In a public event last week attended by elected officials, union leaders, and transit advocates from around New York City, the Queens College Department of Urban Studies released a comprehensive study demonstrating the need to reactivate the Rockaway Beach rail line and improve transit options for residents of southern Queens and Rockaway.
Joining Queens College president Félix V. Matos Rodríguez and Urban Studies Department chair Leonard Rodberg were Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, who represents the Rockaways in the State Assembly; Congressman Jerrold Nadler, member of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit; Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chairman of the NYC Council Committee on Transportation; John Samuelsen, president of TWU Local 100, representing almost 70,00 active and retire transit workers; Congressman Gregory Meeks; Congressman Hakeem Jeffries; State Senator Tony Avella; and John Cavanagh, political coordinator for Iron Workers Local 361, among others.
“Our best and brightest local Queens experts and students have produced the most comprehensive and unbiased study of the needs of our communities surrounding the abandoned Rockaway Beach rail line,” said Assemblyman Goldfeder. “Previously, we’ve had to settle for one-sided studies by expensive, out-of-borough consultants paid, at taxpayer expense, to say that a park is the only option for the right-of-way. Now, thanks to Queens College and the hard work of students and faculty in its Urban Studies Department, we have a complete picture. The results of this study clearly show that reactivating the Rockaway Beach rail line is the best, most cost-effective way to decrease commute times, improve access to existing parkland, and grow our small businesses in Queens.”
The report, titled A Community Impact Study of Proposed Uses of the Rockaway Beach Branch Right of Way, is based on a student-led study that surveyed thousands of residents and researched available census data to gauge the transportation and park needs of the communities surrounding the abandoned Rockaway Beach rail line. The report details existing transportation conditions and access to parkland in the surrounding communities, and provides residents’ opinions about the various uses for the right-of-way. In total, the study survey area encompasses a quarter-million residents from all ethnic backgrounds and income levels.
The study concluded that reactivating the Rockaway Beach rail line could generate half-a-million subway rides a day and that a majority of survey respondents favored reactivation. Nearly half of all business owners who completed the study said using the rail line right-of-way for public transit would have a “significant positive” impact on their business. By comparison, less than a third believed that the proposed park plan would have a similar impact.
Among surveyed middle-class residents with annual household incomes of $50,000 to $100,000, roughly 40% favor reactivating the rail line, compared to around 25% preferring that it be converted to parkland. Similarly, a higher percentage of residents of Forest Hills, Glendale, and Rego Park surveyed for the study favored reactivation of the line. In all, two-thirds of survey respondents say that they would use the Rockaway Beach rail line if it were reactivated.
The study also provides a more accurate picture of park use and access for residents living near the right-of-way. The study points out that families living within a half-mile of the line have access to more parkland per acre, per resident than the average city resident. Also, many of those surveyed expressed concerns that the park plan, if built, would potentially increase crime and vandalism in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“The Rockaway Beach Branch community-impact study reflects the dynamic relationship between Queens College and the communities of Queens. Through this project, our students have had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience while contributing valuable information to the debate about an important contemporary urban development issue,” said President Matos Rodríguez.
“The Urban Studies Department, since our founding in the early 1970s, has sought to provide knowledge and analysis that could help the communities of Queens to grow and thrive,” said Professor Rodberg. “We’re pleased to have been able to make a contribution to the ongoing discussions of these issues.”
The Rockaway Beach line, also known as the White Pot Junction line, was put into service in the late 19th century under the control of the Long Island Rail Road. It provided residents with safe, affordable, and expedient access to other parts of the city and 40-minute commutes to midtown Manhattan from Rockaway. In the early 1960s, parts of the railroad service were condensed, sectioned off, and eventually closed. In the following years, communities surrounding the line have seen dramatic increases in population, with the Rockaway Peninsula population nearly doubling.
Assemblyman Goldfeder has made transportation and the restoration of the Rockaway Beach rail line a top priority. In February 2012, he called on Governor Cuomo to immediately restore the line to ease commutes for Queens residents. In May of that year, Goldfeder launched a petition that garnered nearly 7,000 signatures, which were later delivered to Governor Cuomo, the Port Authority, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in support of bringing the line back to life. As a result, both the MTA and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have expressed support for the rail line as a cost-efficient way to improve transit options for city residents.
“As a longtime supporter of restoring the Rockaway Beach rail line, I am proud to stand with my colleagues, and especially Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, who has led this effort, in welcoming today’s announcement,” said Congressman Nadler. “This transportation improvement would be a real system expansion and its restoration would enable a true one-seat ride to JFK Airport from Penn Station, something that we don’t truly have today. I urge the MTA to support and fully study the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach Line and include it in their next capital plan.”
“This is an important step in the recovery and a bold step into the future of reliable transportation for the devastated areas of the Rockaways and Southern Queens,” said Congressman Meeks. “While this is only the beginning, I have always believed restoring the rail line would speed up the pace of recovery for residents and local businesses and create hundreds of jobs while laying the foundation for a transportation network that accommodates our future growth.”
“Assemblyman Goldfeder should be commended for his continued leadership with respect to bringing the Rockaway Beach rail line back to life,” added Congressman Jeffries. “The people of Queens deserve a more comprehensive mass-transportation system, and this study could help bring about that result.”
“This Queens College study is another step towards understanding the real needs of every Queens neighborhood, and I urge the MTA to include restoration of the Rockaway Beach rail line in their next capital plan,” concluded Goldfeder.