Goodman: Seek best of both worlds with the QueensWay
Lately there's been talk about the QueensWay project, which would convert the inactive right of way of the Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Beach Branch to a pedestrian and bicycle trail. Advocates compare the idea to the High Line in Manhattan, complete with food stands along the way.
Both QueensWay and the High Line involve former rail rights of way but, functionally, they are very different. The High Line was a short freight line, with no real potential, then or now, for passenger use.
The Rockaway Beach Branch, however, did serve passengers, and the right of way still has great transportation potential. It shouldn't be used only for a linear park and food stands. This irreplaceable, publicly owned land could also serve to reduce auto traffic and increase mobility in the local neighborhoods.
This could be achieved by using the Queens right of way for a modern, context-sensitive, grade-separated bus rapid transit service with connections to area bus and rail lines, including Metropolitan Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, other major crossroads and the Queens Boulevard subway. This type of quick, reliable, environmentally friendly rapid bus system has been in service for years in many cities, including Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Miami.
At Atlantic Avenue in Woodhaven, the bus rapid transit station could connect to a rehabilitated Woodhaven Station on the LIRR Brooklyn line. In this way, Queens would gain the public transportation service that was denied it when the AirTrain to Kennedy Airport was built.
Both sustainable elements -- parks and high-quality transit -- could be achieved by the time-shared use of a single "way" within this right of way: transit during weekday peak periods and a pedestrian-bicycle trail at all other times. When the "way" was in use as a trail, the bus rapid transit system would operate along Woodhaven Boulevard, with stops only at major crossroads.
Sponsors of QueensWay should consider this blend of recreational and transit elements, using funding from parks and transportation programs. Moving this very achievable idea forward would give Queens residents two quality-of-life improvements in one program.
Leon Goodman, a transportation professor at Pratt Institute, is a past international president of the Institute of Transportation Engineers and former manager of Transportation Planning for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He was project director for the exclusive bus lane at the Lincoln Tunnel and one-way tolls at 12 Hudson River and Staten Island crossings.