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Bicyclist Set Wheels in Motion for QueensWay a Decade Ago

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | December 9, 2013 8:41am
 A music teacher thought it would be a great place to ride a bike away from traffic.
Avid Bicyclist Had Original Idea For QueensWay
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QUEENS — Jordan Sandke, a Richmond Hill music teacher and avid bicyclist, had tired of riding his bike along Queens' busy streets.

So, when he accidentally discovered the tracks of the abandoned Rockaway Beach Long Island Rail Road Line in 2004, while riding from Richmond Hill to the Rockaways, he thought turning the tracks into a bike path would be a cyclist's dream.

Nearly 10 years later, his idea for the QueensWay is the object of a $467,000 study funded by the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Regional Economic Development Council.

“This is on the way to the dream coming true,” Sandke, 67, said at a recent workshop for local residents, organized as part of the study.

But turning the former railroad line into a bike path is far from complete. The plan faces opposition from multiple groups and elected officials, including Rep. Gregory Meeks and Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, who want to reactivate the train service. The bike path idea has also been criticized by a number of residents, who say the proposed park would affect their privacy and safety.

Sandke said he remains confident that one day people will be able to ride a bike through the heart of Queens without encountering a single car.

"The biggest challenge is to persuade people that this is not going to threaten their quality of life," said Sandke, who moved to about 10 blocks from the railway 16 years ago and occasionally commutes by bike to work at Newcomers High School, a Long Island City school for recent immigrants.

Inspired by plans for The High Line, Sandke and friend Tom Chiofolo, also a bicycle enthusiast and at the time a member of Community Board 9, presented the idea to the board in 2004.

“We said ‘This is great'...and we put a request for money for a feasibility study into our capital budget,” said Andrea Crowford, vice chairwoman of CB9 and a member of Friends of the QueensWay, a group formed to advocate for the project.

In December 2004, the board adopted a resolution calling for the city to create a bicycle path and a hiking trail along the abandoned rail line, which had run from Rego Park to Ozone Park until it was closed in 1962.

Sandke, who established the Rockaway Beach Branch Greenway Committee, also presented the idea to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in 2006.

But the Chicago-born trumpeter, who once played in the nine-piece Widespread Depression Jazz Orchestra, said he was forced to quit working on the QueensWay project after three years because of health problems.

Crowford along with Ivan Mrakovcic, also a member of CB9, continued to push for the project. They formed Friends of the QueensWay and the group won the support of the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that specializes in creating parks.

The turning point, Crowford said, came when the group received the grant last year for the feasibility study.

Sandke said he is not as involved in the project now and spends most of his time working, taking care of his family and playing music. He maintains his house built in 1922, where he lives with his wife Deborah and their daughter Julia, who performs with a local teen theater group.

To help bikers, he plans to get more involved in planning the QueensWay when he retires.

“It would be nice to have more off-road bike opportunities," Sandke said. "It would be safer for everybody involved."