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Rockaway Branch Would Cut Commuting Time for Thousands of Residents: Study

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | November 13, 2014 8:30am
 Queens College conducted a study to determine the best use for the abandoned rail line.
Queens College conducted a study to determine the best use for the abandoned rail line.
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Courtesy of Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder

QUEENS — An abandoned Queens rail line would significantly shorten commuting time for thousands of residents if it was reactivated instead of being transformed into a High Line-style public park called the QueensWay, according to a new study.

For the study, conducted by Queens College, students distributed surveys among people who live and own businesses along the abandoned rail line, asking them about different potential uses for the 3.5-mile stretch of old tracks, which connect Rego Park, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park.

Residents were split in their preferences, the study showed.

About 34 percent said they would favor reactivating the rail line, while about 28 percent said they would like to see the QueensWay built. About 18 percent said they would like to see some combination of both projects, and 10 percent of respondents said they don’t want the tracks to be developed in any way.

The preference for the remaining residents was not clear.

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, a longtime supporter of restoring the Rockaway Beach Rail Line, said it took about 40 minutes to get from Southern Queens to Penn Station when the line was operating.

Now, he said, it's at least twice as long.

"There are two points that just can’t be ignored," said Goldfeder. "No. 1 is the potential ridership and No. 2 is the lack of need for additional investment in new parks."

Goldfeder added that according to the study, residents in the area close to the tracks "already have more access to parks than the average New York City resident."

The study also analyzed transportation patterns and trends in Queens and Manhattan, and concluded that if the Rockaway Beach Rail Line was reactivated, it could generate about 500,000 trips a day.

That number, Professor Leonard Rodberg, chairman of the Queens College Department of Urban Studies, said in an email, is "an estimate of how many trips are currently made between the areas that would be connected — with resulting shorter travel times via public transit — if the Rockaway Beach Branch segment were to be reactivated."

By contrast, the average daily ridership of the entire LIRR system was 290,000 a day as of Jan. 1, 2014. It was not clear how many trips the reactivated branch would be able to accommodate.

It would cost about $700 million to restore the rail line, which was abandoned in the 1960s, according to Goldfeder, who noted that he is planning to discuss the reactivation with the mayor's office and the MTA.

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said that the agency "has not taken a position on the proposal."

The Queens College analysis aimed to balance a feasibility study performed earlier by groups supporting the proposed park, which Goldfeder said was “one-sided" in support of building the QueensWay.

Advocates for the proposed park said that it would cost about $120 million to build the QueensWay.

Marc Matsil, New York director of The Trust for Public Land, said that the survey conducted by Queens College only proves support for the QueensWay, which he said would "provide safe access to recreation for the 322,000 people who live within a mile [from the proposed park]." It would also "boost local businesses," and "provide alternative transportation choices," he said.