50 years and the response for QueensWay has inspired neighborhoods to work together to propel the economic potential for generations of kids to come," he said.

With Nicole Fuller

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